STAY! – Tips from Our Trainer

Three Parts of a STAY + 1

By: Lisa J Edwards, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Lisa-and-Boo-272x300Too often we ask our dogs to STAY, and they don’t.  Why?

To get your dog to heed this command, you must first realize that there are three basic parts to STAY and there must also be a consideration of the environment surrounding the dog when the command is given.

STAY is the command that tells your dog to FREEZE IN PLACE. She can be in a sit, down or even stand position, but she must hold that frozen position until you release her. Ideally you will have your dog’s attention, then deliver the STAY command ONCE and not repeat it, and continually praise your dog with a “put the baby to sleep” kind of praise—soft and slow, using elongated words.

Your dog’s STAY command is then broken into these three parts: Duration, Distance, and Distraction.

Part 1: Duration—This is about teaching your dog to freeze in position for increasingly longer lengths of time. This means your dog learns that you will occasionally reward her with a tasty treat as long as she stays in place until you give her the release command, “free” or “all done,” at which point you will reward her again. Over time you will reward her only on the release command. If you are clicker training, you will reward only after the click and not intermittently throughout the STAY.  Hence, you will need to slowly increase the length of time you ask your dog to hold the STAY.

Many practice repetitions are usually required to build a decent duration on your dog’s STAY—NOT repetitions of the word STAY, but the whole sequence. You will need to slowly build the amount of time your dog stays so she begins to understand that you are asking her to hold this position longer and longer. DO NOT move away from your dog during this portion of the STAY training.

Part 2: Distance—This element is about teaching your dog to keep holding the frozen-in-place position while you walk away. You will not be able to say STAY and expect to walk away while your dog holds the position.  You will need to start by making small movements of your feet while your dog is holding her STAY for duration, and then add small steps side-to-side, small steps away and back again, all while you continue to reward your dog for holding this position.

The reality is that most dogs are activated by movement so as soon as we move, they are moving too. We have to be patient with this element of STAY so we can reward them for doing what is so counter-intuitive to them—holding still while we move.

Typically we begin with duration so our dog understands the concept of freeze-in-place-until-I-say-all-done. Once we have a decent duration, we begin to add the movement and build distance. This usually requires us to reduce the duration and shorten the time we ask our dog to STAY as we build distance between ourselves and our dogs, allowing our dog to focus on the new element while not having to stress over the longer duration.

Slowly increase the distance you walk away from your dog, returning to reward her before you move away again. This allows her to understand that holding position while you continue increasing the distance and bringing the duration back up again is a very valuable thing to do.

Part 3: Distraction—This element is all about getting ready for the real world. Just because you have taught your dog to STAY it doesn’t mean she will be able to do this when someone knocks on the door, or when kids go riding by on their motorized scooters. Just like you built the duration and distance slowly we have to introduce distractions little by little to ensure that our dogs can STAY reliably when we actually need them to.

Once your dog can hold her STAY for several minutes while you are moving around—in and out of sight—you are ready to add in distractions. Start by walking around the room then suddenly running to the other side of the room while your dog remains in her STAY.  You may need to remind her verbally just a little to help her hold this. Once this is working, you can add in toys that dance, move, sing, or make weird noises and/or additional people coming and going in and out of the room at various speeds and making unfamiliar noises. Then, when all of this is working, you can have someone ring the doorbell when your dog is in her STAY.  Once your dog is able to hold her STAY when the doorbell rings or someone knocks, you can start to change the order of the distractions you introduce: have someone ring the doorbell or knock, then ask your dog to STAY. Many folks will need to play with positioning. In other words, some dogs will only be able to do the doorbell STAY if they are far enough away from the door, so start there and gradually move the dog to a position that is convenient for everyone.

This leads to the +1—Each time you change the environment—either outside with bike riders going by, in a pet store with much chaos, at your kid’s soccer game, or at the front door on Halloween with a constant stream of door knockers or ringers – you will need to assess your dog’s ability to be reliable in this environment. Sometimes, it will require going back to square-one STAY training, i.e. shortening the duration, increasing rewards to motivate the dog to follow the command in the new environment, and/or increasing your dog’s distance from the source of distraction.

Remember, just because your dog can STAY in your kitchen or back yard does not mean she is ready for the real life at front doors with bells and knockers, out and about in parks, at the vet, etc.