The Group Stay: To Stay or Not to Stay?

AKC Gazette breed column: Giant Schnauzers — The proposed AKC rule change to include an obedience path without group stays will provide an option for owners and handlers who are concerned about group-stay safety.

Hopefully this is a question we will be able to ask ourselves when competing in AKC obedience. The creation of another obedience path that does not contain group stays is proposed for consideration.  

Why would anyone want to have a separate obedience path without stays?  It must be due to people not able to train their dogs—right?

There will probably be some people who will enjoy not teaching stays, but most people are concerned about the safety of their dogs. Although not often, dogfights do occasionally occur in the group stays.  

Stays are extremely valuable exercises, allowing our dogs to fit into our human-focused world. I use stays when opening car doors, to settle the dogs when guests come over, when purchasing something at the farmers market, and so on. The stay is one of the first exercises I teach a pup, due to its functionality for a canine good citizen and for competition. I use a stay while setting up our next routine, so that my dog doesn’t lose focus and wander off. When competing we use multiple stays in obedience (not including group); rally is a bit more random, but many stations require a stay while you leave your dog. In agility, dogs perform start-line and pause table stays; in herding, dogs will perform multiple stays to successfully maneuver the livestock around the course, including the test level. Even in tracking, I use a down-stay to allow myself to walk up to my dog to collect a tracking article.  

Although I am a big fan of stays, I am not a fan of group stays. I work hard to develop trust from my dogs. As I do put them in many situations, and as I have big, black, powerful dogs, my criterion is that the dog defers to me on the safety of the situation. When I leave my dog while he is working (performing a stay), I am still responsible for his safety, and I expect him to continue to work. This could be as simple as turning my back on my dog while quickly taking down my crating area after a weekend of showing, or more complex as moving a flock of sheep to the sorting chute and asking for a stay while I process sheep, as the dog will be needed again. I may even leave him while grabbing something beyond his area of sight or while training, but only when I feel comfortable that the environment is safe for the dog.

The AKC has made several great improvements to the group-stay exercises, and I commend them for these strides. Unfortunately the dogfight risk can’t be completely eliminated, and the proposed change will provide an option for owners and handlers who are concerned about group-stay safety. Additionally, a non-group-stay path will provide obedience competition for dogs who are overly dog-dominant, worried, or not solid on the stays, making the group stays on the traditional path much safer for all dogs.

As our breed statistics show, Giant Schnauzer owners have enjoyed having more options to work their dogs. I predict that this option will promote an increase in obedience participation from Giant owners. I also believe Giant Schnauzers with advanced obedience skills have benefits far beyond the trial ring.

Thanks to the AKC for proposing this option, in addition to all the other working sports that have been added, as I am all about choice and promoting the working potential of this great breed.

 —B.T. (January 2015), Giant Schnauzer Club of America