Training Your Dog to Stay

The definition of a stay requires that the dog remain in the designated place and position, with no resistance such as moving, whining, or barking, until you either release him or give another command.

This is a fairly easy exercise to train, as it requires that the dog do nothing except remain doing nothing and stay in that spot for the length of time you indicate.

However, dogs being what they are, they sometimes have problems executing exercises for which they see no purpose and do not especially enjoy. We can never make the stays particularly fun, but we can impress upon the dog the fact that we consider them important, and that the quicker the dog successfully accomplishes the assignment, the sooner it will be over.

Have you ever had a dog break a stay that was really important to you? That could be in a competition situation or simply in a daily living activity.

Sometimes the stay is the difference between being a safe, well-controlled companion and not.

Do you really want solid stays in your ring work? Do you want a dog who will remain in a certain position, regardless of where you are, until you release him?

In either case, you must impress upon the dog the absolute importance of this exercise and the total futility of attempting to escape doing it.

Before we start to train, it is important for you to understand the dog’s point of view. The best way to do that is to have an insight into how you think.

If you ever played any game of chance, you will get this quickly. It is the principle that makes casinos rich. When you pull that lever on a slot machine and win once, the odds are you will continue to repeatedly pull it, even though you do not win for a long time before you give up. If occasionally you win, however, you’ll keep playing for even longer.

This process involves the mechanism of variable-reinforcement training, which is the method by which we train with food on a continuous routine and then remove the food so the dog will continue to perform for a long time with only occasional food rewards. The occasional-reinforcement system is a very powerful motivator for continued behavior.

Taking that into account, here’s what you must internalize: If the dog gets up to come to you, he must not succeed—ever! Because if he makes it once, the urge to try for another “win” will last a long, long time.

The dog carries an extremely high and well-developed desire to be with or near you. That desire takes precedent over most obedience commands that are given or require actions at a distance. This will be a factor throughout your training.

Many good dogs are spoiled through corrections when from the dog’s point of view, the only crime committed was trying to get back to the master he loves. Under these circumstances, there are some dogs and some breeds of dogs that can be emotionally damaged with certain aspects of force-training. However, a dog can learn to be away from the owner for certain periods of time without undue stress. You must do the exercise calmly, in short increments, giving the dog time to adjust to and internalize the learning experience as you go.

Using a flat, plastic snap-collar and a 6- to 8-foot lead, take your dog up to a door with a secure knob and enough space around it for the dog to move, but not get into trouble. If you don’t have one of those, find an opening in the house where you can lay a broomstick across the threshold and, again, have enough room so that if the dog moves around, there is nothing to entertain him or that he might destroy. You can slip the lead-handle over the stick or make a loop in it and secure it to the doorknob. Now, the dog can only walk to the end of the lead and no further.

The first step will be to put the dog on this, tell him to wait, and move away. When he tries to follow, he can’t. You do nothing. Once he settles, you go back to him with a treat and loads of praise for a good wait.

Repeat this until the dog is relaxed for up to a minute with you in the room, and then expand it until he is OK with you being out of sight. He can walk around, sit, lie down, or just stand there. If he makes any noise, ignore him until he is quiet, then quickly return and treat and praise him.

The next step is to get him standing back from the end of the lead a foot or so. With your hand open, give a stay command, say “stay,” and step past the end of the lead about a foot. If the dog stays, step back, reward, and praise.

Keep doing this, moving farther away as you progress. Most dogs will start toward you at some point. You do nothing. The dog will stop when he reaches the end of the lead. Go back, reposition him where he started, give the stay command and hand signal again and walk away.

He may break several times before it sinks in that he can’t get to you. If he moves, you are just going to reposition and repeat the stay command.

Once he stays a few seconds with you at the distance he was breaking, get back quickly to praise and reward. If he is like most dogs, he will learn that waiting for you to return is the quickest way to get you back to him, get his treat, then be done with that exercise for the bit.

Do not speak to the dog when he breaks. Any negative tone in your voice is going to upset the dog and interfere with his ability to make the proper connections in this learning sequence.

Stay calm. Think thoughts related to how smart the dog is, how important to you that he learn this sequence, how sure you are that he can do so, and how proud you are of him for trying.

Think the same thoughts as he begins to understand and do the exercise correctly—only drop the “trying” part, and add how proud you are of him for succeeding.

Dogs can pick up a great deal of what you are thinking. If not the actual words, at least the intent and emotions attached. This should become a very important element in all of your future communications with your dog, not just in training but also in everyday interactions.

As you progress, add the sit-stay and later the down-stay with the same technique. When you go away or outside to proof, have a light line already attached to something, with the snap end laying where you are going to put the dog for the stay. Walk over, on lead, then snap the lead off and the light line on.

Proceed to practice, making sure that the end of the line is just a foot in front of where you are leaving the dog. You want it slack, but not enough for the dog to make more than a step or so.

If there is no place to secure the line, have someone stand and hold the end. Make sure they are far enough behind the dog to not interfere with him.

If you are faithful with this technique, your stays will be solid for a long, long time. It is well worth the time and effort spent when you consider the number of good dogs who never achieve the advanced titles because they learned to break the stays. It is one of the hardest exercises to fix if once broken in the ring. Follow this procedure carefully, and you will never have to deal with attempting the repair. —Dr. Mary Belle Adelman, Australian Cattle Dog Club of America, March 2015 AKC Gazette

 

Below: A sweet video of a smart and well-trained Cattle Dog.

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