A really useful behaviour to teach your dog is a ‘sit’ or ‘down stay’. A stay can be used to teach your dog control and more importantly it can keep your dog safe when out and about. I use stays all the time especially when I’m taking the dogs to the beach or park. If there are other dogs around that are bothering my own dogs, I can put mine in a down stay which allows me to keep the situation under control.
Before you can teach your dog to stay you need to teach your dog a “control” position such as a sit or a down. Either position is fine but if you plan on putting your dog in a stay for a longer period, a down is probably a better choice as dogs are often less likely to move when lying down.
Once your dog understands the down position and will lie down reliably on command you can start to build duration so they stay in that position. Before you start it is important to remember that when building duration you must go slowly, making sure you reward for small successes. Don’t leave them too long or go too far before your dog is ready. Also start your training in a quiet, low distraction environment such as your lounge room or backyard. Once your dog understands the behaviour in those environments you can start to introduce it elsewhere.
Another really important note is not to use the word “stay” as a command until such time as your dog is reliably staying in the down or sit position. What I commonly see is people telling their dog to stay when the dogs has no idea what a stay is. If you tell your dog to stay, but then he follows you the dog is learning to associate the word stay with moving. It is far better to not use any commands at all until the dog understands the behaviour. Once you are able to leave your dog and he won’t follow, you can tell him to stay which will allow the dog to associate the word you are using with the correct behaviour.
When teaching your dog to stay the steps to follow should look like this:
Step 1: Place your dog in a down or sit along side you and reward. Take a step directly in front of your dog and if he doesn’t move, reward. Move back along side your dog, again rewarding if he doesn’t move. Repeat a few times to create the understanding that, when you move your dog stays in position. When you have finished give your dog a release word, such as OK, so that he knows it is OK for him to get out of the down position.
Step 2: Place your dog in a down or sit alongside you then reward. Take a step directly in front of your dog and if he doesn’t move take a step back towards him and reward while he remains in the stay position. Repeat a few times moving away and going back, but now each time your dog is successful take another step so the distance between you and your dog increases in increments. At this point still reward your dog each time you return to him to reinforce the behaviour of staying. If your dog breaks at any time DO NOT scold him (he is only learning after all). Part of learning is making mistakes. Simply take him and place him back where he was and try again rewarding when he is successful. When you have finished, give your dog his release word so he knows it’s OK for him to leave the stay position.
Step 3: By this point you should be able to put your dog in a down position and confidently walk away from him while he remains in position. Now it is time to introduce some distractions and strengthen the behaviour, including increased duration. As you progress, increase the distance you are away from him but alternate them with only going a short distance, always returning to reward when your dog is correct. Sometimes when you walk away, stop and crouch down so that the dog gets used to seeing different things or go and do some laps around the room stopping to admire things along the way. This is part of the distraction training.
I often drop food as a distraction to teach the dog that no matter what, he must stay in position. Remember that any time he makes a mistake and leaves the stay, simply take him and put him back where he was and try again, rewarding him when he gets it right.
Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot. Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA. Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.