We were in Woodstock last Friday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his two-year-old Blue Heeler named Randy. Our client told us that he had already been working with Randy on some basic obedience commands. The problem is that he had run into a “brick wall” with some of the commands. It was like Randy just stopped learning and had lost all interest in wanting to pay attention and obey.
He said that everything was going well until they got to the “classic command of STAY”. He told us that his assumption was that since everything else was going so well, “STAY” should have been another “slam dunk”. That was not the case.
“I am positive that I have tried everything. I have spent hours on the internet reading every blog and article I could find. I have asked all my friends with dogs.” He told us that every time he thought that “Randy was getting it”, he just “turned off” and acted like my client didn’t exist. Our client wondered what he needed to do to be successful with Randy and the STAY command.
We started off by telling him that many of our clients run into an issue when trying to get their dogs to STAY. We are often told that our clients think that their dog is “playing with them”. The moment that it appears that their dog is “getting it” and is going to remain in one place, he pops up, starts to follow them around the room, or simply goes off and does something else.
A chronic issue many of our clients experience is attempting to teach their dog too much too quickly. We all can remember that we first had to learn that 1 + 1 = 2 and then that 2 + 2 = 4 over and over again for a long time before we started to work on calculus. Although not math, this is the same concept that we need to employ when we want to teach our dog to STAY.
We find it most effective when we break the STAY exercise down into manageable pieces. These manageable pieces can then be taught and reinforced throughout the process. We use the following method:
- Locate a quiet space that you can use to work with your dog. It should be devoid of distractions such as “interesting smells”, toys, people, sounds, etc. Think of it as your 3rd grade classroom as you are learning math. You also need to have your dog on a leash.
- Give the command to instruct your dog to SIT. Since all STAY commands are started in the SIT position, this is the required precursor to successfully implementing the command. If he doesn’t immediately SIT, you will need to work on the SIT until he always sits the first time you give the command before you can start working on STAY.
- Once your dog is sitting and giving you clear and respectful focus, stand directly in front of him, extend your hand towards him like a traffic cop, and verbalize “STAY”. Remain calm and stoic through the entire process. Verbalize the STAY command in a firm, but not overly verbose manner.
- Your dog must remain in his “parked”, sitting position. He needs to stay focused on you and your outstretched hand. (The traffic cop extended hand.)
- You want your dog to remain in that position while giving you complete focus for about ten seconds. If he does not, you need to work on SIT a little longer. Once he can stay calm and in place, slowly step back from him. You only have to step back a few feet (four or five feet). Do not go so far as to tug on the leash. Keep your hand raised like the traffic cop as you are now four or five feet from him. If he gets up and moves off his place, start the process again.
- When you reach the end of the leash, check to see that your dog is focused on you and your hand. Remain there for about fifteen seconds or so. This is to make sure that he really is focusing on you and learning this part of the command. If he starts to move, start the process again, but focus on remaining right in front of him. When he can remain in place while you are four or five feet from him, you can proceed to the next step.
- Now, while you are facing him and with your hand up, slowly move around to your dog’s left side. Once you are directly on his left, wait for several seconds and then reverse your process. Pass in front of him and to his right side. Remain there for several seconds and then return to being directly in front of him. Remember that you are still four or five feet away from him as you make your semi-circular journey. Also, don’t forget to constantly be facing him. If he has stayed in place and focused on you, that is great. If he has moved off his place or has lost focus on you, start your process again and focus on the prior step of being four or five feet directly in front of him. After a day or two, you can then return to this step.
- Continue your practicing until you can move to both sides of him and he shows no indication that he wants to move. Always remember to remain calm, face him, and hold your hand out in the “traffic cop” pose.
You almost certainly won’t be able to successfully perform all of these steps on your first try or even the first day. If you are lucky, you may be able to stand in front of him the first day. It often takes a week before you can back up and be directly in front of him. It may take another week or two before you can move around him and return.
Don’t become frustrated if you must repeat a step as you are working through the obedience process. When we were in school, we occasionally needed to be reminded of what we had previously learned. The most important thing that you must remember when teaching your dog to perform any command is that success is not measured in how fast your dog “gets it”.
Success is determined by your dog effectively learning the command. This is accomplished through a consistent, measurable, and manageable process similar to the one we described above. Think of the children’s story about the Tortoise and the Hare. Who won?
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.