Last week I was in Decatur at a new Home Dog Training client working with him, his family and their two-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Billy. Our client had owned dogs before, so he already had “run through” the basic obedience commands with Billy. His problem was that he had hit a “brick wall” after the simplest commands and just couldn’t make any forward progress with the more intermediate and advanced commands with Billy.
One of the commands that was “completely illusive” was the standard “STAY” command. “I have tried just about everything I can think of, and he just doesn’t stay put. As soon as I think Billy is starting to get it, up and off he goes. I have looked at tons of videos on the internet and have asked all my friends for help. Nothing seems to work. What can I do to teach my dog to stay?”
I started out by explaining that many of our clients have a difficult time teaching their dog the classic STAY command. Many times, we hear that our clients think that their dog is just “playing with them” when they are working on the command. The moment they believe that their dog is really going to stay, they stand up and move around the room.
We have discovered that the biggest issue many of our clients experience is trying to teach their dog too much too quickly. If we think back to our school days, we started out learning that one plus one equaled two.
Once we had that down, our teacher added slightly more difficult problems until, all of a sudden, we were doing calculus. It was a slow and progressive process. That process succeeded. We are failing with our dog because we are rushing the process without clear indicators for success.
I like to compartmentalize the STAY exercise into manageable pieces that can be taught and reinforced throughout the process. This allows for clear management of success and triggers to proceed with increased complexity.
Start the lesson off in a quiet and familiar place. This will be your initial classroom for the STAY lesson. Your dog should be wearing the leash and you should be holding it.
Since all STAY commands are predicated on the SIT, give your dog the SIT command. If he does not sit the first time you tell him or he does not stay in a sit position with focus on you, you aren’t ready for STAY. Stop the STAY exercise and focus on the SIT exercise. Your dog must have the SIT exercise 100% accomplished before he can proceed to STAY.
Once your dog is fine with SIT, you can now start to work through the four steps of the STAY command:
STEP ONE: Once your dog is sitting and calmly giving you focus, stand directly in front of him, hold your hand up as if you were a traffic policeman, and verbalize the “STAY” command. Be calm through the entire process and give your command in a low volume, but firm voice.
Your dog must remain stationary, in his sitting position, while focused on you and, more importantly, your hand. (The traffic policeman extended hand.) He should remain stationary for about eight to fifteen seconds. Once he has remained stationary and focused on you for this length of time, praise him for doing a good job. Repeat this step until he has consistently, successfully completed it for two days. You can now move to the next step.
STEP TWO: Put your dog in a STAY position as described in Step One. Once he has successfully completed that action, calmly step back a few feet (be careful not to tug or pull the leash). Keep your hand up, stand tall, and continue to face your dog.
Once you reach the end of the leash, you will be about five feet directly in front of him. Confirm that he is still calmly focused on you and remember to keep your hand raised in the traffic policeman.
Remain there for about ten to fifteen seconds. This “waiting time” will confirm that he really is focusing on you and learning this part of the command. Slowly return to him and praise him for doing a good job. Repeat this step until he has consistently, successfully completed it for two days. You can now move to the next step.
STEP THREE: Put your dog in a STAY position as described in Step One. Step away from him as described in Step Two. Next, continue facing him with your hand up as you slowly move around to your dog’s left side. Once you reach his left side, pause for a few seconds and then reverse the process until you are directly on his right side.
Pause momentarily and them move to the position where you were standing in front of him with the leash fully extended. During this entire time, face him. Pause for a moment and then return to him. Praise him for doing a good job. Repeat this step until he has consistently, successfully completed it for two days. You can now move to the next level.
STEP FOUR: Put your dog in a STAY position as described in Step One. Step away from him as described in Step Two. You are now going to start to move around him as described in Step Three. The difference in this process is that you are not going to stop once you reach his side.
Continue moving around him while holding your hand up and facing him. You will pass in back of him. This will be a little tricky because you are going to have to flip the leash around his head as you pass behind him. Continue until you return to standing in front of him at the length of the leash.
Pause there for a moment and then return to him. Remember that you will always be displaying your extended traffic policeman’s hand. Praise him for doing a good job. You have now completed the STAY command
You probably won’t be able to successfully do all these steps on your first try or even the first day. You may only be able to stand in front of him the first day (Step One). It may take a week before you can start working on Step Two. It may take another week or so before you can move to his side and finally encircle him (Steps Three and Four). It is not about the length of time to complete the command; it is about following the process to successfully complete it.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.