There is now an official Countdown page for the National Specialty — just in case you need a bit of motivation to get training and/or get through winter.
Okay, yes — May could still be winter in Minnesota but let’s have some hope!
I am still in Boise but that has not stopped the training. We have been working quite a bit on Stay and Wait because those are exercises relevant for multiple events (and life, truth be told).
In fact, humans would do well to master the skill of just being still and waiting rather than plunging headlong into everything or chasing every squirrel that comes along. But I digress. Back to dogs. Sort of.
I use stay to mean “stay put, in this position and place, until I get back.”
Wait is different. It means “stay put, in this position and place, until such time as you receive a cue for something else.”
Although the training for wait and stay are similar, I want to focus in this post on stay.
Stay requires that the dog hold a position for the desired duration regardless of the human’s distance from said dog until the dog hears the release word .
Those are four distinct components for a single exercise: position, duration, distance, and release word. Each element should be trained separately and thoroughly before we begin the process of linking them together.
Before we begin the HOW of training stay, it is wise to do three things. First, it helps to envision the finished product. Second, I need to consider the values and ethics that guide my training. Third, I need a plan for reinforcing correct behavior and dealing with the inevitable “mistakes.”
My vision for stay involves a relaxed dog who is attentive to me and who stays put until the release word. I do not want a stressed dog on the stay/wait.
Values and ethics — my training needs to reflect respect for my dogs. In my world, it is not ethical to hurt a dog to achieve a desired outcome. Training is an invitation to my dog — not a command performance — and it is my job to make the party worth attending.
I will reinforce with praise, play, and/or cookies. When mistakes happen, I will not beat myself up for pushing the dog too far, too fast — rather, I will simply dial back my expectations to reflect the skill level of the dog.
What will I do to the dog when she breaks a stay? Just put her back and be more reasonable with my expectations. That is all.
It is important to assume good intentions of your dog — she is doing the best she knows how. If she breaks the stay, it is YOUR fault. You did not train it well enough, reinforce it strongly enough, prepare her enough for distractions, asked for too much too soon, and/or created stress for her in the exercise.
And the best way to mess up a stay? Get upset at the dog for YOUR failure to teach it properly.
As I mentioned above, the four components of stay are best taught separately. A good place to start is with the positions — sit, stand, and down.
I think the first two elements that need to be combined are position and the release word. This is easy — cue your dog to sit [give cookie] and then use another cookie to pull her out of the sit as you say the release word.
The cue word (“stay”) can be added at this point — but get the behavior happening before naming it.
Once the dog understands those two elements, it is easy to add duration — cue the sit and give multiple cookies before the release; gradually space out the speed at which you hand over cookies and you are easily and painlessly teaching duration. Don’t forget the release word!
Distance should be the last element to teach because for most dogs, this is a tough one.
When we add distance to stay we need make other elements easier. It was Val Horney who said no self-respecting Berner gets up from a down-stay and so yes, I teach distance with the dog in the easiest position for that dog — and down is the usual choice.
And so when distance is added, position is easy and duration goes back to two seconds. Distance is added gradually — you don’t just leave the dog and march out to the end of the county!
How do you know when you are effectively training the stay? When your progression is such that the dog doesn’t break her stays because the building blocks of learning are being so carefully and thoughtfully placed.
If the dog is breaking stays in training, you are the problem — not the dog. No worries — you are only human after all! Just go back to the point where things are solid and proceed forward a bit more slowly and thoughtfully.