Stays is one of a few things that you can never stop teaching or improving. For example, once your dog knows how to sit, they cannot sit more, can they? ;)
Moreover with stays you might want to organise formal and informal training sessions. During formal ones you may want to make it ‘more’ – i.e. more distance and time or more distractions. During informal ones you just want to use the skills that your dog already has.
When you are teaching your dog to stay it is a very good idea to follow some basic rules:
Rule number 1) Use a position (sit or down or stand) that is most comfortable for your dog. Some dogs are more into sit or downs during stays. Very few, but still some feel most comfortable in stand position. If you are not competing and you are not following any rule book, theres no obligation to the position. There are trainers that want to keep a position no matter what. So if the dog lies down during staying they will correct the position because they feel that it is a mistake. If it goes for pet obedience and not a competitive one, if my dog tends to lie down during a stay then that is the signal for me for what position is more comfortable for the dog. However, if this is a competitive stay I will also consider the change of positions as a mistake.
Rule number 2) No rush! Take your time to explain to your dog what is going on during the stay exercise. Basically, you need to explain your dog that they are rewarded when you are moving and he is staying still, but whilst also keeping a position and place. I would start teaching stays with small steps in every direction, forward, behind or to the side. Once your dog understands what is going on, then progress will be easy. It’s like with new language, you would start learning with basic words, rather than complecated ones.
Rule number 3) If your dog will make a mistake e.g. breaks the stay, I would go back to him (don’t punish your dog or walk back with an ‘oh dear’ face!) and start exercise for the beginning. If you are coming back to your dog with an unhappy face your dog may associate you coming back to him with something unpleasant. But, you cannot be happy about making a mistake either so try to be neutral.
Rule number 4) When you are on your way back to your dog don’t run to him waving a treat in your hand! That may distract your dog and he will break the stay to get reward sooner rather than later. Quite logical: why wait if I can get it faster:). Instead I’m always coming back to dog, counting to 3 and then rewarding dog and this makes it clear when exercise is finished. If your dog is breaking a stay in the last two or three meters before you reach them, you may want to repeat the stay command to make him sure he needs to wait till you say its finished. This is very important when you are doing a series of exercises.
Rule number 5) NEVER REPEAT the stay command. Your doggy needs to know after the first ‘stay’ is said, what is going on and again he needs to keep doing it until you say it’s finished. It will be easier to progress your stay to out of sight when you do not have to repeat the command and your dog has to keep working without that help eg. you might want your dog to stay when you are shopping. You cannot scream from the shops Stay! Stay! Stay! to keep your dog in one place and in a working mode:).
Rule number 6) Split the stay training sessions for improving/maintaining time or distance. Usually when I want to make this exercise longer in time, I’m doing it from a shorter distance and other way around to practice distance, shorter in time.
Rule number 7) When you are adding distractions I would start with stays that are short in time and distance. Be careful. What we want is your dog to not break staying when you are adding distractions. If he does make a mistake it is your mistake not your dogs.
Rule number 10) Don’t recall your dog from stays! Recall and staying are two opposite behaviours. For most dogs, recall is a much more attractive thing to do so they will start breaking stays and then come back to you. We need to remember that dogs anticipate and offer behaviours, especially during the teaching process as you want your dog to believe that after you say stay, it is impossible for them to get up! Even in competitive obedience when you have to recall dog which is left somewhere, I’m practicing staying and recalls in different sessions and recalling a dog from stay only occasionally and in competitions.
Stay tuned! second part on that topic is on way!