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Training the Stay Command

This is one of the most common questions, “How do I get my dog to stay when I tell it to stay?” There is a stay while standing in IPO work but that is not what this discussion will be about. This is a discussion of how to train a stay while the dog is in the down position. How I train my dogs to stay is this: It is easier to train a dog to start the stay when you get the dog out of motion and that means the dog goes down with its belly to the floor. Like any training it is timing and consistency. We are verbal and the dog is physical so there needs to be a connection in understanding between handler and dog. Years ago I learned the old crank and yank method, the dog never knew what was coming. My training methods have evolved to a much better understanding and the methods are generally better for dog and handler.

First the dog needs to know the down command or whatever word you will use for down. The language does not matter as long as it is always the same. I try to train all our service dogs in English although I have to use German or Dutch with other of my dogs. I find it just easier when transitioning a service dog to its new handler to use English. They are learning so much on how to handle the dog they don’t need to learn a new language at the same time. The simpler the better, don’t over complicate things.

To get the dog to down I offer a tiny treat moving my hand down towards the floor and pulling on the leash at the same time. As soon as the dog goes down to the floor I mark the behavior with my word (I use “yes”) and drop the treat between its front legs. Markers are anything you use to let your dog know they have successfully completed what you want. It can be a clicker, a noise, a specific word. I use a specific word as I always have my voice with me and it is quicker then grabbing a clicker or tool. This should be repeated and repeated until the dog goes down with the command. Eventually you will not need to pull the leash or move your hand down to the floor. For the dog it is like a child learning their time tables, eventually it is second nature when they hear the command word. I try to train in short segments of 15-20 minutes, end successfully and then train it again later on. If the dog thinks work is fun and rewarding it will learn faster and want to learn knowing there is a reward. Don’t over exhaust the dog or yourself as it will just cause frustration. Once this is established firmly in the dogs mind then you will be ready to move onto the Stay Command.

I teach the dog the stay command by first putting them in the down position. I then start the word association to the dog with the word stay. I say it long and slow, “sstaaaaay”. Remember your voice is your tool. I lay the dogs leash out in front of it on the ground. Don’t give reward yet. I take just one step away from the dog then step back to the dog and mark the stay and give the reward. Get the dog up walk a few steps and put the dog in the down position again, this time take two steps, go back to the dog and mark and reward the command. You see the reason the leash is laying out in front of the dog. I step on the leash so just in case the dog wants to get up and move I am still in control by standing on the leash. Each time I do this I move a little farther away from the dog. Eventually you will be able to move long distances from the dog and you will be able to increase the time the dog is down. It is proofing the stay. While teaching this if the dog gets up, be calm, say NO and bring the dog back to the down position and repeat the process. It is important that you do not reward the command until it is done correctly. The dog is associating the reward with the command being done successfully. Don’t over talk and chatter to the dog it just confuses them. After you and the dog have mastered the stay command you can use this command in different situations such as the dog sitting, down, laying on its bed, loading in and out of the vehicle, etc. Remember timing and consistency are important and the tone of your voice is a tool to achieve the training you want.

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