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The Stay - 0 Shades of Grey


This week we will look at what is called The Stay command. We have covered the Sit and Down previously. Please simply click on the words, they will open a new window in your browser to those entries.

Sit and Down are pre-requisite for the Stay, if your dog cannot yet comply with these commands there is no use reading this. It is imperative that your dog understand what they are supposed to do before moving to this lesson.

It is important to note that there are two methods of teaching The Stay:

  • Reinforce the duration the position is held

  • Punish the deviation of the position held

OK, in one we reinforce, what does that mean?

In its simplest terms it means that we give the dog positive feedback to indicate a job well done.

For example:

"Yorkie, Sit"

Yorkie sits

"Yorkie, Good"

Yorkie is told they complied well

"Yorkie, Stay"

Yorkie holds position for x duration

"Yorkie, Yes"

Yorkie is released from the exercise and Yorkie is given verbal praise and physical affection, a pat on the shoulders for example. What have we done here? We have given Yorkie a command to action which they do and we have given feedback which has been conditioned to mean: You did an awesome job! Now you get something nice. So let us contrast that with Punishing the deviation: "Yorkie, Sit"

Yorkie sits

"Yorkie, Good"

Yorkie is told they complied well

"Yorkie, Stay"

Yorkie breaks the position before being released

"Yorkie, Wrong"

Yorkie is released from the exercise and Yorkie is given another repetition of the exercise.

Yorkie has been conditioned to understand that Wrong means that the exercise will be repeated and there will be no reward for this repetition, successful completion of a repetition is what produces the reward. Note that I have purposefully used the word Punish and paired that to an action that does not involve physical harm. This is purposefully done to highlight that not all punishment is physical. But punishment is required to shape good behaviour by eliminating bad behaviour.

The Stay is a good test of both the dogs and handlers nerve. Why is that? Simply because the dog has no idea what the duration is to be. The handler has to work on actively deciding when reinforcement is key and when punishment is required. Now, how can we remove the "shades of grey" and teach The Stay in a simple and efficient manner? This is very simple! Start from The Sit, arrange the collar and lead so that the leads slack will travel over the dogs head and between its ears. Now take up the slack so that there is some tension pulling the dog forwards and away from them. Move out a couple of steps and hold the position for about 10seconds.

The dog, not being used to this, will actively oppose this lead pressure and engage in the sit with more firmness. This opposition reflex on behalf of the dog will work to reinforce the act of Staying.

It is important to note that the pressure on the lead is not hard, you are pulling the lead with enough tautness to provide enough pressure to move the collar, but not enough for the dog to be pulled forwards. Once the dog has stayed for 10seconds, return to the dog, bring it to a Sit position and praise. Once the dog understands what is supposed to happen with this leash signal, we can increase the distance from the dog and the time we hold the duration for.

Another method is for the dog to be brought to The Sit, this time you do not release the dog immediately, you have the dog hold the position for a few seconds, 10s if you can, though don't be surprised if your dog needs smaller increments of time. Once the dog has held the position for your expected duration, release and praise the dog from the Sit position.

Using this second method you will want to increase Distance and Duration independently. This is because the dog has more things to think about and cloudy minds lead to clouded actions, ergo more mistakes are made. The learning curve will be harder but the results should still be the same. As long as you have the patience to be a reliable handler, the dog will also become reliable. The Stay is taught the same way from The Down.

Why do we teach The Stay? The functional applications are simple, the dog is brought to a position whereby they are to hold that position, The Stay command indicates that the dog is to remain in that position:

  • until released from The Stay, or

  • the dog self-releases based on the duration trained.

Did you pick up on that? Because one of these two events will happen before the other. If you have peaked your training with a 10second stay, it would be unreasonable to expect a 1minute stay. Many dog handlers forget this nuance and that leads to frustration. Both for the handler and the dog. Now you might bring the dog to a stay for any number of reasons:

  • they need to calm down

  • you are trying to attend to them, grooming, checking fur etc

  • you are waiting and the dog is to wait with you

  • the dog is to wait for your return from the shop

  • something is happening to which the dog is to be taking part

  • etc etc

You can see that there are any number of reasons that The Stay will be used throughout the life of the dog. Take the time to engage the dog in a solid Stay and they will become much more balanced.

The Stay also has an important, but often overlooked facet: Character revealing/building.

By holding a position for a length of time, despite the wide world around the dog continuing to tempt with its fast moving objects and scintillating scents, the dog is able to sharpen its will to focus on the task at hand and deny itself the opportunity for chasing, a quick meal or a suggestive hello. Holding the Stay for increasing lengths of time allows the dog to become more disciplined, these days we call it Self-Control or Impulse-Control.

If you have a fidgety or nervous dog, then The Stay may well help you get over some hurdles. But don't forget, start with the fundamental positions of Sit and Down before doing this. If they don't work neither will this.

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