Getting dogs to hold still can be a real challenge. Their energy seems to have no boundaries. Still we need them to greet nicely, wait at the door – to just hold still, but sitting still takes practice for a dog. The key to building a rock-solid stay is to practice small, incremental steps. Here we will focus on duration, teaching our dog to hold a sit for longer periods of time. Going too fast causes your dog to fail and is the best way to build a spotty command. Instead, we always want to work at our dog’s level. If your dog is making frequent mistakes, it’s too hard. Back up and ask for a shorter stay.
Step One: Set up & Single Step
Start with your dog in a sit and take one small step away from him. When you step away, continue to face your dog. Do not attempt to turn your back and take a step yet because your dog will likely try to follow you.
Step Two: Mark & Reward
When the dog does not follow you and stays sitting, immediately mark with a click or a “yes!” and give a treat.
Step Three: Release Word
After you give the treat use your release word, “Okay!” and encourage him to get up. If he gets up before you release him, start at the beginning again by luring back into the sit position and starting over. Release him more quickly this time, then keep practicing to work up to longer. Always use a release word so your dog knows when it is okay to release from the stay. If we leave it up to him to decide then he will be confused when we return him to a stay after he gets up.
Step Four: Practice
Repeat steps 1-3 until your dog stays (doesn’t follow you when you take one step away) 9 times out of 10 times, several trials in a row. Once your dog successfully completes several trials with high success rates, it is time to start using the verbal command.
Step Five: Cue
Now that your dog knows what you want him to do with his body, you can add the verbal cue “stay.” Start by giving the verbal cue “stay,”wait for one full second and then take a step away just like you have been. Continue to use the marker either “yes!” or click and reward. After a few successful trials, continue on to add difficulty.
Step Six: Adding Difficulty
Continue to practice and slowly start taking one more step away. Remember only add one extra step at a time and then wait for 9 successful trials out of 10 before you add another step away. This is the key to creating a strong stay command.
- The first ten trials or so should be just 1- second stays then build slowly from there. If the dog breaks the stay, withdraw the treat and attention, go back to where you had him in a stay and start over. Try again with an easier stay, making sure you catch them being successful.
- It’s very important that if you make a mistake and your dog breaks his stay that you reset and do a few easier ones to reestablish success and keep the dog in the game. You want at least 90% success—9 of every 10 tries are positive– and if you aren’t getting that, you have to scale back and work at the dog’s level to create success.
- One key to success in duration stays is to vary the amount of time you make your dog stay. Don’t always make it harder and harder— remember to throw easier stays in now and then to mix it up and make it fun for your dogs.