In my last post, I discussed the concept of core behaviors: three behaviors which, done well, allow you to manage nearly everything. We’ve already discussed coming when called, so if you missed that one please go back and have a read! Today, I want to talk about how to get your dog to stay when told.
Just like recall, staying when told is critical for a lot of things you need from your dog. Often, when I’m talking with owners for the first time, they tell me that their dog knows all the “tricks”: sit, lie down, shake, roll over. But if your dog doesn’t do these things very well, then it’s nothing more just a trick. If you can get your dog to come when called in the living room with a treat in your hand, who cares? It’s not useful! That behavior only matters if your dog will still do it in the front yard with the mailman standing right in front of him.
The same is true of staying when told. If you can’t get your dog to do it in the presence of distractions, then it isn’t really obedience. Most dogs that walk into our training center, 95% or more of them know how to sit and 60% know how to lie down on command. It’s not rocket science, so most people are able to teach those commands to their dogs. Even the dogs that aren’t very good at it still understand it.
However, out of all the dogs that know how to sit and lie down, only about 1 or 2 percent stay put functionally. When I say “functionally,” I mean that the dog can be asked to stay for ten minutes and not bother anyone while their owner eats lunch, or lie down when someone’s ringing the doorbell, or stay next to its owner’s side when a group of strange dogs passes on a walk. That’s functionality.
Very few of our first-time clients have that degree of obedience. Their dogs perform the command, then immediately break it. The only exception is the owner that tells their dog to sit, puts out their hand, and backs away slowly while repeating the command. That’s better than nothing, but we want a dog whose obedience actually fits into our everyday lives. If you want to do something productive, you probably won’t be able to hold your hand out and keep repeating the command over and over!
So how do you get that functionality? Well, “functionality” is really just a measure of what you do when your dog stops staying. Almost everyone has tried to teach their dog how to stay, but the way that they approach this training ensures that their dog will never learn the concept well. They do way too much for the dog. The difference between a dog who sits and a dog who sits and stays (or lies down, or goes to his bed) is what we do when the dog stops obeying.
To teach this concept, I often start with a simple place command. By starting small, we give the dog a comfortable physical location and make the concept easier to learn. I always start on-leash. I guide the dog onto its bed and tell the dog “place”—and that’s it! I don’t sit there with my hand in front of its face and repeat the command over and over. There’s no functionality in that. Instead, I stand close by with the leash in my hand. If the dog stays, I randomly praise him or give him treats. The second the dog moves, I don’t get upset. I simply give a tiny correction with the leash and get him back to his bed. Stay calm and consistent. Soon the dog will realize that when he steps off the bed, a correction occurs.
Once I’ve done this with “place,” I’ll apply it to “sit” and “down” as well. That’s how you get a solid stay: just don’t allow your dog to move! When the average dog stops staying, the owner tries to remind them. But the dog doesn’t care! By adding a tiny deterrent correction, you can get your dog to stay put. However, this system does take something that most owners aren’t willing to give: the patience to leave the dog on a leash for a month or more, so you can get an appropriate amount of repetitions.
Many people practice this command on the leash and then leave their dog off leash for the majority of its time. They give the same commands in both circumstances, but only back them up when the dog is on the leash. But the correct method is to get hundreds of commands on leash before ever saying it off leash. I hope this lesson helps you