Question: Our Terrier Mix Rescue is now around 7 months old. He walks pretty well on a leash and we’ve started basic obedience, but I feel like we’re failing miserably at “staying”. How do we teach him that?
Reply: Unbeknownst to most dog owners, “staying” is a more complex phrase than you would think and requires patience, maturity, and a certain level of pre-existing obedience. That’s why I teach this keyword very last. Because by this point your dog should already have an idea of the training pattern.
But before I even start teaching a dog to stay, I want him to know the keyword “wait”. Waiting is a nice preliminary step to the teaching stay, as it is a kind of temporary stay that usually lasts no longer than 10 seconds. We teach our dog to walk through the door first as guides, so waiting is usually taught at the door initially. Finally, once your dog understands the wait and holds his position reliably for 5 to 10 seconds, it’s a lot easier to move on to “staying,” which basically means you might be here for a while.
There must also be a release cue. In other words, don’t let your dog decide to get up from a “seat” if, for example, he says to himself, “Yes, I’ve been sitting here long enough now.” As the leader, you determine the timing.
So what is the release cue? Just a simple “OK”. And that also applies to the stay cue. Max has to hold his position until you let go of him. I also use OK while walking so my dog can sniff for a minute, and I use it to get in and out of the car because I want her getting in and out of the car to be orderly.
The hand sign to stay is to simply show your dog the palm of your hand, like a stop sign. Keep it nice and perpendicular to the floor, not angled. There is no need to use a hand signal, but as I mentioned last week, dogs are visually tuned to all the nuances of our body language that it’s typical for them to be able to easily correlate the signal, the word, and what you want.
Start in the kitchen or any other familiar area in your home. Your dog should already know “wait”, but he has never heard “stay” and he has never seen the hand signal for it, so I use both signals together with the hand signal at the beginning. Put Max in a specific spot and give him the down cue.
I always teach a “down / stay” before a “sit / stay”. This is because if your dog is on the ground, it will be more difficult for your dog to surface and break during the stay. Once he has calmed down, tell him “wait … stay” while you take a few steps back and show him the hand signal. Hold up your hand and repeat “wait … STAY” several times. You get the new word and the signal in his head.
Move from side to side a little. Don’t stand in one place. Use your watch or phone and see if it holds it for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds is your first goal. The idea is to step right up to him after 30 seconds, give him a treat, praise him and immediately say OK to release him, and then walk away.
In the beginning we always want to go back to our dog and reward him before he breaks. Some dogs can initially only stay in this one spot for 10 seconds. If it’s 10 seconds, start there. After he has held his position for the allotted time, always quickly step back to him with a small treat in hand, put it in your mouth, and praise him above all else.
Dogs recognize patterns, so we teach Max what we want as it correlates with what happens when he does it. More on the development of this cue next week.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who “teaches dogs and trains people”. Contact him at [email protected] or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.