I often reflect on my work and am always questioning how and why I teach certain exercises. In doing so, sometimes my recommendations change. An example of this is why teach stay?
I began by considering the ‘stay’ to be purely an obedience exercise that should be reserved for trials and formal obedience classes. However, over the years many clients would come to me requesting information on how to teach ‘stay’. I realised that there was a need for it within the pet dog domain.
Let’s look at what ‘stay’ is, at least my interpretation of it. When you ask your puppy to ‘stay’ what you should be teaching them is; ‘stay where you are and do not move any of your paws or change position until I come back to you and give you a finished signal’. Taught properly it means that your puppy will ignore any distractions and remain still until you return to their side and release them.
‘Stay’ cannot be used for leaving your puppy in the car, the back yard, or tied up somewhere as your puppy will invariably move around. ‘Stay’ should not be used if you are going to step away from your puppy and call them to you, or ask them to change positions- use ‘wait’. By using two different words and two different hand signals you are sending a clear message that each signal means one behaviour…..
‘Stay’- don’t move until I return to you and release you.
‘Wait’- wait there until further instruction.
So why do I think you need to teach your puppy to stay? I really believe that it can be used in an emergency situation. If your puppy has a rock-solid stay they will not move until you are able to get to them. It could be used as an alternative for ‘come’, where you ask your puppy to ‘stay’ instead of come. There might be a time where you have to leave your puppy to assist someone if your puppy can ‘stay’ well it may keep them out of trouble. Why not have another lifesaving tool you can use? After all, this is your best mate.
Stay is made up of three components; distance, time and distractions. A basic stay is five paces away from your puppy for 15 seconds.
Work up to five paces away from your puppy then return straight away to your puppy. Remember, you are only working on getting some distance between you and your puppy, nothing else. You may need to start by stepping out to the side rather than walking forward, to encourage your puppy to remain in position.
Once you have distance working consistently, then you can work on time. Move one pace away (maximum) from your puppy and work up to being away for 15 seconds.
Until now you have been working on either distance or time. Once distance and time are working well on their own you can then combine the two. For example, three paces for 10 seconds, five paces for 15 seconds etc.
Once you are combining distance and time you can now start to add distractions. Until now you have only been working inside, now you can slowly work up to working around people, birds, balls, dogs etc. Don’t forget to reduce your expectations when working with distractions for a little while.
You must work on one component at a time, and achieve stability before moving on to the next component.
All too often I see people rush through trying to teach their puppy to stay. People usually begin by telling their puppy to ‘stay’ with a stern voice, and stepping off with constant hand signal, usually, one finger pointed at the puppy. How often do we wag a finger in front of our puppy when they are doing something bad. No wonder the puppy doesn’t enjoy the exercise. Try inventing a new hand signal only for ‘stay’ and speak quietly, your puppy is not deaf (if they were you wouldn’t even need the verbal signal).
If you take your time teaching your puppy this exercise you should be able to step off confidently and not have to look back. You and your puppy are partners, and both of you must have faith in one another. This faith can only come with confidence through lots of easy and fun practice.
You have so many years to enjoy with your puppy if you rush the ‘stay’ your puppy will crumble as soon as you put a bit of pressure on in the way of distractions. A solid ‘stay’ is only as good as the foundation it is built upon.