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 to 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.
Lets look at what ‘stay’ is, at least my interpretation of it. When you ask your dog 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 dog will ignore any distractions and remain still until you return to their side and release them. It cannot be used for leaving your dog in the car, the back yard, or tied up somewhere as your dog will invariably move around, meaning that ‘stay’ really has no meaning to your dog. ’Stay’ should not be used if you are going to step away from your dog 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 dog to stay? I really believe that it can be used in an emergency situation. If your dog 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 dog to ‘stay’ instead of come. There might be a time where you have to leave your dog to assist someone, if your dog 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. You must work on one component at a time, and achieve stability before moving on to the next component. Begin inside or in a boring environment, then progress to more and more distracting places.
All too often I see people rush through trying to teach their dogs to stay. People usually begin by telling their dog to ‘stay’ with a stern voice, and stepping off with constant hand signal, usually one finger pointed at the dog. How often do we wag a finger in front of our dog when they are doing something bad. No wonder the dog doesn’t enjoy the exercise. Try inventing a new hand signal only for ‘stay’ and speak quietly, your dog is not deaf (if they are you wont even need the verbal signal). If you take your time teaching your dog this exercise you should be able to step off confidently and not have to look back. You and your dog 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 dog, if you rush the ‘stay’ your dog 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.