Does the refrain from Bob Segar’s Song, “We’ve got tonight,” run through your head when you are trying to get your dog to stay?
Why don’t you stay?
Stay is a challenging but important cue to teach your dog. I like to use a method called the four D’s when teaching a stay: duration, distance, distractions and delivery of reward. This article will specifically discuss teaching a sit stay, but the same principles apply when teaching the down stay.
The first D, duration, is the length of time your dog remains in a stay.
Ask your dog to sit.
Now begin to add duration. Repeat the process but this time wait two seconds before marking the behavior (“yes”), rewarding with a treat and releasing.
Next, ask for a three second stay; then four; then five. Continue increasing the duration until you can get your dog to stay for 60 seconds.
Once your dog can reliably stay for 60 seconds (80% of the time), add the second D, distance.
Because a new variable was added to the equation (distance), lower your expectations for duration. In other words, when you take one step away from your dog, only ask for a two or three second stay. Once your dog “gets it,” build your duration up to 60 seconds at one foot away.
When your dog can sit and stay reliably one foot away for 60 seconds, start the process over but this time take two steps away. Again lower your expectations for duration (only ask for a two or three second stay) and slowly build the duration back up to 60 seconds.
Now start the process over by stepping back three feet and asking for a short duration and build up to 60 seconds.
Repeat; every time you stand a foot further away, lower your duration requirements and slowly build back up.
Experiment with moving to the right or left. See if you can eventually circle around your dog while he remains stationary!
Now that your dog has duration and distance in place, add the third D, distractions. Lower your expectations for duration and distance (start one foot away and work on a five second stay) and slowly build up to several feet away and a 60 second stay.
Start with easy distractions at first and build up to more challenging ones.
Delivery of reward
Our goal is to eventually not have to treat the dog after each stay cue. When your dog is first learning the cue, reward every time the dog performs the cue successfully with a “yes” marker and treat.
Now start treating randomly, every second or third time (mix it up). Always verbally mark every single successful stay with a “yes” and practice at a fast pace to keep the dog interested. Behaviorists have learned that the best way to sustain a behavior is by randomly rewarding it.
Again, as your start to cut back on the reward delivery, lower your expectations for distance, duration and distractions and slowly build back up.
Practice makes perfect. Happy training!