I have gotten into some pretty heated debates on this subject with trainers who I honestly have a ton of respect for. The conversations only get heated when the other person can no longer provide logical evidence to support their position. When somebody can help me to better understand why I’m apparently wrong on this, then I’m all ears. Until then, you will NEVER hear me tell a dog to ”STAY”.
Ok, so first lets talk about when we would use this magical word “stay”. Often times it is used when we give the dog a command to get into a specific position like sit or down and we would like the dog to remain in that position.
Let’s use “sit” for this example. If “stay” means for the dog not to move out of the “sit” position, then please tell me, what the heck does “sit” mean?
I was always under the impression that if I told my dog to “sit”, then that means they put their posterior on the pavement and keep it there until I say otherwise. I didn’t realize that it only meant they have to put it there for just a moment, the duration of that moment to be determined by the dog, UNLESS, I give this magical word, “stay” to ensure they remain in the previous position of “sit”.
Yeah, I know, a bit confusing. Seriously though, if I tell my dog to sit, then that’s what he should do. He should sit. Until I say otherwise. There is no need for another command. Once the word “sit” has been said, the only thing that the dog needs to hear to move is a release command which means he can do anything he wants, or the direction to move into another position. That’s it. What the heck does stay even mean then? Where did it come from? Ohhhh, I forgot….. humans, they want to overcomplicate everything, now it makes sense how this command found its way into dog training.
Dog training is about building associations as I mention in my post Associate This. When we taught the dog to sit, we built an association with the dog sitting and something positive happening as a result of the dog’s decision to comply with our request. So after all that work building the association, getting the dog used to the cue “sit”, why on earth add in a totally new word that really just means more of the same thing? What is the difference? If this were a conversation with a dog, how would it go?
“Sit means put your butt on the ground, and you don’t have to keep it there unless I give you another word, stay, but if I don’t say stay, you can do what you want. I know I taught you a release command, but forget about that now, because if I don’t say stay, your good, I guess.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
I don’t like “stay”. It’s extra and it’s unnecessary. Watch how much faster you can get your dog to stay sitting when you avoid this extraneous command that will only increase the difficulty level of training. Think about how much proofing needs to be done when this word “stay” is now going to be used in conjunction with a variety of other commands like “down” and “bed”. If I tell the dog to “down”, then they are continually rewarded for remaining in that position until released(yes, we better be using some positive reinforcement to shape this behavior).
Can experienced trainers pull it off? Sure, they do it all the time. However, in my years of working with everyday pet dog owners, I learned that it is totally a waste of time and even makes things more difficult. I stopped using “stay” once I tried to explain it to a particularly challenging client. As I struggled to find different ways to explain the concept and the training steps the light bulb just went off. The client wasn’t the challenging one, I was, and their difficulty in understanding the concept was because it’s a stupid concept. I never used the word stay in training dogs again EVER.
LET’S PRACTICE A DIFFERENT TYPE OF STAY
Enough of me writing stuff for you to just continue to read. I gotta get you away from the monitor for a bit and working with your dog. So here’s what I want you to do.
We are going to assume for this explanation that your dog already knows that when you say “sit” the dog puts its butt on the ground and that you have a way of marking success for the dog be it a clicker or saying “good” or “yes”.
Get your treats, get your dog, and make sure you are in a quiet non distracting environment and have a calm patient state of mind.
ROUND 1 (warm up)
1. give the cue to “sit”
2. when the dog sits simply mark and reward
Do this until the dog is sitting every time, regardless of where it is, or where YOU are. Remember that standing, sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, lying on the floor, are all places you should be giving this cue from so that your dog realizes it’s the cue, and not anything else that it should be responding to. ( a huge part of training that MOST people forget to do)
1. repeat as in round 1 execept after giving the cue and observing the dog getting into position
2. HOLD OFF ON THE MARK – count 1 second or 1 mississippi, THEN MARK and reward
Once you have at least 100, yes i said 100, successfull repetitions at 1 mississippi you can move on to 2 mississippi. This obivously isn’t happening in one session or one day. It might not even happen in a week. Avoid the all too common pitfall of moving too fast in your training. Take baby steps. Newborn baby steps to be more descriptive!
If your dog gets up too soon don’t you dare punish the dog. The dog is confused and doesn’t understand what you want yet, which means a correction is unfair and will damage your relationship with the dog, plain and simple. You all know im not afraid of corrections or positive punishment in my training, but they MUST be fair, and NEVER used when TEACHING a dog a new behavior. Instead shorten up your time because you are moving too fast.
Keep doing this and just increase the time before the mark. Now your dog isn’t really “staying” but rather remaining in the position you initially told him to be in. Sounds simple to me.
STAY tuned for more training tips and updates…..yeah, pun intended, no amount of clicker work can repair or modify my sense of humor. I’m unadoptable…..