I recently described for a frustrated dog owner who was having trouble with her dog how to manage the dog’s behavior by putting it in a brief sit-stay. She replied that she had tried this and this method simply did not work. “I told my dog to sit-stay,” she said, “and he just walked away.” Whoops, I guess I didn’t make it clear if the owner was going to use a sit-stay, she needed to teach the behavior to the dog first.
And she needed to teach not just a very beginning marginal sit-stay where she tells the dog to stay as she walks backwards away from him with her hand out like she is stopping traffic saying, “STAY, STAY, STAY, STAY, STAY.” To use a sit-stay to manage behavior, the dog needs a reliable, rock-solid, sit-stay.
Here’s an excerpt from CITIZEN CANINE on teaching the Stay in Place.
Teaching Staying in Place
Combined with a reliable sit and down, Staying in Place is one of the most powerful tools you’ll have when it comes to having a peaceful life with your dog. We want you to spend plenty of time training your dog, exercising your dog, playing with your dog, and loving your dog, but there are times when dogs need to stay in one place.
The Stay command is important for keeping your dog safe and out of trouble. A reliable Stay can be used when you want the dog to wait before crossing the street, when the dog needs to stay in position for a veterinary check, when company comes with a child who is afraid of dogs, or when you want your dog to stay while your receive a delivery or talk to the postal worker. A reliable Stay actually gives the dog far more freedom because once you have this skill perfected, you’ll find that you can take your dog so many more places.
Steps to Teaching Stay in Place
You can teach your dog to stay in the sit, stand, or down position. For the CGC test, you will choose sit or down, then leave the dog, walk out 20-ft. and immediately return. If you go beyond CGC to AKC obedience training, the dog will be required at the Novice level to do a 1-minute sit-stay and a 3-minute down stay. It’s a good idea to teach both a sit and down stay from the beginning. You can also work on stand-stay because this skill has very practical uses such as when the dog needs to be groomed or visit the veterinarian.
1. Be prepared. Have your food rewards ready. If you are outdoors in a park or location without secure fencing, keep the dog on a leash. Otherwise, you can teach stay without the leash. You might also need the leash for dogs who decide to go AWOL in the middle of training sessions.
2. Start with your dog sitting beside you on your left side. Using your left hand, put your hand with the palm facing the dog’s face, about six to twelve inches from the dog’s nose and say, “Stay.” Make sure your dog can see your hand signal. This is an easy step, as the dog was already sitting and staying. Reinforce stay with praise, “Good stay.”
The hand you use for the stay signal is optional. Some instructors will teach you to use your left hand; others prefer the right hand for the stay command. In the method described here, we are suggesting that you use the left hand for the stay signal. This is to keep you from having to reach across your own body if you use your right hand. Further, if you are working with the dog on a leash, it is likely you will be holding the leash in the right hand so using the left hand to signal “Stay” will be easier.
3. With the dog still sitting at your side, give the hand signal as you say, “Stay.” This time you are going to pivot to the place right in front of the dog. To pivot, you’ll lift your right foot, and swing it around so it is in front of the dog, then bring the left foot next to the right foot. Say, “Good Stay.”
4. Pivot back to the position beside the dog. This involves reversing the procedure. Move your left foot back into position beside the dog, then swing your right foot around to be beside the left foot. Repeat this step, praising the dog and giving a treat for staying.
5. Next, you are going to repeat the pivot, then once in front of the dog, step back one step (so you are about 18 inches away from the dog). Stay in this position for about 5 seconds. Reinforce the dog for staying with praise and a treat.
6. Continue this process, each time moving back a little farther, 2 big steps, 4 steps, etc. Return to the dog each time. At this point in training, do not call the dog to come to you after you have instructed him to stay. This is confusing and will result in a dog who predicts that the next behavior you’ll ask for is a recall (where the dog comes to you). You’ll end up with a dog who breaks the stay in order to get to you.
7. If you are using a leash, eventually, you’ll be beyond the length of the 6-ft. leash. If you are working outside, you can use a long line to ensure your dog does not run away.
In the next article, we’ll talk about advanced exercises for proofing the sit-stay.