Thursday, May 5, 2011

Command Clinic: Stay

I put off doing a Command Clinic for Stay, because it's a command that we're kind of weak on.  Elka will stay for a bit, but then decide she's done, rather than waiting for the release.

Then I realized that I should do the Command Clinic for Stay, because it's a command that we're kind of weak on.  This will inspire me to work on it more closely, yes, and then it will no longer be weak.  That's the notion, anyway.

Eventually we'll get to stuff I've taught with the clicker, I promise, but I taught Stay with eye contact and body language, when Elka was actually rather young.

In this present-day picture of Elka, she is in what is referred to as a "Sit-Stay".  She looks displeased, but that isn't because coercion was involved, but rather because she was confused that we weren't going outside for potty, so that she could subsequently watch me eat dinner.  Instead, I backed out of the kitchen, and as she followed, I said "Sit" and then "Stay".  And she did.

As I mentioned in Command Clinic: Sit, "Sit" was Elka's first "real" command.  When I decided to introduce "Stay", I would start with her in a seated position.  I made eye contact with her (which Elka is rather good at holding in a relaxed and comfortable way, by the by), and backed up a few steps while pointing and saying "Stay".  I started off small, two or three steps.  I would then say "Yes!", the marker, at that point.  If using a clicker, this is where you would click, but do not be surprised or confused if your dog takes the click to mean that the behavior has ended and it is time for the treat.  That is what the click means.  So far as the verbal marker goes, Elka will typically look at me when I say "Yes!" in that manner, if she isn't looking at me already, and then I use "Okay" as the release.  It's a word used often in conversation, I know, but I've used it as the release all along, and she's learned to discern tone of voice for meaning.  She's a smart one, our Elka.

"Down-stay"worked out in a similar manner, and seems more comfortable to maintain for any duration.
I'm not certain if this method will work for every dog, but I suspect that it will.  Eye contact can be a powerful thing in canine body language; it can be aggressive, and it can be commanding.  If you can make eye contact an important thing between you and your dog, but happy and relaxed, it can be useful. A dog not afraid to look you in the face will be more responsive to you and your body language when you try to communicate.

A similar command to "Stay" that I use is "Wait".  They seem like almost the same word, I know, but in use, mean somewhat different things.  "Stay" is "Stay right there while I pay for the pizza" or "Stay where you are, there's broken glass you might step on".  "Wait" is a little more fluid, though; I still use the release word, but "Wait" is more anticipatory.  "Wait while I put water in your bowl."  "Wait for these cars to pass so we can cross the street."  It's interesting to note that Elka will "Wait" far more patiently and with less fuss than she will "Stay", which sometimes requires repeating (remember how I said not to repeat commands?  "Stay" is definitely where you can repeat early, and often, as long as you are reinforcing a Stay).  Perhaps Elka sees a definitive goal in "Wait", while "Stay" seems arbitrary?  Food for thought.

Many tutorials on "Stay" will leave you with amusing pictures of people proofing their dogs' stays, by doing cute things like leaping over them while the dog maintains a solid Down-Stay.  I have no pictures of me leaping over Elka, but here's a picture of a voluntary Down-Stay that she didn't soon break:


  1. we have lot's of trouble with "stay" with chance. the other 2 are fine. good post.

  2. Thanks!

    Elka is a solo dog, so I don't know if training your dogs solo, or training each one with the "good" dog might help!

    "Look, your brother knows how to stay!" /reward "good" dog. Not staying dog goes "hey, wait, I want treats!"

    (Dogs only kind of work like this, I daresay. But it was a fun conversation to play out)