Stay is one of the most important commands I teach my students and their humans. I’ve created a mnemonic device to help owners remember how to practice the stay command for optimum results. I call it the 3 Ds of stay. The three Ds are comprised of Duration, Distance and Distractions. When training the “stay” command an owner will use these three aspects to advance their dog. The first, duration, deals with the dog’s ability to hold his position for a pre-determined amount of time. The second, distance, conditions the dog to be able to remain at a specified distance from its owner and the third, distractions, concerns itself with what is going on around the dog. The best way to practice is working on a spectrum from easy to difficult. When beginning, you can play with any of the Ds or a combination of 2 Ds or all 3 Ds at once. On the first day of working with a dog enrolled in my Deluxe Obedience Program, after teaching him to sit, I ask him to stay for 3 seconds. I don’t go anywhere and there are no distractions. So in this scenario we are only practicing with one D, duration. After 20 days of training, in most cases, the dog can hold a sit/stay for 1 minute (duration) while I play fetch with another dog (distractions) several yards away (distance). The journey between those two scenarios has more variety than The Cheesecake Factory’s menu.
Dog’s are specific learners. Just because your dog can stay for 30 seconds in your living room does not mean that will translate once he’s in a busy park with people, children and other dogs. Their learning is specific to the environment and the beings within it. In order to take your stay command to the next level you must help your dog generalize their understanding. This is where the Distractions aspect of the 3 Ds comes into play. It is good measure to first practice the stay command in every room of your home, then the front yard, then the backyard, then the local park, then Starbucks, etc, all the while slowly increasing the Duration amongst the distractions. When practicing Distance outside of walls or fences you can use a 20 foot lead as a safety net. You’ll want to begin with 5 feet and work your way up to 20 feet as a marker of achievement before moving on. When practicing “stay” at my dog training school it is my protocol to practice once in the training area, once in the store and once outdoors in close proximity to the store. That way I’ve utilized my environment to its full potential. When a dog is further along I can begin to take him on field trips to places like The Katy Trail or a dog- friendly patio to advance his “stay” command.
Here are a few things to remember. It makes it easier for your dog if he understands the commands sit and down so he has a position to focus on. It’s difficult to ask a “green” dog to stay in a standing position. I never ask a dog to hold a sit for more than one minute. If I intend for the dog to stay beyond one minute I intentionally put him in a down position to relieve him of physical stress and increase his likelihood of success. You will also need a few words besides “stay” along the way to help the dog understand what you’re asking for. I use the word “good” followed by a reward such as a small treat to let the dog know he has succeeded, the word “no” to correct him for a mistake and the word “okay” to let him know he is released. Some trainers prefer owners use a novel word such as “disco” to release the dog from his stay in case you accidentally say “okay” while in conversation. This has only been an issue for me once in 14 years and no one died. I prefer to keep things natural and simple and I also find that 99.9% of the time the dog knows when you are talking to him directly. Add challenges and variety to your “stay” command when you practice and your dog will soon impress everyone you come in contact with along the way.