I’ve been going to training classes with my Labrador, Arthur, and we’re struggling with the ‘stay’. He used to be really good at it, and can stay still for a minute, but he keeps on changing from a ‘down’ to a ‘sit’ at the last moment. It’s the only thing holding us back from our bronze certificate in class, which I want to do for his first birthday. Help!
Denise Price advises…
The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme bronze level is a good all-round test of skills, so to be almost ready with your adolescent dog, Arthur, is excellent work. The one-minute stay feels like quite a duration, and with just a little tweaking of your technique, you will crack this.
Many dogs break their stay just as the owner is returning to their side. The dog may be anticipating their food reward so they creep forward to get it. sometimes the dog can’t cope with the distraction of their owner moving. Most often, though, this situation happens because the owner has accidentally rewarded the dog for ‘popping up’. People are so proud of their dog for nearly doing a one-minute stay that they ‘let them off’ for getting up and give the reward anyway. We’re only human, and they did do really well, after all! Unfortunately, a ‘that’s close enough’ approach confuses the dog. If you ask for a ‘down-stay’, but then reward a ‘down stay-sit’ behaviour, then that’s what you’ll be offered next time. If you’re not precise about what, when and where they get their reward, you’ll get inconsistent results. For a little while, don’t worry about the duration of the stay. I know Arthur can do nearly a minute, but for now, focus on steadiness. You’ll easily build that duration back up.
- Ask your dog for a ‘down stay’, take one step away from him, and then return to his side. Wait for a count of three, then say, “Good” and give him his reward on the ground between his front legs – all while he is still in position.
- Repeat this several times. By saying, “Good”, you are marking the behaviour your dog is getting the reward for. By delivering the reward while Arthur is in his ‘down’, you are reinforcing that position.
- Very gradually, add distance and duration. Start adding some distractions, discreetly to begin with and gradually getting more elaborate – fiddling with your watch or your treat bag, or move about.
If for any repetition, your dog gets up, then he gets no reward. If you find this happens too frequently, reduce the distractions, the distance, or the duration, until your dog is reliable again. With plenty of consistency, and only rewarding the behaviour you have asked for, you will get that bronze award in time his birthday.