In last week's post I hope I made it clear that before you should expect command compliance, your dog needs to understand how a specific word links to an action. When you are sure she does, and don't assume but be sure, you can proceed to the next stage. Regarding the position stay, that is to build in the 4 Ds - Different contexts, Distractions, Duration and Distance.
Different Contexts means that the dog learns to perform the cued position in front of me, each side of me, when I have my back turned, when I sit on the couch...
I met pooches so brainy that the handler could do a 180 degree body turn right away and the dog still complied, but with most you have to change contexts gradually, inch toward that 180 degree turn.
When your dog sits when you lie on the floor and lies when you stand on a table, she understands that even when conditions change, the command and according action do not.
Then take the show on the road and incorporate Distractions. Same rule applies: Proceed as slowly as you need to set your dog up for success. Sits and downs happen outside your front door, then the front/back yard – sidewalk – street corner – all the way to the dog park. Being patient at the front saves you time in the end, and your dog’s behaviors will be solid.
One of my peeves with some obedience classes is that they coerce the dog with choke collar or cookie into positions she is not ready for yet either because she is too over-stimulated or, especially regarding the lie-down, too nervous to do. So go slow. If your dog can only manage a sit 50 feet away from another dog or person, take that. Tomorrow it will be 45, then 40, and so on until she sits relaxingly while you chat with a neighbor standing next to you.
Be aware that when animation increases, the degree of the distraction does as well, which means you must increase the distance again before you ask your dog in a position. For example, move back to the hypothetical 50 feet zone when a dog plays or a child runs, and move closer again as your dog acclimatizes to the changed situation.
When your dog sits anywhere anytime when asked to, build in Duration - the dog staying in one spot for a prolonged period of time.
Backtrack to an area without distractions, the house, and if you practice on a specific mat you feed two birds from one feeder because the mat becomes an associated visual and tactile cue for the dog to settle. And of course you can transport the mat everywhere you go and thereby help your dog relax not only in familiar, but also new places.
I am heavy on giving the dog precise information whenever she needs it, and rookie learners typically need a lot of it. Hence, I repeat a command if it helps the dog understand. I remind her that we are still playing the same game, and I also let her know when that particular exercise is over and she can get up.
In the context of building position duration, ask your dog to sit or lie, shift your body slightly forward, move the palm of your hand toward your dog, and with a lower-toned (not regimental), drawn out voice tell her to “staaaaay”. The rare dog requires you holding a treat in front of her nose without releasing it to get in a couple of seconds, but with most your leaning in a bit combined with the hand signal combined with the tone of your voice causes her to stay where she’s at for a brief moment. Reward her for that but don’t release, and remind her again to staaaaaay.
Pay attention to the dog. If she gazes around or becomes fidgety, chances are she’s about to break. If you have an interrupter, for example ah, interrupt, then remind her to stay, reinforce generously, but don’t release right away because you don’t want your dog to learn that she can prompt a reward and a release by losing focus.
Reinforce again for staying and then release with a specific command, for example “finished”, or a known word that signals whatever you want her to do next.
Once released, become boring, so that working on the position stay becomes the desired event, not being released from it. Traditional training has that backwards: They don’t give any attention while the dog obeys and give it as soon as she is released, with the result that the dog wants to be released instead of working with you cooperatively.
Increase the time between the reward and reminder incrementally until your dog holds the position for 2-3 minutes without having to be rewarded or reminded.
Last but not least, add in Distance, step by step by incremental step. In fact, with some dogs you might have to lean backward before you can step away without her getting nervous about where you’re headed without her. Also decrease duration again in the beginning to make it easier for the dog, and of course there shouldn’t be any distractions.
Play with distance and duration – yo-yo back and forth instead of making things increasingly more difficult for your dog, and be enthusiastic with your reinforcements – I mean convey to your dog how happy you are that she cooperatively plays the game by your rules.
When you can walk 8-10 feet away, begin to turn your body incrementally and walk away with your back turned, then increase the duration again to 2-3 minutes, and build distractions back in, and there you have it:
A dog you can drop, walk away from and leave for a few minutes, anywhere and anytime.