When we are learning a new skill, it can be helpful to break the pieces down into parts. The same is true when we are teaching a new skill. That’s what I will try to do here, for teaching your dog to “stay.”
Every dog knows how to stay. Don’t believe me? Even the most off-the-wall crazy puppies and young dogs sleep sometimes, and, when they do, they stay in one place, at least for a little while.
What gets them up? People moving around, having slept enough, food, or a noise outside are all possibilities. Basically, anything that makes staying in one place seem like less of a good idea than moving around.
These tempting alternatives are the same that we face when teaching a stay. They fall into categories often broadly described as the “Three Ds”: Distance, Duration, and Distraction.
Distance refers to the distance between the person asking for the stay and the dog. Really, this is not so surprising. We spend so much time asking new dogs and puppies to come with us, can we really be surprised that they want to do this even when we want them to stay in one place? This is not just in absolute distance, but also can be indicated by weight or attention shifts.
Duration refers to how long the dog is maintaining the position. If you are doing a stay that ends in a recall or another active behavior, this is the total time from start to finish. If you are using a relaxation protocol or similar approach (see Relax Already! for more), this refers to the time between treats, with a second dimension of absolute distance.
Distraction is a broad term that encompasses all the many other things that get our dogs moving, like toys, food, and other dogs. Pretty much anything outside of you, your dog, and the passage of time that might promise momentarily more interest than staying put.
Each of the three ds should be worked on independently and combined only gradually. The temptation to link them together early on can be overwhelming, but the behavior that is built is much more fragile in the face of an untrained distraction. Your trainer can give you guidance about how to build these skills.
For more basic skills, try the Back to Basics series.