Why can it be so difficult to teach a dog the ‘stay’ command? After all, it is one simple word!
In fact, it has very little to do with the length of the word (within reason). Rather than simply explaining how to train a behavior, I feel it is important for an owner to first understand the reasoning behind the behavior.
- Not only do dogs have a short attention span/short term memory, they can be distracted easily. Humans, especially children, can often be easily distracted; it is unreasonable to ask a better focus out of a dog.
On top of that, people often try to get their dogs to stay in one position while the animal is exited or aroused. In fact, this is often why people want the dog to stay in one spot- they are causing a ruckus.
The first step to this process is calming the dog. Once calm, it will be much easier to eliminate distractions, which is actually step number two. Both of these should be accomplished even before we begin the actual training- for maximum effect.
Be reasonable here; start off slowly, just like you would with a child. Don’t expect everything to fall into line at once; it is a gradual process. Hopefully, you have already trained the ‘sit’ command, so have him sit. Stand directly in front of him, and say ‘stay’. Remember, your dog doesn’t know what you mean by ‘stay’ yet; you can’t expect them to right away.
After a couple seconds, reward the dog with a small training treat (you are rewarding desired behavior). Of course, they aren’t going to know what you want out of them yet, or why you rewarded them, but it will come. Repeat the process a few times, then go about your daily activities. Don’t worry, we aren’t done yet.
Now you are back, and we are going to move on. Again, have your dog sit, and stand in front of him. By this time, your dog may expect some kind of reward (it is ok if they don’t yet). Increase the duration to five seconds, 10, 20, etc. Reward them at the end every time (most pet stores sell very small ‘training reward’ treats, in packs of 1-500. Try to use these).
You are going to do this in multiple, short sessions (remember- short attention spans), slowly increasing your expectations. I can’t express the importance of rewarding your dog at the end, EVERY TIME! You want them to expect that reward, thus want to behave a certain way for you.
By now, they have the concept down; start having them stay, and walk away a short distance. They will probably follow you at first, but just have them sit again, and repeat the phrase. once they don’t move after you have taken a few steps, reward them. Start off with a small distance, and slowly increase it. Be sure to be consistent with the rewards. Eventually, you can add distractions; as long as their desire for that treat outweighs their curiosity, they will perform for you.