Go to Canine Behavior Services home page

Positive, Practical Dog Training for the Real World

Your Weekly Training Tip

May 16, 2010

Go to Canine Behavior Services home pageBreak it Down for Better Stays

Last week I discussed some basic tips to help you teach your dog more reliable stays. I continue with the "stay" theme this week, with a few words about the most important advice you're going to get about teaching reliable, rock solid stays: break it down, break it down, break it down!

When teaching stays, each aspect of the exercise should be taught separately, in order to ensure success. Last week, I brought up that the first component of stay to be taught should be duration - that is, the time your dog can stay. Each component of stay, which includes time, various distractions, new locations, and the distance you can move away from your dog, should each be practiced separately from one another, at least until your dogs understands each piece of the picture. Once he understands the separate parts, these pieces can be fitted together more successfully, with less risk of confusing and overwhelming your dog. Does this sound like a lot of work and time invested? I suppose it might at first glance, but keep in mind that when you break the stay exercise down into little nuggets of learning, it actually doesn't take long for your dog to master each piece, precisely because each is small, straightforward, and not overwhelming in its difficulty. As your dog accomplishes each small task, two things happen:

  • With each success, your dog sees a little more of the overall stay "picture", i.e., the end result of what you are trying to convey in your training sessions. Think of it like putting together sections of a puzzle, or painting one of those paint-by-number pictures (raise your hand if you remember those!). At first, what you see is just a jumble of random information, but as the small pieces come together, a picture begins to emerge. At some point, usually quite a bit before you have completed the puzzle (or taught all the component "bits" of the stay exercise), the brain synthesizes the bits of information, puts the pieces together, and "gets it". Just like with a puzzle or picture, you don't have to train stay components in any particular way (except for that time before distance bit - that's kind of like putting together the puzzle edges before the middle - much easier that way!). Just keep plugging in pieces as you are able to, and before long, your dog will see the bigger "stay" picture!
  • By teaching in a way that your dog is able to regularly succeed - while still being challenged, mind you - you build in your dog a habit of success. Not only that, you build an expectation of success. And as a result of this, you build confidence and persistence in the face of challenges. This is a very, very good thing!

So, when teaching your dog to stay, aim for small, attainable training goals. Yes, it might be tempting to to try to teach your ball-crazy retriever puppy to, in one fell swoop, stay for 10 minutes while your children play a rousing game of ball with their 15 closest friends in your backyard. But remember, both failure and success build upon themselves. This seeming unattainable task may actually be quite do-able, provided you break it down into reasonable parts. For instance, one day you may want to work on stay in the presence of your children. Another day, with the kids playing in the yard, another with a ball being moved around, and still another with one or two visiting children nearby. As your dogs gets accustomed to succeeding with these "puzzle pieces", trying putting two (no more at first) pieces together, and rewarding well for small successes with this new picture. Pretty soon, with some clever planning on your part, your dog will have mastered much more than you may have hoped for!
I hope you enjoyed this week's training tip. If you think about it, the same concept applies to most of dog training. Have a great week, and until next time, Happy Training!


Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC
Canine Behavior Services



Free Dog Training & Behavior Tips

If you enjoy our training tips, sign up here to get them in your inbox! With each issue, you'll understand your dog better, and enjoy training more!


Weekly Training Tips are Copyright 2010, Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC, Canine Behavior Services. All rights reserved.