Training formal competition obedience stays is not something I’ve, in the past, been great with. Informal stays, good at teaching those. Stay on your bed, stay at the start line, moving wait, wait for release at doors, stay while I clip your leash on, wait for release to eat your meal, stays based with some level of impulse control, know how to do that, do it rather well overall.
Zora lying on a dog bed
Tom lying on his blue mat
But formal sit your dog, leave your dog, walk away, stand facing your dog for 1-3 minutes, return to your dog, walk around your dog back to heel position, wait for ‘exercise finished.’ Yea, a weakness for sure.
In the past when I’ve competed with dogs the stays have always been stressful for me. The most likely place we would NQ. Ok sit and stand stays. Down stays, never worried about those. Its been hard for me in life to embrace the idea that the dog is to stay in whatever position I asked to begin with for an extended period of time. Basically all of the dogs I’ve ever had in life after a while would rather lie down as they find it more comfortable and I’ve never really been able to justify in my head a fault in their logic. In part because of my own personal experience with trying to maintain positions (painful) and because I didn’t find training stays fun.
This time around, a goal of mine is confident stays. In all 3 positions. I want to walk into the ring for any of our stay based exercises: stand stay, sit stay, down stay going “We absolutely got this!” Confident in our training and that we’re going to rock the stays.
So I went back to the drawing board on how to teach stays. What I’d attempted in the past clearly wasn’t doing it for me, so I pretended I knew nothing and went back to my research, thinking, processing, planning stage.
And I found a few articles on Loopy Training. The duration ends the behavior. With clear, clean loops of behavior throughout. And I went “duh” as that’s what I do for training anything else, why the mental road block for applying it to formal stay training? So here we are, Zora and I going back to bare bones and doing Loopy Stays.
My criteria for our formal stay includes criteria for both me and for Zora.
- Me: feet and body position straight to start, hands at my side, clean silent pause after the set up, clean clear cue to position (for down and stand), clean silent pause after position change, clean clear verbal and signal cue to ‘stay’, step off with my right foot, cross my arms across my chest, turn and face my dog, weight on which ever leg hurts less with knee slightly bent (ie don’t try to stand solid, as I can’t sustain that!), breathe, watch Zora’s front feet.
- Zora: sit straight in heel position at set up, clean movement into cued position, feet solid (no shifting or dancing!), quiet body (no vocalizing, minimal tail wagging as that’s a sign she’s getting wound up) for the duration of the held position.
- We both build up for gradually increasing lengths of time, and distance, in a multitude of places, with increasing distractions.
- After I’ve got her and me solid up to 1 minute, I’ll go back and add in the walk around her back to heel on the return. She has a training history of that already, the stay solid in position while I walk around.
- Build up each position to 2 minutes (as formal stays in obedience are sit and down 1 minute each, or at least will be come May 1st, and stand stay I doubt would ever be needed for a full 2 minutes but if I have that also solid again I’ll feel confident) with me both 6′ away (on and off-leash), 15′ and 40′ away (off leash).
What that looks like right now for us?
Zora and I set up, her at heel beside me, I cue ‘stay’ and take 1 step in front, then I watch her little adorable front feet as I count, “a, b, c.” Click, return, treat. Praise, and then reset.
At present for the first 2 reps if I go beyond ‘a,b,c’ she is likely to start shifting her feet. So I stay at ‘a,b,c’ for the first 2 reps, then if she’s been solid for those we go to ‘a,b,c,d,e,f,g’ quite easily. Those first 2 for her right now, if they aren’t clean, we go to ‘a,b’ or even ‘a’ until clean for a couple of reps.
Baby steps, take our time, build the confidence and clarity. We got this!