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Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement and one of the most "pawpular" methods for teaching obedience. This approach utilizes a training technique called positive association. When the clicker is used consistently alongside rewards, your dog will eventually associate the sound with a reward — in this case, a tasty treat. Technically, you don't need a clicker device for this process, but you may find using a handheld device is easier than using a verbal cue.
Clicker training is a method of labeling desired actions (such as "stay") with the click sound. Over time, your dog will associate the click with receiving a reward. In the case of "stay," you'll want to make sure the dog understands that they'll earn a reward if they don't move. Ideally, your dog should already know how to sit on command before you introduce the clicker to teach stay.
However, it's important not to throw too much information at your pal in one go, especially in the beginning. The first step is to get your dog to stay for just a few seconds. As you progress through your training, you can up the ante and add a bit of distance between you and your dog.
Teaching "stay" requires patience, repetition, and consistency. As always, several short training sessions a day are better than one long one. You can incorporate '"stay" training into everyday activities, like putting your pal's collar on for a walk or having them sit and stay before putting their food bowl down.
You need very little basic equipment to teach "stay" with a clicker. If you don't have a clicker device, you can use a retractable pen to make a clicking noise, or even make a clicking noise with your tongue. Verbal cues also work, although if your tone of voice and cues aren't consistent every time, it's best to use a device. Here's what you'll need to train your dog to stay with a clicker:
- A clicker (or retractable pen)
- Kibble-sized treats
- A quiet room free of distractions
The Starting Out Method
The first thing you need to do is teach your dog that clicks equal tasty rewards. With a handful of treats in one hand and your clicker in the other, get settled in a quiet room. Click once, then immediately give your buddy a treat. It's important that you click first, then give the treat, in that order. Don't point the clicker at your dog, but keep it at your side or behind your back. Repeat several times, but keep sessions short. Watch for signs of eager anticipation — when your dog gets excited after hearing the click, you'll know it's working!
Mix it up
Repeat this exercise in short bursts over the next few days until your doggo really gets the hang of it. Make sure to vary your positions; maybe start out sitting down on the couch and then move to the back yard standing up. You want to teach your woofer that no matter where you are or what you're doing, a click means a reward.
The Teach Stay Method
Add the command
Here's where things start to get a little tricky. It won't take long for your dog to understand that clicks mean treats, but teaching "stay" will take a few training sessions. If your dog already knows the "sit" command, start from a sitting position and add the "stay" command. If they don't move for one second, click immediately and then treat!
It's important to remember to start slow. Don't move away from your dog just yet; doing so might confuse them. Stay near them, with the clicker out of sight. Don't expect them to stay for prolonged periods of time, either. Start off with just one or two seconds and build up. One more thing: remember to set a verbal cue to release Fido from the stay!
Repeat and increase
Chances are your dog will be eager to nab that treat, so your aim is to build duration into the command. At first, if your buddy stays put for just a couple of seconds, you can click and treat. Ultimately, though, you want to teach them to stay until you release them from the stay. Repeat the command about 5 times per session, and increase the duration gradually. Work up to as long as one minute and keep building from there.
Add a distraction
Practice makes "pawfect" and now your dog is staying for a minute or more at a time with you by their side. Now it's time to add a distraction!
How you choose to do this is up to you. You might walk a circle around your pupper or throw a toy. Adding a verbal distraction may only confuse them, so stick to movement for now.
Don't forget to give your dog the verbal cue at the start of the repetition and click when Fifi maintains the stay and earns their reward.
The Advanced Stay Method
Understand the idea
Now that your dog understands that "stay" means they don't move, it's time to expect more from your woofer! They already know how to maintain a stay for a minute or longer even with distractions, but now it's time to add in distance as well.
Move back one step
With your dog in a "sit" or "down" position, give the "stay" command and take one step away from the dog. If the dog doesn't move, click and treat. This helps the dog understand why they're being rewarded. Return to your pupper's side and give lots of praise.
Take two steps back
Gradually increasing the distance is the key. Take it literally one step at a time to reinforce the command. By now, you probably already know what you need to do next: click, treat, rinse, repeat.
Build up the separation
Don't rush things, but slowly increase the number of steps you take away from your dog before you click and treat. Once the dog is regularly staying in the same spot, even though you reached the far side of the room, then you can add the final component: distance plus duration.
Distance plus duration
First, give the "stay" command. Next, put some decent distance between you. Then, let the anticipation build! Wait a few seconds before clicking and treating, and continue to build the duration between commanding and clicking.
If, at any stage, Sparky breaks their "stay", then take things back a few stages to re-establish good habits. If necessary, go right back to the beginning with a "stay" of several minutes but with you at the dog's side. Once you've given your buddy a refresher, continue your training. With enough practice, Spot will be staying still as a statue in no time!
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021