How to Train Your Dog to Stay With a Clicker

Medium
1-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

Your dog isn't very good at doing what he's told. You've lost count of the number of times he barges ahead of you through a door or dashes off into the kitchen. What you'd really like is for him to sit and stay while you carry the dishes into the kitchen, so that there's less chance of him getting under your feet and tripping you up. However, the allure of food is too strong and he remains deaf to your 'stay' command. 

Since your dog seems ruled by his stomach, a friend came up with a helpful suggestion. She said that clicker training stay might do the trick. When the dog hears the click of the clicker, he's taught that he gets a treat. Apparently, you can then use this as motivation for the dog to do what he's told, because if he obeys a command it makes you click and he knows he gets a reward.  

The idea took a bit of getting used to, but so far so good. He's still no furry angel but at least his manners are improving a little...

Defining Tasks

Clicker training is a method of labeling desired actions (such as 'stay') with the click of a clicker, which he links to getting a treat. The dog is then motivated to work out how to make the owner press the clicker, so that he can earn a reward. 

In the case of 'stay' the desired action is clicked so that the dog understands it's not moving that is about to be rewarded. Thus, the dog hears the "stay" command and knows that playing at being a statue will earn a reward. 

It is, however, important not to throw too much information at the dog in one go. Start training in a simple way with expecting the dog to stay still for a certain amount of time. Once he has gained this level of self-control, then you can start to add a bit of distance by stepping away from the dog. 

Getting Started

Teaching 'stay' requires patience, repetition, and consistency. As always, several short training sessions a day are better than one long one. Indeed, you can incorporate 'stay' training into everyday activities such as when you put the dog's collar on for a walk or having him sit and stay before his food bowl goes down. 

You need very little basic equipment to teach 'stay' and remember, if you don't have a clicker then you can use a retractable pen to make a clicking noise, or even make a clicking noise with your tongue. 

  • A clicker (or retractable pen, as suggested)
  • Pea-sized tasty treats
  • A treat bag or pouch for ease of access to the treats
  • A room that is relatively distraction-free

The Effective Clicker Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
The clicker is a small plastic device that makes a discrete clicking sound. The clicker is used to mark the precise moment that the dog performs a desired behavior. Think of it like a camera shutter -press the button at the moment you want to record (or repeat, in the case of training.) The clever part is that the dog is taught to understand that a click means he gets a reward. This allows you to label the desired behavior as worthy of a treat, but the reward can come slightly later. This allows you to 'capture' certain behaviors which might otherwise be difficult to mark in the dog's mind.
Step
2
Introduce the clicker
Some dogs can be fearful of the sound of a clicker. Try yours out at a distance from the dog and see what his reaction. If he is not alarmed, then move closer, click and toss him a treat. However, if the dog seems scared, try muffling the sound of the clicker by using it in your pocket. Alternatively, you could press the end of a retracting pen to make a quieter clicking sound.
Step
3
Build the link between click and reward
Using a pea-sized tasty treat, drop it on the floor. As the dog goes to gobble it up, press the clicker. Repeat this several times, scattering treats and clicking when the dog eats the reward. Before long the dog will realize that clicking is somehow linked to a treat.
Step
4
Now click and then reward
After several practices of clicking the dog for eating a treat, change things up a little. This time, click first and watch for the dog looking at the floor, where he expects to see a treat. Say "Good" and toss him a tasty reward. Practice the click followed by a reward, and pretty soon he'll have the hang of a click meaning something nice happens.
Step
5
The dog triggers the click
The final step is to have the dog think about what he has to do to make the clicker go off (and hence get a treat). For example, say "Sit" and when the dog sits, click and reward. In the dog's mind he realizes that when you ask him to sit and he does just that, he can make the clicker go off. When the dog learns that responding in a certain way earns a click, he's going to start trying to please you and you can move forward with 'stay' training.
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The Basic Stay Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
The idea of 'stay' is for the dog not move from one spot. This sounds simple but there are a lot of 'invisible' variable factors that a dog can find challenging. For example, he may stay beautifully for when at your feet, but get up as soon as you step away. Or, he may stay like a statue when you're ten-feet away... but only for five seconds and then he comes. Your first task is to teach a basic 'stay' where the idea is sown about what action (or inaction!) is desired.
Step
2
Start from a sit or down position
To teach a basic 'stay' (which you then improve upon) start with the dog in a stationary resting position such as 'sit' or a 'down' position. Using previous training, put the dog in a sit position. If necessary, click and reward the dog for the sit. Now say "Stay" and use a hand signal, should you wish to do so, such as a raised palm to indicate 'stay'.
Step
3
Sit and stay for a few seconds
The first task is to build duration into the stay. So your aim is not to move from the dog's side, but to have the dog stay in a sit for a few seconds before you release the 'stay'. If the dog stays sitting as requested, after a few seconds click (to reward the stay) and give a treat. Keep repeating and practicing this.
Step
4
Extend the duration
Keep adding a few seconds onto the amount of time the dog is expected to stay before he triggers the clicker and the reward this entails. Again, you want to have the dog sitting for at least a minute, before you think about adding complications such as moving away from the dog.
Step
5
Add a distraction
Practice makes perfect and now the dog is staying for a couple of minutes at a time, with you by his side. Now it's time to add in a few distractions in preparation for adding some distance to the duration of the stay. To do this simply move a hand or arm, try marching on the spot, or even turning in a slow circle while expecting the dog to maintain his stay. Don't forget to give the dog a verbal instruction such as "Stay" and then click to confirm when the dog has completed the action and has earned his reward.
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The Advanced Stay Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
Now the dog understands that "stay" means he doesn't move from the spot, it's time to expect more from him. He already knows how to stay without moving for a certain duration of time, but now it's time to add in distance as well.
Step
2
Move back one step
With the 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 him and give a reward. This helps the dog understand why he's being rewarded (not moving even though your stepped away). Return to his side and praise him.
Step
3
Take two steps back
Following a similar pattern, this time say "stay" and take two steps back. When the dog doesn't move, immediately click (hence approving his staying put) return to his side and reward him. Repeat this several times. Don't worry about having him stay for a long time with you at a distance, this comes later. For now, it's all about him not moving as you walk away.
Step
4
Build up the separation
Don't rush things, but slowly increase the number of steps you take away from the dog before you click and return to reward him. Once the dog is regularly staying on the same spot, even though you reached the far side of the room, then you can add the final component of distance plus duration.
Step
5
Distance plus duration
You guessed it! You're going to say "Stay", walk away from the dog, turn, and wait several seconds before clicking to reward him. Gradually build up the time before the dog gets clicked. If at any stage the dog breaks his '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 he regains this level of self control you can add distance back in.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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