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You've owned dogs before, but this time you are determined to do things properly and train the dog. No more badly behaved dogs, no more being shown up by dogs that start blankly when you tell them to sit.
German shepherds are highly intelligent dogs and you are starting obedience training right out with the pup. However, things aren't going quite as you'd planned. OK, he's learned to sit just fine, but you can't seem to get to grips with 'stay'. You turn your back and walk away but the pup comes bounding after you. While it does your heart good that he wants to stay by your side, this isn't so great from a training perspective.
You suspect it's you that are sending out the wrong signals, but this being so, how should you teach 'sit' and 'stay'?
When teaching 'sit' and 'stay' the trick is to teach the pup to sit first. Then extend the amount of time he is expected to stay in a sitting position before he gets a reward. Only once he has mastered sitting for at least one minute, should you introduce the distance element to 'stay'.
In practical terms, you will take one step away from the pup, then return to his side and reward him if he remained seated. Again, make sure the pup stays put reliably before adding in a second step and gradually extending the distance you walk away from him.
These training sessions work best when done 'little and often'. Thus, several short sessions during the day are much better than a single longer training episode. Also, as the puppy gets the hang of things, vary the places you train him so that he learns to generalize the commands and not just execute the perfect 'sit and stay' only when in the living room.
When getting started, work in a distraction-free place so that the pup is focused entirely on you. As he becomes more accomplished you will then vary where he is trained. In addition, you will need:
- Training treats that are small but tasty, so that the pup is attracted to them but eats them quickly.
- A pouch or bag in which to keep the treats handy at all times.
The Teach 'Sit' First Method
Understand the idea
You are going to use a treat to lure the pup into a sitting position, and then praise him. This helps him understand that you desire him to sit and when he does so he gets a fuss, hence making this something he's keen to repeat. As the last step you will add a cue word, so that the action is labelled.
Get his attention with a treat
Working in a distraction-free room, hold a treat between your finger and thumb. Place the treat near the dog's nose so he smells it and you get his attention.
Move the treat in an arc
Now lure the dog into a sitting position by moving the treat. Travel the treat in an arc over the dog's head and behind his back. In an attempt to follow the treat, the pup will naturally drop into a sitting position. If this doesn't happen, try a different angle until you find the arc that does make him sit.
Praise the pup
As soon as the dog sits, praise him in an excited way and give him the treat. Keep practicing this. You may find that the dog quickly learns to anticipate what's about to happen and offers you a sit as soon as the treat starts moving.
Label the action as "sit"
When the pup is regularly sitting in response to the lure, start adding in your cue word "sit". This gives the action a name so that the dog understands what's expected of him. As his training progresses, start saying "sit" ahead of moving your hand. When he offers the 'sit' straight after a verbal command, things are really rocking and you can start working on 'stay'.
The Teach 'Stay' Method
Understand the idea
Once the pup has learned to sit, you can start working on 'stay'. First, teach the pup the self-control of staying in a seated position for a minute or more. Once he has achieved that, you can start stepping away and adding the element of distance.
Delay the Reward
Start out with the dog in a 'sit'. However, instead of instantly rewarding him, say "Good" in a happy voice, but make him wait a few seconds for the treat. If he starts to shuffle or move, make a disapproving "Uh-oh!" sound, to let him know this is the wrong thing to do. Start with just a few seconds' delay and then reward him.
Aim for one minute
Your first target is to have the dog sit for at least a minute. Do this gradually, building up 10 seconds, then 20 seconds, etc., until you get to 60 seconds. Once he is able to stay still for this time, you can start adding in distance.
Take one step away
Remain facing the dog in a seated position. Hold your hand up, palm facing the dog and say "Stay". Take one step away, pause, then step back. Praise and reward him if he stayed in a 'sit'.
Progressively increase the distance.
As the pup masters each stage, gradually build up the distance separating you from the dog. At this point, remain facing the dog at all times. Once you are able to back away across the room you can add in the final element, which is turning your back.
Turn away from the dog
Turning your back and walking away is a strong signal for the dog to follow. The final element of a good 'stay' is being able to turn your back and yet the dog doesn't move. This can be achieved in a number of ways that have the same end effect. One example is to back away across the room, and once you reach the far side turn slowly in a circle which ends with you facing the dog again. Then walk back towards him, praise and give a treat. Gradually build up his exposure to your back, so that he learns the rules still apply even if he can't see your face.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Don't: Use force to get the dog to sit
Old fashioned training methods depended on hoiking the dog up by the collar and pushing down forcibly on his rump. This stems from outdated thinking about dominating the dog. While it will teach the dog to sit, it is not teaching him to think through a request and problem solve. Instead, he learns by rote (at best) or through fear, neither of which are desirable.
Do: Progress at the puppy's rate
Some pups are slow learners, others are fast. Let the pup's speed of learning guide you. Take things too quickly and the pup will just get confused and start to dread training rather than enjoy it.
Don't: Punish the pup
The pup is learning and it's natural to make mistakes. If he fails to sit, don't punish him but instead think about how you can make the instruction clearer. Likewise, if he breaks a 'stay', never smack or punish him. It is acceptable to guide him with a disapproving "Uh oh", but this is meant as a cue that he made the wrong decision, rather than a chastisement.
Do: Keep training fun and happy
Happy puppies learn more quickly than bored or miserable ones. Keep the tone of the training sessions light and fun, with lots of over-the-top praise when he does well.
Do: End on a high
If things go badly and the pup is struggling to get anything correct, then draw the session to a close and try again later. The chances are he is tired or distracted and will do much better after a rest. However, try to end each session on a positive note so that he looks forward to the next time. This is best done by giving him a simple command that you know he can do, so that you can shower him with praise and boost his self-confidence.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 02/14/2018, edited: 01/08/2021