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Have you ever noticed how your Golden Retriever does the exact opposite of what you want him to?
For example, when working on recall, he stands perfectly still, stubbornly stares at you as if he has absolutely no idea what you want. Then, when you want him to stay, he sticks to your side, matching you stride for stride like a shadow?
Indeed, as you put the dog in a 'stay' for the umpteenth time, only to have him galloping after you, the thought occurs that maybe you ought to reverse commands. Perhaps if you said "Stay" when you want him to come, or shout "Come" when you want him to stay, and all would work out just fine. But that's oh-so-confusing, and wouldn't it just be better if he learned to do as he was told!
Teaching a dog to stay is an important basic command that has the potential to be life-saving. Having a rock-solid 'stay' puts you in control of the dog, even when he's at a distance. This is invaluable in circumstances where you can see danger, but the dog is oblivious, such as when he's about to run onto a busy road.
The crucial thing about teaching 'stay' is to work slowly and let the dog set the pace.
First, build up the amount of time the dog stays in a 'sit' with you beside him. Once he has learned the self-control to stay put for over a minute, then you can start stepping away and adding the element of distance.
By taking it slowly to build his skills, you will achieve a good solid 'stay' in the end.
Like so many basic commands, teaching a dog to stay doesn't need fancy equipment, so much as a good understanding of the best way to approach the situation. Golden Retrievers are food motivated dogs, which does make the task easier. Use a small tasty treat to motivate the dog and he'll soon be desperate to stay in order to earn that delicious delicacy.
The basics needed to teach this command include:
- Tasty treats
- A treat bag or pouch so as to keep the treats handy
- A distraction-free place to train
- A collar and leash
- A longline for training sessions in public places
The Sustained 'Sit' Method
Understand the idea
One of the easiest mistakes to make is to try and move things along too quickly. Taking a solid 'stay' takes time and attempting too much too soon is likely to end in failure. Key to success is teaching the dog the self-control to stay in a seated position for over a minute. Then and only then can you add in the dimension of distance and step away from the dog.
Have the Goldie 'sit'
The first step is to put your Goldie into a sit. If he doesn't already know this, then work on this command first. To do this, use a treat and hold it near the dog's nose. Move the treat up and over his head in an arc. To follow the treat his rear will drop to the ground. Praise him with "good" and give him the treat. Practice this, adding in the "sit" command, until the dog is sitting nicely on request.
Get the dog's attention
With the dog in a 'sit', hold your hand towards the dog, palm forward. Hold it there for several seconds. With the dog still and his attention focused on you, praise him and give a treat.
Extend the 'sit' time
Gradually extend the amount of time the dog has to stay still in the 'sit' before you reward him. Once the dog is regularly staying still for more than a minute, you can start to add in distance.
If the dog breaks the 'sit'
If the dog gets up during the time he's suppose to sit and before you release him, then say "Uh-oh" or make a disappointed sound. This lets him know that moving was a mistake. Then reset him back into another sit and try again. If necessary, be less ambitious about the amount of time you want him to be still by setting a new, shorter target.
The Add Distance Method
Understand the idea
You now have a dog who can sit still for a minute or more. Now you're ready to step away from the dog and start adding some distance to the 'stay'. This is trickier than it sounds because the dog's natural inclination is to follow you. Again, take things in small steps - literally - and gradually increase the separation only after he has successfully learned to stay put.
Take a step away
With the dog in a 'sit', take one step away. Wait for a few seconds, then step back to the dog and reward him.
Reset if he breaks the 'sit'
However, if the dog breaks the sit to follow you, gently guide him back to the start point and have him sit again. If necessary, step away and then immediately back, so the dog remains seated. Give him lots of praise and a treat
Add in more steps
Gradually add in more steps. Aim to move five steps away, pause, and return. Repeat this several times, and once the dog is reliably staying, then you can increase the distance further.
Build up yet more distance
At this point, you are still backing away from the dog. Depending on how well the dog is doing, back away from him as far as you like. Should he break the stay, make a mental note of how far away you were and then work within the distance, gradually building up again so that he stays with you at a greater distance.
The Proofing the Stay Method
Understand the aim
It's all very well having a dog that stays beautifully when you back away to the bottom of the yard, but what about in the dog park or in an emergency situation? Proofing the stay is about having the dog stay no matter what the distraction.
Turn your back
One hurdle to overcome is walking away from the dog with your back turned. Instinctively, most dogs will run to you if they see you walking away. Work on this instinct to play follow-my-leader by having the dog stay while you turn your back, walk around him, or to one side.
Work with distractions
As the dog gets better at 'stay', try tossing a toy or using another object to distract him. Toss the toy but command him to stay. Then release him and reward him with a game with the toy.
Practice in different settings
Once the dog has a good grasp of stay in a distraction-free environment such as the yard, then practice in other places such as on walks or in the dog park. If necessary, keep the dog on a leash or longline so that you remain in control and keep the dog safe.
Remember, work on the length of time the dog stays first, with you close by. Once he has grasped this, then back away. Now the dog has learned to stay with you facing him, then practice turning your back. And finally, practice all of these points in different locations.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021