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Sweet, affectionate and full of personality, Shih Tzus are readily trainable with positive training methods that focus on rewards. Training your Shih Tzu to stay is no exception. Teaching the basics is easy! Just be consistent and practice often to make sure this behavior is there when you need it.
In addition to being a great behavior to have on tap during an emergency, 'stay' is also a skill that helps your Shih Tzu learn that being patient is rewarding. If you want a dog that is not so pushy, training and practicing stay can help with that!
Our guide to training your Shih Tzu to stay includes three different methods. Use the 'Clicker' or 'Mat' methods to start your training and move on to 'Proofing' to give her some more advanced skills and a much stronger stay.
This lovable and social breed is very sensitive to tone. Make sure to keep your Shih Tzu excited about training by keeping the tone playful and positive. Particularly early on, focus on just rewarding the correct behavior, and ignoring failure. Remember, if your Shih Tzu is failing more than 20% of the time when learning a new behavior, you are setting the bar too high. Slow down and advance at a pace she can handle.
Since Shih Tzus are a small breed, they can be prone to gaining weight. We still recommend using food rewards for training, however, you can use part of her regular kibble portion for training. If she needs a little extra motivation, cut just a few pieces of cooked chicken or cold cuts up into pea-size nuggets and mix in with the kibble. This adds a lot of taste, without much additional fat or calories.
Our methods assume you want a 'sit' for your 'stay'. However, you can alternatively ask for a 'down' or even a 'stand' to be associated with your 'stay' command. If you want your Shih Tzu to just hold her position when you give the stay command, make sure you only reward those instances where she holds her position, and practice the 'stay' from a variety of stances right from the start.
If you find that when you are training your Shih Tzu to stay, she is consistently unable to meet your criteria, be sure to lower the bar and make things easier for her. When you give her lots of success and reward, she will learn faster and stay motivated about learning. If she fails, ignore and try again.
When you are ready to take your training outside, you can use a long line – a long leash or rope about 25-50’ in length. Just let it drag on the ground. This will give her the feeling that she has the option to not pay attention, giving her a chance to choose to follow your lead. Moreover, it gives you the power to gather her back up under control in an instant to keep her out of danger.
You will notice that one of our methods is the 'Clicker' method. If you do not have a clicker, you can still use the basic technique. Instead of making a clicking sound, just use another noise or word that you use exclusively for training. Be sure to use this “marking” sound the instant you get the right behavior and always follow up with a reward.
The Clicker Method
Advantages of a clicker
When you use a clicker, you are joining the vast majority of dog trainers working with canines in competitive sports and conformation rings. It is fast, effective and will make your Shih Tzu so eager to train! Always follow the click (or your “marking” sound) with a reward, even if you made a mistake or your timing was off.
With your Shih Tzu right in front of you, ask for a sit. As soon as he does it, say “Staaaaaay” in a drawn-out voice. If you want to also have a hand cue, you can use that at the same time. As long as he gives you at least one second of a 'stay', go ahead and click/reward. Wait another second or two, click/reward again.
Repeat the previous step until you are getting a stay lasting 10 seconds. Now you can start to add some distance, by just a half step at a time. Make sure to click while you are at max distance then step back to him and hand him his food reward.
Add release word
Add the release word. If you do not train a release word along with your 'stay', you are essentially making it impossible for your dog to know when it is okay to break the 'stay'. At this stage, start working in an “Okay!” said in an excited tone, followed by tossing a treat a few feet away from him. Then, give him some praise for breaking on the release command, and return to 'stay' training. Pepper in the release often.
Once your Shih Tzu has the basics of 'stay' down pat, and can hold a stay for 20 seconds with you a few yards away, proceed to the 'Proofing' method to make his 'stay' even stronger.
The Mat Stay Method
Advantages of mat stays
Many owners of small dogs like to use a mat, or a small dog bed, as a way to train 'stay'. The advantage of this method of training stay is that the mat itself serves as a trigger for the 'stay' behavior – making it a bit easier to translate to new places. Make sure you choose a mat that is easy to travel with.
On the mat
Lure your dog onto the mat with a treat. Click/treat as soon as all four paws are on the mat. Wait a few seconds, if she stays on the mat, click/treat again.
Continue to make being on the mat the first step, but ask for a 'sit', followed by adding the command “Staaaaay!” said in a slow tone (along with a hand signal if you want one). Take a very short stay at first, increasing the duration slowly as she is ready to progress.
Distance and time
Start to add some distance to this mat 'stay'. Keep rewarding her for success and take several sessions until you are able to walk around her, step at least a few yards away, and even pop around the corner to “hide” from her while she maintains the stay.
You are ready to move on to the 'Proofing' method to make sure her stay is reliable enough that you can count on it when you need it most.
The Proofing Method
Why proofing matters
It is important that you start to add some challenges to your stay drills if you expect your Shih Tzu to stay around distractions. This method will give you some pointers on how to practice in the presence of distractions to “proof” your Shih Tzu’s stay.
Hit the road
Luckily, your portable pocket pet is able to hit the road at the drop of a hat. Take her to new places to practice her stay, using high value rewards, and staying focused on success. Use a long leash or rope if you are in an area that is not secured by a fence.
If you want to be sure she will stay even when other dogs are around, you will need to look for some chances to practice around them. Try going to a dog sporting event, conformation ring, or even the dog park. Make sure to practice far enough away that she is able to focus, moving closer to the distraction as she is ready.
Be sure to practice outdoors as well. Again, a long line or leash can keep your dog safe while working on this vital skill.
Once you have trained your Shih Tzu to stay well enough that she clearly has the basics and lots of practice being successful, it is time to start enforcing any breaks before the release. You can do this with a harsh tone, putting her in the crate for a 5-minute "time out", or using a water gun to give her a squirt in the face. Because you have rewarded so much for success, it won’t take many corrections before she gets it – staying is worth it!
By Sharon Elber
Published: 02/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021