Nothing is more boring for the dog than a sit stay. All the action and fun of working and learning are stopped. As a team you have been heeling with turns, some nice fun circles, maybe some fast halts with sits, racing recalls and of course lots of praise, rewards and fun. Now the dreaded sit stay! The dog must sit, be quiet and not move while the fun leader walks away and pays attention elsewhere or stands glaring at the poor dog daring him to move. Traditionally, there are as many ways to teach the stay as there are instructors, plus all the new methods of capturing and operant conditioning. But no matter what method you teach it is still boring for the dog and stressful for a lot of owners.
I just recently adopted a super high drive and tons of energy, totally untrained, 3 year old male Border Collie. He just couldn’t stay still for more than half a second on a good day. It took 10 days for him to stop racing around the house, bouncing of the walls and counters. How was I ever going to get him to do a sit stay?
The best reward for this boy was action so we worked our own version of the ready, steady, go game. I started with a finger or two in the buckle collar, standing beside him and had him do a sit. With a little backward pressure on the collar I said “ready” and quickly tossed a treat out in front of him and said “go!” I had more treats for the return. I repeated the same action but put less pressure on the collar until I didn’t have to touch it at all. At this point I started to add the stay command with the ready-go. Now he had the idea that he had to hold his sit for a second in order to run get his treat. He was starting to learn self control. Problem: if he runs before the throw and go, too bad, I forget to throw it so no treat and we just start over to try again. Remember, he isn’t wrong, just eager and trying to learn.
He is maybe even a bit greedy! With my hand still ready near the collar, I can quickly and quietly slide a finger under the collar if he decides to rush things by standing out of his sit to try for his treat before the command. I don’t repeat the sit command but just hold him quiet and wait for the sit. If the wait is too long, I will put a tiny bit of upward pressure on the collar to remind him of what he is supposed to be doing. As soon as I get the re-sit I say “ready” and quickly throw the treat with the go command without a pause.
Once he has the idea of sit for the toss, I start to command stay and as I say stay- ready, quietly take a side step and quickly say go. I can usually quickly progress to a giant step to the side and then to a large forward step with the off leg only and place the treat on the floor in front of my toes and command Go. If the dog rushes for the placed treat, place your foot over it so he can’t get it. Quietly take dog’s collar and start over at the same step, but maybe use a blocking hand stay as a reminder and work faster the first few times until he realizes if he holds the position the treat it is still his. Or just make a shorter step forward and go back to a finger in his collar to remind him to stay. Remember, this is a high energy, high drive dog with very little self control so don’t rush him. This is really hard work for him. Within a few reps I had a 3 second sit-stay for a command release.
As my boy loses attention very fast I only do 4 or 5 reps per cycle to keep it interesting, rewarding, then go on to something fast pace with lots of action and fun. Even a game of tug or another interactive game the dog really enjoys is good. Not a fetch game as he tends to make the rules and with him it becomes keep away! I will repeat this stay cycle another time or two in the training session; mixed with heeling, recalls, etc, but may toss a treat bag (Velcro closed bag on a tug line) or toy on a string (so no snatch and run game) again just to keep his interest up and make changes fun.
Training Session Two: We just did a quick review then added my stay command by holding a flat open hand in front of his face with the fun command; really stretched out, Readddddyyyyy, as I stepped out placed the reward and quickly stepped back and said go (his fun release.) By now he has the idea of staying until released, so it was time to change or add to the rules to keep him interested and staying.
Stay while I place your reward and return to your side. Release and race you to the reward.
Stay while I walk out and then around you then toss the reward after I return to your side.
Stay while I walk or run out and face my dog; remember start close then add distance, return and feed your dog with praise/reward or call for big reward.
Put on your thinking cap and use fun ways to reinforce the stay command that your dog enjoys and will give you the finished exercise.
At home I can add a sit stay at the door, for his supper, or getting into the car.
All of a sudden I have a sit stay that to the dog means a fun game is in the works if he just stays in place.
In future sessions: Return and give a brisk heeling command moving forward at a good pace as a reward.
Extra benefits: Long lead out for agility (reward is getting to run and jump) and fast obedience heeling step off, fast recalls, fast take off for retrieve and fast go outs, plus many other exercises.
REMEMBER: Reward is not what the handler likes or is easier for the handler, but what the dog loves.