STAYS………………………………………. By John Robert Cox: 2016

Depending on the requirements of the handler/owner, the “sound” to “staaaaya” can vary on the scale of importance of commands that a dog owner would need in the toolbox. The command to “come” will always, to my mind, be the most important, no matter what an owner wants a dog to do. However, the “down” and the “stay” must surely come a close second.
Of the five basic obedience commands, namely heel, sit, down, stay and come….. stay is probably the most underestimated in terms of difficulty.  Sit, heel, down and come, are all within the handler’s immediate sphere of influence, and they offer numerous opportunities to instantly reward for compliance, or correct for non- compliance.  However, the stay gives off less secure vibes and a possible dose of anxiety on the part of the dog and handler particularly when distance and time increase. Where is the boss going? Will my pooch stay?  Furthermore, if one leaves ones dog, how does one instantaneously reward it for staying and correct it if it starts to move? Too much praise and it will want to move and if it does move, it will normally be to come to the owner when in fact admonishment may prove counterproductive/
If there was ever a case for the trumpeting of the value of a well- developed good and bad sound, this would be it!   From puppyhood, a good sound such as good girl….good boy…etc. said soothingly and with meaning, at the right time, will work wonders for the rest of the dog’s life.  Even better than the proverbial magic clicker!!
There are few other training exercises where it is absolutely critical, from the onset that the dog is given no chance to disobey. The main problem is, that most handlers seem to believe this is not only an easy training exercise, but sadly a boring one. So it is quite common that handlers are tempted to progress too fast to the next stage, and in this process, they build in the opportunity to disobey and, even worse, the creation of an environment where the handler becomes angry and the dog uncertain. Do this at your peril.  Never punish or show anger to your dog for breaking a stay. It will make matters worse. Stay calm, rethink your strategy and read on.
Remember a Stay is just that….. Stay until I return, or give the next command. So, just like giving the command to “sit”, make sure that the dog is given every chance to obey.  Most of the secret is in the voice, with the reassuring calm sound “Staaaya” and, at the same time, the hand signal with palm facing the dog.
On the first attempt try the sit stay which is usually the best position to start with. Start by staying “sit” sharply and. as one moves calmly and slowly half a pace to a pace away, facing the dog, say “ Staaaya “ soothingly, gently using the voice and if you wish, hand signal.  I might suggest that a soothing and reassuring “gooood dog” sound can be added to the “staaaaya” but, don’t praise too enthusiastically in case it encourages the dog to come to you. 
The secret now is to watch the dog and keep communicating, sit, staaaya, good girl, staaya and giving that reassuring hand signal.  Then, before the dog even thinks of moving, return to its side by walking round the back of the animal and, after a brief moment, give your release command (go free… playtime, that’ll do! etc.) & praise, praise praise.   Never return to the dog and let him/her move before giving the release command, otherwise the dog may start moving before you want him to. Then:
Start all over again, increasing distance and time in miniscule but carefully planned phases, so that the dog can never fail to stay.  If the dog moves, you need to be the first to admit that you have cocked up!!  Every time you cock up, you must surely know that your training has gone back several stages. So learn to read your dog and anticipate an approaching desire to move!!
This is where the bad sound is so critical.  As you anticipate a dog which is about to move in a stay, timeously correct the animal with a bad sound, as it is about to move, and then reaffirm the sound staaaaaya.  Soon afterwards return and praise the dog as previously described.
In short, when teaching the stay, the more you confirm and consolidate compliance and steadfastness before progressing to the next stage, the better your end result will be.  The maximum standards in the various competitions for stay are SIT: 2 minutes handler out of sight, DOWN: 10 minutes handler out of sight and STAND 1 min handler in site.  Thus, if one wishes to compete, one needs to build into stages of training where the hander faces a dog in the stay, turns his/her back on the dog and eventually moves out of sight.  It is important that during training, handlers are never in a position where they cannot keep a beady eye on their dogs through a window or via mirrors etc. so that, in the event the dog even twitches, the bad sound can be given and the dog corrected if necessary, at the exact time of the offence.
Down stays and stand stays can be introduced at any time, even from the onset, but try not to do them all during the same training session. Rather have breaks and play periods between sessions to avoid confusion in the dogs mind regarding what you want. For example, with a new dogs, if one first does some down stays, followed shortly thereafter by a sit stay, the dog may be sorely tempted to go down from the sit after a very short time.
Once a high degree of proficiency in the stay is assured, one can introduce distractions in the form of other people and/ or dogs walking around or even kids playing in the vicinity of the dog.
A common mistake where handlers have progressed too fast in training, and where their dogs break their stays, running back to their handlers in the process, is that the handler rebukes/punishes the dog upon its return. The correct action would have been to say nothing to the dog once it starts to come to the handler, and merely quietly, but firmly, put on the lead and take it back to its original stay position, and then do a stay exercise whereby the handler/dog can be assured of success and the subsequent praising on a high note for the end of that session.
Much debate exists around the necessity to have a different command (sound) for the stay (wait here until I return) and the stay (wait here until I give my next command e.g. come or fetch!). The choice really is yours. I have never had a problem with any of my dogs over the years in using stay for both.  However, having said that, logic tells me that a person whose dog is trained to respond to STAY (meaning stay until I return) and WAIT, (meaning stay alert until my next command… come, heel etc.) may have some slight conditioning advantage in the competition ring.
Just in passing, and I am reluctant to advocate this lazy option, but where a dog, for whatever reason, just won’t stay, right from the onset, even if the handler just moves a metre or so, then one may consider the use of a ground peg or other device to restrain the dog in a specific position until such time as the penny drops!  Then, remove the restraint mechanism as unobtrusively as possible and then follow the progressive formula previously advised.
There are a couple more tools that you might like to keep in your “stay training toolbox” which may help clarify your requirement to the dog. Firstly, many trainers advocate that when leaving the dog in the stay, the handler should move off with the right foot as they leave the dogs side and with the left one when requiring the dog the “accompany” the hander and “heel” as he or she moves off. The Theory is that, in time, the dog will recognise this “silent” reinforcement and either be more tempted to stay or to move forward automatically, depending on which foot the handler leads off with.   I have never consciously trained for this, believing that the dog must respond to, and obey the last command given, regardless of any foot movements. But that is not to say it may not have some merit.
Secondly, it is common practice in many exercises, for a handler to “set the dog up”, via a short ritual, so that it automatically anticipates what is coming next. A type of “pay attention now” memory trigger so to speak.  This is very common in a “send away” where many a handler will place their hands either side of the head of the dog making sure it is focused and looking straight ahead before they stand up straight and send their dog forward.  In time, the mere repetition of this ritual is often enough to wind the dog up so that it is just waiting for that trigger sound….”forward”.
Much the same applies to a lot of other exercises where, within a very short time, a specific pre command act or association, subconsciously sets the dog up.  For example, the act of throwing the dumb bell certainly increases focus, or merely approaching a specific piece of agility equipment with which the dog is familiar, will be enough to release that trigger even with a polite cough!!  Also in tracking, the act of putting on the tracking harness, will usually be more than enough to stimulate the dog into a desire to start sniffing the ground without any need for a command to “track”.
In the case of the stay, I have seen many experienced handlers gently lifting the dog up slightly by the shoulders a couple of times and gently lowering the front paws back down again whilst, at the same time, murmuring staaaaya, staaya.  This little ritual is done just before the dog is placed in its final position for the stay.
Good Luck with the stay training!!

John Robert Cox
April 2016