It isn’t hard to teach stays to a dog once it understands the difference between “sit” and “down”. Last week Gretchen had difficulty differentiating the two, but I took her back to basics, and this week she improved. It was time to incorporate the stays.
I teach sit and down stays concurrently, and have been successful because I concentrate on getting duration first BEFORE I ever try to add distance to the cue. And, I start with very short durations, sometimes as short as half a second! This is particularly important when training a young puppy that has a hard time being still.
Gretchen isn’t exactly a young pup: she’s eight months, an adolescent dog. Her impulse control has improved significantly, but she is still an enthusiastic learner, and as such has a hard time sitting still for long. I start off with a half second stay then increase the durations by a second after that with a 1:1 ratio of reinforcement; that is, one click and a treat for every second that she remains in the sit and the down.
Once I had Gretchen successfully and consistently doing four-second stays, I put the behavior on a variable schedule of reinforcement. That is, I varied when I clicked and treated instead of the usual 1:1 ratio. So I might click after a two-second stay; next I’d click after a four-second stay and give a jackpot of treats; then I’d click for a half-second stay. The dog would never know when she’d get her treats, or whether she’d get a jackpot of those yummy steak bits, so she’d hold her stays in eager anticipation.
It’s important when training stays that the trainer doesn’t ask the dog to hold the stay longer than it’s capable. If I went from asking for four-second stays to asking for a thirty-second stays before I clicked and treated, Gretchen would be confused that I had not clicked sooner and think that she did something wrong. Because clicker training promotes thinking on the part of the learner, Gretchen would break the stay and offer me some other behavior thinking that’s what I really wanted. Dogs are smart.