The Stay Exercises

The Stay Exercises

“You can’t ask your dog for behaviour before you have given the dog the behaviour.” Cesar Milan

The stay exercises in obedience competition necessitates the teaching of three different stay positions as well as the commands, “Sit “ ,  “Down” and “Stand.”

What the rule book says:

All competing dogs in a class perform each stay exercise together. Handlers will stand with their dogs in the Heel position until commanded to, “Sit –, down –, or Stand your dogs.” Upon an order from the Judge/Steward the handlers will leave their dogs without further command and will return as and when directed until they are in the place where they left their dogs. They will not command or signal to their dogs or touch them or move against them until the exercise has ended.

Teaching the Stays

The first discipline I prefer to teach a dog is to sit – stay. I call it a “Reliable Sit.” It has a beginning, “Sit” and an end, “Okay.” This is followed by the Down and the Stand. Once a dog has been taught these three positions it is simply a matter of prolonging each exercise.  I need to mention that I do not use the command, “Stay” to my own dogs, not only because it is not allowed in Schutzhund but to avoid confusion in the mind of the dog. Quite often in AKC or KUSA a handler will command his dog to, “Sit – Stay” only to find when he turns around after having walked away that his dog is lying down. The dog stayed, but that was not what he was ordered to do. Some handlers confuse their dogs by using, “Wait” (I’m going to call you) and “Stay” (I’m going to return to you).    

There are several reasons why, in the beginning, dogs break a Stay exercise, such as:

  1. They are active or restless dogs.
  2. Wanting to follow their handler
  3. Interesting smells nearby
  4. Dislike of the dog next door.
  5. Lack of concentration for the duration of the exercise.
  6. Distracted by happenings in the ring next door.

Teaching the Sit Stay (Do read “Sit – Stay”in BASICS for additional training methods.)

Each exercise begins with the dog on leash, in the basic Heel position, and is then told to “Sit.” The handler then takes a step to his right. Many dogs will become stressed and attempt to move closer to the handler for assurance. When this happens he commands, “No Sit” and at the same time uses his legs and hips to re-position the dog into the original heel position. This exercise is repeated and soon it is possible to take two or more steps to the right and back and then give the release followed by praise and a treat as an extra. However, if the dog moves off it must be returned to where the exercise first began. The dog must learn the consequences of his action. The rules of this game must remain in the control of the leader who must apply them calmly, consistently and with persistence.

Next the handler stands in front of the dog in the “Present” position, says “Sit” and takes a small step backwards before going forward and then back into the heel position.  As before, the handler now can begin to take a second and third step backwards. The moment the dog wants to follow the handler he again says, “No Sit” andwith his arms wide open, forces his dog backwards as he commands, “Go back, go back” andgently but firmly walks his dog backwards all the way to the original starting position.

The mistake many handlers make is, when the dog comes to them having broken a stay, to walk them back alongside them. That is exactly why the dog has broken the stay – to be with its handler.

Dogs dislike/hate being forced to walk backwards and very soon will never again break a stay. I have applied this method with great success to my own dogs and those in my training classes.

Proofing exercises can take many forms such as giving a “Sit” command, then 1) walking around him anti-clockwise, 2) walk quickly, 3) jog around him waving arms and shouting and 4) go around clockwise. Leave your dog and sit down and lie down some distance away. Get someone to walk around your dog play with a ball, kick it and splash him with water from a bottle etc. etc.

Remember: Length of TIME before DISTRACTIONS then DISTANCE away from the dog.

To test my dog’s sit-stay reliability; I position myself a short distance from and in front of the dog. I give a “Sit” command and at the same time give short but firm tugs on the leash towards me.  Any forward movement is blocked with “No sit” and a body block towards the dog. My voice says “Sit” but my hand beckons “come to me.” The dog must actively resist being pulled from the stay position. I find it a very effective way of getting voice control over a dog and not leash control.

It is important to note that up to Class “A” the Sit –Stay duration is for 1 Minute only. Dogs in training must not be left sitting for longer periods because bad habits can easily develop when they become tired of sitting and lie down. In class I prefer to do the Stand – Stay next and the Down – Stay last. The longest time period dogs are required to sit in Obedience competition is 2 minutes out of sight.

Schutzhund exercises require sitting out of motion. The handler heels the dog in a straight line and on the command of “Sit” the dog must sit instantly while the handler moves on. The dog must, in later exercises, be taught to “Sit”on the run and the handler must continue without slowing down or looking back. Similarly, the dog has to “Down” from a walk and a run and “Stand” from a walk and a run.

Teaching the Down – Stay (The article “Down – Stay”teaches the Down.)

Being down is a submissive position and can be used very effectively as a form of control and even punishment. Dogs do not bark, fight or chase the cat when lying down and it could also be used to de-mote a young dog to obtain his correct position in a household with regard to junior members of the human pack. Here the long down can be very useful.

Put the dog “Down” in the “relaxed” position i.e. lying on one hip or flat on his side. This is a far more stable position and requires a dog to make several movements in order to get up.  Lying down like the Sphinx or a Lion makes it too easy for the dog to get up again or to start crawling. This position is also used in Distance control and tracking and may be confusing to the dog. What is also being taught in the down exercise is muscle memory. Very soon the dog will always go down in the same relaxed position. I always have to retrain my dogs to go down in the Sphinx position which is the requirement in a tracking trial in order to indicate an article found.

In the beginning it is best to stay down with your dog until he shows signs of being relaxed. The mouth is slightly open and part of his tongue is hanging out or visible and his breathing is calm and even. If he wants to get up do not physically restrain him but command, “No down” and pushing across the hips (not down) will restore the down position. Praise and reward and drape the leash across his back. Do not stand up until you are sure he has been relaxed for at least a minute. “Sit” and “down” your dog a few times and praise and reward generously.

I step on the leash close to the dog’s body with my left foot and move my right leg to different places to show that while he obeys the down command I can do what I want. Now is the time to take a step to the right and repeat all that was done in the Sit – Stay exercises.

Proofing can take many forms including out-of-sight exercises. After having successfully dealt with test stay requirements I would take it further. Walk to my car and back. Next get into the car and wait. Later start the engine and reverse and return. Gradually it became possible to walk around the garden centre nearby or go to do a transaction at the ATM which took around 10 minutes.

Group Stays must be taught at a club where the dogs soon form what is called a “feral pack.” They will tolerate their class mates but bark at latecomers or the early arrivals for the next class. In the beginning it is best to stay fairly close until you are confident that your dog will not react to strange dogs nearby. I have always tried to get my competition dogs to ignore other dog rather than to encourage them to say, “Hi” to strange dogs.

Emergency Downs must be taught separately from other down exercises.

The Stand stay exercise is first encountered in Class “B” with duration of one (1) minute with the handler in sight. Other stand stay exercises are in the Class “C” Advance positions in the free Heel item and the separate Distance control.

The Stand is a dominant position and care must be taken not to undermine the confidence of your dog because then he will show submission by sitting down.

I use different commands for the Stand exercises: “Stand” in the Class “B” stay exercise. “Wait” in Advance positions and “Back” for the stand on the walk and run in Schutzhund. 6