Excerpted from Click for Joy: Questions and Answers from Clicker Trainers and their Dogs by Melissa Alexander, an unparalleled guide to the concepts of clicker training. Melissa is also the moderator of ClickerSolutions, an online discussion forum.
Q: How do I train my dog to stay?
A: "Stay" means different things to different people. Some people want their dog to remain in place, but don't care if the dog shifts positions. Other people want their dog to hold a specific position the entire time. Here we'll address the first situation.
To teach a dog to stay in a certain place, use a boundary. When you use this method, the concept isn't "don't move" but rather "stay on the mat" or "stay on top of the table." Staying within a boundary is a concept most dogs learn quite easily!
This behavior is less strict than most. The dog is allowed to move around within the boundary as long as she remains quiet. If you make silence a condition of the behavior from the beginning, your dog will never develop the habit of whining or barking during stays.
As with other behaviors, you need to have clear criteria for each repetition. You'll need to add elements such as duration, distance, and distractions one at a time and gradually, increasing your criteria only when the dog demonstrates fluency at the current level. During training, if the dog crosses the boundary or makes noise before she has met your criteria, count that repetition as an error.
Tips for success
- Train duration before distance. Work close to the dog at first, and add distance after she's demonstrating a grasp of the concept.
- Start with, literally, a second, and add more duration gradually. Long stays often fall apart because not enough time was spent solidifying the concept in the early stages.
- Reinforce with high value reinforcers during the stay. When you click and release, treat with a lower value reinforcer. You want your dog to look forward to the stay, not the release.
- Add small distractions before you add distance. For example, wave your arms, jump up and down, circle the dog, put food on the floor (and quickly remove it if the dog breaks the stay), or bounce a ball.
- Keep records. Then you'll know for sure how reliable your dog is in a specific location, with a specific duration, distance, or distraction.