Thursday, August 11, 2011

Four simple tips to improve your dog's behavior — #2 The Sit-Stay

When training a dog, everyone thinks of 'tricks' first — you know, sit, shake, speak.
But how much do those tricks really help you or your dog to live a better life together? They don't, really.
Instead of focusing on cutesy tricks, try working on these four things. I'll share one tip each day and give training instructions.
Yesterday's tip: Sit
Today's tip:

Sit-stay — it's all about teaching patience
You've done the work on sit. Don't stop there.
Teaching your dog a sit-stay is definitely one of the most valuable skills you can teach your dog. This is because a sit-stay teaches patience, and patience is a skill that pay dividends over the lifetime of your dog.
For example, you need to trim your dog's nails, but he has no idea that in life, he is expected to remain still for any period of time for anything. Makes nail trims pretty difficult, huh? If you'd had a sit-stay in place, you could use that command to help get your good-behavior-for-nail-trims routine in place.
Or, how about keeping a begging dog away from the kitchen table, or keeping your dog from crowding guests when they first walk in the door?
If yesterday's 'sit' training is the ultimate building block command, sit-stay is the next layer of blocks you need to lay down.
You've built sit, then you build sit-stay on top of it. Sit-stay is a versatile command because it is effectively all about teaching a dog patience. It's a command you'll be able to use to better your dog's behavior in a variety of situations that you won't even be able to envision until the time pops up, and when it does, you'll be glad you're able to express to your dog that he needs to stay still.

Teaching a sit-stay
1) Give dog sit command
2) Develop a hand signal, most people use the open-palm that most humans recognize as a 'stop' signal. Use the hand signal in conjunction with the word 'stay.'
3) Take a step back with one foot (so one foot remains unmoved, meaning the position of your body isn't moving backward. Just the one foot is). Once the heel of your moving foot touches the ground, immediately bring it back forward to its original position.
4) If the dog has not moved, immediately dispense treat upon your foot landing back in the same position.

You may need to do this a couple times. If your dog is staying during your one-foot-movement, then add your other foot into the equation — now you're taking one full step backward with both feet. Immediately go back to your original position. If the dog has not moved, dispense treat upon both feet being back to their original position.

Gradually build the number of steps you take backward. If the dog breaks his sit-stay at any time, put him back into a sit and go through the routine again, but with fewer backward steps.

If the dog cannot stay still for even your beginning one-foot-step, then take no steps at all. Simply give the hand signal and stay command, wait a second, dispense treat. Do this again, wait two seconds, dispense treat. Do this again, wait three seconds, dispense treat.

The important thing is to remember, if it's not working, decrease the challenge.

At some point, the dog will catch on that his task is simply to remain put until you return with a treat. Then you can begin moving far away, down the hallway, out of your dog's sight, etc. while keeping him in a sit-stay.

Next, practice the sit-stay outside and wherever you can to ensure the dog understands that regardless of where he is or what other people or dogs may be around, the sit-stay game still reaps rewards for him (treats).

Common mistake — making sit-stay into sit-stay-come
I've seen lots of dog owners start 'stay' training by putting the dog in a sit-stay, moving away and then asking the dog to come to you. This is an advanced sit-stay that incorporates a recall command. Many people mistakenly start with this method, but this should be an exercise done after a solid sit-stay has been trained. Remember, to begin, move away from your dog, then move back to your dog. This makes it clear to the dog that the game is not about staying until called, but simply staying. Feel free to move on to the sit-stay-come after you've built a strong sit-stay in the first place, and then switch up between the two. This keeps the dog on his toes, listening intently for your command to see whether he stays put, or comes when called.

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