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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday's Training TIP: STAY

The STAY command is part of a normal range of obedience commands that I, as a puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind, must teach my Future Leader Dog puppy.

Per Leader Dogs' "Puppy Manual," the goal for the STAY command is that my puppy will stay in position until released with an "okay." As part of our new "In-For-Training" (IFT) Standards, the STAY is assessed by me putting my puppy in a sit, down, or stand in the heel position; I then give a hand signal and the STAY command and step out in front of my puppy to the end of her leash. My puppy must hold her position for 30-60 seconds and afterwards while I return to her side.

Prior to raising Future Leader Dog puppies, I trained the STAY command a bit differently. Whenever I placed my dog into a specific position (like SIT), I considered the command to include an "implied" stay. Meaning, my dog was expected to hold that position until released, or until another command was given.

STAY meant something more.

When I told my dog to STAY, it meant that I was most likely going "out of sight," and that I might be gone for a while. My dog was expected to "settle" in for the long haul until I returned.

In a way, the Leader Dogs for the Blind requirement for STAY is easier to teach, because my puppy is not off-leash for the assessment.

Here is a long-ish video of me working with FLD Scout in a typical training "session." I spent almost 11 minutes overall with Scout in this session, in which I demonstrate how to begin teaching the Leader Dogs' STAY. Scout has learned this command prior to the video, so she makes the start of it look easy. In fact, as the video opens I ask Scout to STAY so I can put on her working jacket, not unlike what a blind handler would do when putting a harness on her Leader dog. (No, it is not necessary for my puppy to wear her jacket during training, but sometimes it helps to get her focused!)

Andy comes into view to take Gus and Gypsy outside just as I begin working with Scout--she is distracted, but it doesn't take long to get her focused.

Viewing a session like this is helpful in learning to be a better trainer. I can see instances when I transitioned from one command to another a bit quickly, for example; I'll need to slow my pace next time so as not to confuse Scout.

See if you can spot other things I did (properly, and maybe not so) in handling Scout!


HINTS FOR TRAINING STAY (or any other command)

  • Plan a clear objective for your training session, introducing only one new command; in this case, I concentrated on "pushing" Scout with STAY since she already knew it a little.
  • Warm up your puppy. Start with things your puppy knows to help get your puppy to focus on task. Use techniques such as NAME RECOGNITION and finger pokes to get your puppy's attention.
  • Take your time. Give your puppy time to think and decide--count to "three-one-thousand" after giving a command.
  • Say the command ONCE. If, after waiting a few seconds, your puppy isn't sure what to do, place your puppy into position. Do NOT repeat the command, that just teaches your puppy to wait for the third or fourth or fifth reiteration!
  • If your puppy moves out of position, don't say anything, just physically put your puppy back.
  • Don't overwhelm your puppy. Mix "old" commands your puppy knows with the new command you are teaching. Give your puppy a break by releasing her and praising her, then go back to work (Notice in the video I did not drop the leash with the "release.") If your puppy "got it" but starts to backtrack, you've probably worked your puppy too long. Go back to something your puppy knows and end the session on a positive.
  • Make it fun for your puppy and she will be excited about learning--that means praising her for doing what you want! In the video you can see that I vary the intensity of my praise, and reward (and sometimes reassure) with physical contact.