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Sit and Stay

15 Steps to A Reliable Sit and Stay

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Sit and Stay

Teaching sit and stay prevents adolescent pups from jumping up.

Image © Amy Shojai, CABC

Your puppy needs to learn to “sit-stay” on command as a form of polite doggy behavior, and can be used to ask for “good stuff” from you instead of bouncing off walls or rudely grabbing for something. For instance, the sit can be used to request you to open the door, or give him a toy, or a thank you for serving food. Planting his tail also helps keep high energy pups under control.

Puppies quickly learn how to game the system, though, by planting the tush only briefly before bouncing up like a Ping Pong ball. Does your puppy sit politely but only until temptation makes him dash out the door? You can couple that “stay” command with the sit to teach Junior-dog to hold his position until released.

A sit-stay just asks the dog to sit in place, and extends butt-floor-contact time. In an obedience trial, the sit-stay command is required and a dog in the novice (beginners’ competition) just hold the sit-stay for one minute while other dogs do the same and you stand across the room from him. By teaching your dog she gets better privileges the longer she holds the sit-stay pose, the more he’ll enjoy the exercise. You’ve already taught him to sit, so now you just increase the duration and reward for doggy patience. If your dog already understands the “wait” command, you can use that to transition to the more specific “stay” (don’t move at all) command. Here’s how.

  1. Plan to train in a place that has as few distractions as possible, like the living room. You can add distractions later once he understands the new command, to “proof” the puppy and make sure the sit-stay is reliable under stressful circumstances. Make sure he’s not just eaten a meal, so that he’s eager for treats but not starving.
  2. Cut tiny high-value treats into fingertip-size nibbles. These should be something he LOVES to eat and ONLY gets during training. But also have on hand a secondary reward, something he likes but only if the treats aren’t around—for instance, a squeaky toy. Show your dog the treats and reward but don’t give them to her. You want her to know good stuff could be her, but she must pay attention.
  3. Command the puppy to “sit” in an authoritative tone of voice.
  4. Once his tail makes contact with the floor, say, “stay” and feed the first tidbit.
  5. Keep offering more—treat-treat-treat-treat—one after another as long as he holds the sit. A ten-second stay is a reasonable first goal, so that he is successful. You want the puppy to win this game, not turn it into a “gotcha” losing proposition. After ten seconds of the sit-stay, release him with a cue word like “okay!” and a “click” if you’re using the clicker to train.
  6. As you give the release word, reward with the lesser value toy and shower him with praise so he knows what a smart, lovely boy he is. That teaches him that he only gets the really WOW-treats while he obeys the “stay” rather than for breaking the sit.
  7. Puppies that break the sit-stay before you’ve given the release word get no treats. Say something like, “whoops, you blew it!” and turn your back, cutting off any hope of treat/rewards for at least ten seconds or so. Your puppy will soon make the connection that holding the sit-stay gets him more yummy treats, and the yummies disappear if he moves.
  8. Puppies tend to figure out the rules rather quickly but they’ll need practice to learn that duration matters, too. So repeat the exercise and say “sit-stay” with unending treat-treat-treats for ten seconds, and release with “okay” and throw a praise party.
  9. Practice this exercise several times. And then increase the duration of the stay by two to five seconds, continuing to treat the whole time, followed by the release word and praise.
  10. After he can hold the sit-stay for fifteen to twenty seconds at a time while treating constantly, begin to delay treat delivery. Aim for the puppy to hold that sit-stay for two to four seconds at a time between treats.
  11. Keep track of his success rate. Once you’ve reached a solid sit-stay 80 percent of the time, try increasing the delay between treats a bit by a few more seconds. And when again he’s solid, increase the time delay once more, and so on.
  12. Eventually work toward giving a tasty reward less frequently but with unexpected BONUS treats—several at once, for example, for a particularly long sit-stay. Even young pups learn to appreciate the bonus concept of higher value rewards for better performance.
  13. Puppies that “get it” simply need practice to extend the “stay” duration, as well as distractions. If he’s reliable in a sit-stay in the living room, practice the sit-stay in the yard, or at Grandma’s house. You could even make the sit-stay part of mealtime repertoire with the yummy supper ration a big bonus reward for a great sit-stay.
  14. It’s best to practice and extend the duration of the sit-stay before you add distance away from the puppy. Being close to the baby dog during these drills offers better control so you can stop immediately with consequences (turn your back/stop the treats) if he blows it. The pup should be able to maintain a solid sit-stay for at least a minute or longer while you’re in touching range before you take a step away and practice at farther distances.
  15. In the end your pup should sit-stay on command when you ask from across the room, even when no treat is visible. By phasing out the treat-every-time to intermittent rewards, the pup learns that rewards are always possible, and become more likely the longer he performs as you ask.
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