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Hoping your dog stays while exciting distractions like having other dogs around is a pretty big ask, but this guide will show you how to teach your dog to stay even if there are a few distractions of interest.
Once your dog can do this, eventually you'll be able to train your dog to learn almost any behavior! So, get your clicker, treat pouch, and high value treats ready, dog owners! We're going to teach you how to train your dog to stay through three different types of distractions that happen in real-life scenarios and how to set your dog up for success using positive reinforcement dog training techniques.
What is positive reinforcement dog training
Positive reinforcement dog training is a science-based training method that relies on rewarding your dog for desired behaviors so your dog learns what you want him or her to do. The use of positive reinforcement has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to train dogs of any age, and is especially useful for teaching puppies since they are so food motivated.
In order to teach your dog to stay, you'll need to have a way to reward your pup for staying put. This is usually done with treats, but can also be done with toys, petting, or any other thing your dog values. If you're using treats, make sure to choose something that is high value to your dog and that your dog doesn't get on a regular basis so he or she will be extra motivated to listen to you.
How to teach a dog to stay with distractions
Now that you know the basics of positive reinforcement dog training, it's time to put it into practice by teaching your dog to stay in the presence of three common types of distractions.
The three kinds of distractions we'll teach your dog to hold a stay through are:
- You and your family! Making noises, moving your body, and being silly while your dog stays. This is a great way to get kids involved!
- Toys! Simply presenting your dog's favorite toy in your hands, dropping toys on the floor, or especially giving toys a toss can be a huge distraction for many dogs. If your dog LOVES toy play, you can use this as both the distraction AND the reinforcer. This is a great way to teach your dog how to switch from a high arousal activity into a calm state of mind and back quickly and easily.
- Food! Start with lower value items like biscuits and work up to higher value stuff. Gently setting the treat on the ground may be easier, dropping it a bit harder, and tossing it near your dog an even harder distraction!
Step 1: Start with easy distractions while your dog holds the stay position
You want your dog to learn to stay during very tempting distractions for a long period of time, so start easy! As we've said before, you want to set your dog up for success so expecting your pup to be able to hold a stay position with lots of other pets roaming around and new guests coming and going through the front door right off the bat isn't realistic. Start with only a few easy distractions and gradually increase as you practice this new behavior.
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By teaching your dog how to handle different types of distractions, you are teaching your dog coping mechanisms. What happens if the distraction lasts longer? If you teach your dog he/she can manage the anxiety or fear of staying there, they'll be able to do so even when the distractions are more challenging.
Have your dog sit, stand, or get into a down position. Use your stay cue. And casually start speaking in a happy tone with people around you. Click and give your dog a treat as a reward for holding the original position.
Step 2: Add in weird body movement distractions while asking your dog to stay
A lot of times when we move our bodies in weird and exciting ways it can be a cue to many dogs that we're being playful. Has your dog ever joined you for yoga? Or a dance party in the living room? That's why! They want to play! Teaching our dogs to hold their stay command even if their human is making weird movements with their body is a great behavior to train for many real-life scenarios.
Ask your dog to sit, stand, or lie down. Cue your dog to stay. Begin by fluttering your arms around in a weird way. Click and treat your dog for staying with the original position. When your pup is comfortable with that, repeat, gradually increasing in difficulty by moving your legs around. Click and treat your dog as a reward for staying. Repeat the above steps, making your body movements bigger and weirder as your dog remains in stay.
Get silly with it! And if your dog is comfortable around kids, teaching this behavior is a great way to get them involved in dog training. Just be careful and take it slow.
Step 3: Add toys in as distractions to your dog's "stay" while asking your dog to hold the original position
Depending on whether your dog likes toys or not, you may be able to use toys as both a distraction and reinforcer. What does that mean? Many dogs love a particular toy. You can use that toy as a distraction as you teach a dog to stay similarly to our practice in previous training sessions above. Or you can use that toy as reinforcement for your dog's doing a good job by giving your dog their release cue to go and play. Not every dog likes to play with toys and that's okay! Just using toys as a distraction is good practice for this training.
Have your dog sitting, standing, or lying down. Give your dog the stay cue. Begin by waving the toy around in your dog's line of vision. Click and treat as a reward when your dog has stayed for a period of time. Repeat gradually increasing in movement this time, waving the toy around your head away from your dog. Click and treat as a reward for holding stay in the sitting position (or whichever position your dog is training in.)
Step 4: Add food as a distraction while asking your dog to stay
For a lot of dogs this might be the hardest stay command with distractions to practice of them all! Food is a common tool in dog training because it works! And it's usually pretty easy to get your dog motivated to train when using it. For this training though, we're going to be using food differently than usual as a distraction.
Next level, cue your dog to stay, toss the treat on the floor, click and reward your dog for not moving to the treat. Repeat, changing up how near or far your dog is to the treat on the floor. Most difficult -- toss the treat toward your dog. Make sure to click and reward your dog for not moving toward that tempting treat that's very accessible!
When incorporating food as a distraction, if you can wait for your dog to offer you eye contact after the food is dropped and before you click, that is the ultimate bonus point and it should rain treats on your dog!
There are lots of ways to teach your dog to stay while distractions are happening all around just by using items and people in your house. Jump on the couch. Crawl around on the floor. Do weird things. Have fun. And help your dog learn to be comfortable with lots of different distractions!
Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly
Congrats! You've made it through all four parts of teaching your dog to stay. Your dog can now hold stay for a long period of time, with your back turned, when you're at a distance, and with distractions going on. Your dog's "stay" should be pretty fool-proof by now. And if it's not, that's okay too! Go back through any of the guides as needed.
Continue teaching your dog Basic Manners here on Dogly by learning the difference between how to use "stay" and "wait" in the next guide.
And as always, if you ever have questions feel free to ask them in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel or I'm happy to help you 1-1 if you would like more personal training guidance.