Thoughts on Stays

I forgot to mention in the last post that I am also working on completely random stays around the house.  Since Lance has been stressing at the group stays in trials I haven't found a way to replicate his errors yet.  He passes almost any proof I throw his way with ease and even training in different locations hasn't gotten Lance to break.  But I was thinking about it and while I was reading through my Ring Tested yahoo group there was an amazing post by Linda Koutsky on stays.  I read this post awhile ago on how Linda never uses the word stay and so is forced to look at every broken sit/down her dogs do in everyday life.  She makes the training anything but formal and does it constantly throughout the day, teaching her dogs that sit means sit regardless of the context.  I personally love the idea of never using the word "stay" but don't think I'll make that switch anytime soon since I just don't think I'm that good of a trainer.  I just know I would forget that the word sit means do so until released and would constantly forget to release my dog.  So for now I will continue to use the unnecessary stay word.  But anyways, it was a wonderful article and I believe was originally posted in Front and Finish magazine in Sept/Oct 2008.

I read the article about a month or two ago but just recently thought of how it applied to Lance.  I already have my dogs do random sits, downs, rollovers, etc. without the context of a training session, treat bag or any seen treats.  When my dogs heard a cue they respond almost immediately and basically know that even if they didn't see me get a treat out they are likely going to get one.  And while I don't treat every single time, I do try to reward almost all of these random ones.  Oh and of course I ask for commands in other contexts such as occasionally making them sit/whatever to play tug, go out the door, etc.  But I have never asked for a formal stay randomly.  Sure I make the dogs do their "wait" (my very informal, just don't cross whatever boundary I set) multiple times a day like when the door bell rings, before crossing the gate in the yard, out of the car, remaining in a room at work while I do chores, etc.  But never the formal stay where I enforce the position they were left in.  All stays are done in the context of a training session.  I may not have my treat pouch on me, but the dogs are always already in "working mode" and this is when I have been setting up Lance's proofs.  And this is when Lance takes every challenge I throw at him.

Light bulb suddenly went on a couple days ago as I came to this realization.  And now my goal is do several stays per day that seem to come out of nowhere.  I'm watching tv, call over to Lance to "sit, stay" and then completely ignore him while I remain watching tv.  Or I'm taking a shower and call Lance to "come, sit, stay" and resume my shower.  Repeat in as many different scenarios as I can come up with.  And what have I come up with?  One dog who is highly confused and stressed.  So far Lance has only broke once, but I have gotten lots of tongue flicks, yawning, and one stressed doggy.

I am rewarding lots, and with the jackpot rewards of various lunch meats that I have hidden before the start of my shower, tv episode, etc.  My goal in doing this is for Lance to learn how to hold a position even when stressed, and to learn that stays produce extra good treats.  In the same way that his eyes' light up when he hears a random cue, I want him to be in a state of glee when he does a random stay.  We're working very slowly with treats coming around every 30seconds.  As a side note I reward during the stay, not the release so the treats are while he is still staying and are not a cue that he is to get up.

At some point I will also add in Lance doing a full random sit stay without treats followed by the down stay (or vice versa).  I think Lance has been breaking the down during trials and not the sit simply because it is second.  He is stressed on the sit but manages to hold it until I come back.  But even though I praise Lance and try to tell him what a great dog he's been, Lance doesn't get any real reward and maybe he thinks that he's wrong which is just devastating to Lance.  When I then leave him on the down Lance stands up almost immediately as all that stress accumulates and he just doesn't know what to do.  So at some point I will need to address doing 2 stays in a row without feedback.

Any thoughts?  Or anybody want to join me in this new goal?  Oh and thanks for the comments on the last post about actually being interested in my training sessions :)

Crystal  – ( January 2, 2010 at 5:39 PM )  

Interesting post. Stays are our great nemesis, and like Lance, Maisy shows a lot of stress when we do them. I like your idea of random stays, although I'm concerned about creating any more stress for her. The extra good treats, though... if it could counter-condition the stays? Make them into something super awesome and worth doing?

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( January 2, 2010 at 6:00 PM )  

Well I am worried about making stays more stressful for him, but at the same time his stress level in trials is what I'm trying to work on. Of course Lance has a ton more experience with stays then Maisy and overall doesn't get stressed in your average stay. I guess I'm just trying to find a balance between teaching Lance how to work through stress and teaching him that stays are super cool. But I have no idea if this would be appropriate for Maisy, yet. I still follow my general rule of training anything: if the dog fails twice in a row, the third one needs to be made easier.

As a bonus Vito is participating in some of the stays and so far has exhibited none of the stress Lance has, so hopefully Vito is learning that stays are extra yummy and to hold position no matter what the context is!

Arwen  – ( January 3, 2010 at 6:53 AM )  

I'm kind of intrigued by Lance's stress about being wrong. It seems such an odd trait for a dog that's been trained so positively. Is it lack of confidence? Because if that's where it stems from, I wonder if more abundant praise and rewards might not end up confirming that the situation is indeed very stressful and that the stakes are really high?

Mango  – ( January 3, 2010 at 8:09 AM )  

Well, my first thought is that I want to visit you right away if there is lunch meat hidden around the house. My Grandpa Angus had that whole sit until I tell you to stop thing down pat (not so good with downs). I don't think I would be a good candidate as I tend to be kind of immobile most of the time anyway, but I will tell momma to try it on PeeWee. I think it is a great idea for sit just to mean stay put automatically.


Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( January 3, 2010 at 10:14 AM )  

Arwen- I don't think it's actually that rare at all for certain dogs to worry about being wrong. I think it happens regardless of whether they are traditionally trained or positively trained as Lance's concern for being wrong has nothing to do with a fear of punishment. He just loves things black and white. When he is unsure of something he's stressed. Most dogs I know like this don't like shaping games, but Lance actually really likes shaping since I click little things so he's constantly getting feedback that he's right!

As for confidence, I think it obviously is part of the issue but overall I would say Lance is a very confident dog, much more so then Vito.

Lance needs the praise/rewards when training something new or stressful or he completely shuts down. Like he walks away and cowers in a corner in the worst of situations. I can see that with some dogs the more attention you draw the worse it can get. But at the same time I don't coax, lure and then ask for more. Lance has never been afraid of the teeter, but if he was I wouldn't click and then put the treat higher up on the board. I would click the little movement and throw the treat away. Praise/reward is a result of a behavior, not for trying to get the behavior to happen (coaxing) which I think is what you are talking about.

Great thoughts!

achieve1dream  – ( January 3, 2010 at 10:16 AM )  

It sounds like you're on the right track! This is all new for me so I don't have any advice but I'll freely give all the encouragement needed. Go Lance!!

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( January 3, 2010 at 10:17 AM )  

Mango- Yes lunch meat was hidden in the shower yesterday and on a shelf today :)

I think training that sit means sit until told otherwise (and same for down) is an awesome way of training!!!! Using the word stay is redundant and technically a non-behavior (do nothing!). But by training sit to mean actually hold it, you are giving the dog more of a job to do. Unfortunately like I mentioned above I don't think I can do that with my lifestyle right now. I have my dogs sit/down all the time but they only have to do it for 3 seconds unless I say stay. I can just see myself letting my dogs break their sits/downs all the time as I forget that each one means stay!!!

Kathie R  – ( January 3, 2010 at 3:03 PM )  

Hey Laura,
I think the conversation about use of specific words in training is really interesting. I don't have a lot of training experience but it seems to me that dogs learn situationally - at least it seems that way with Jackson. I get confused sometimes and unfamiliar commands come out of my mouth when least expected and Jackson seems to know what to do in that situation regardless of the word I use. I use 'sit' and 'stay' interchangeably, and sometimes just use the hand signal instead of the verbal command. He always seems to know what I want. It would be an interesting topic to study more :)

Muttsandaklutz  – ( January 3, 2010 at 5:26 PM )  

I love your idea of doing sits/downs/stays/etc at random outside the context of a training session. Going to start doing that with my guys. I hope it will be helpful especially for Lucy to know that if she does what I ask, even though I don't have a treat on hand, she will get an even better reward than if it were in the context of a training session. Good luck with Lance's stays!

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( January 3, 2010 at 7:28 PM )  

Kathie- I totally agree that dogs aren't very verbal and much more look at context and body language. I think that's why my paw vs foot touch verbal discrimination experiment is so hard! Or in agility you can scream the wrong obstacle and the dog won't even notice as they correctly go to the one you're body is telling them.

My new stay experiment is to shake Lance out of his stay context being mainly in formal sessions and have him do his stay everywhere. I have had Lance do informal "waits" everywhere but on those i'm not picky about him holding his position. or on sitting for other random stuff Lance does it just fine, but I never ask him to hold it for very long. so this is completely shaking up Lance's context on stays.

Ninso  – ( January 4, 2010 at 10:01 AM )  

That's awesome Laura! I wish I had trained Jun and Lok without stay commands. I've worked Elo that way and he has the most solid stays of any of the dogs in just three months. The duration is not as long, but when I tell him to stay I'm pretty confident that he will do it, and he seems more relaxed and confident in his stays. Another thing I did differently with Elo that I think has helped get us there was actually TEACHING a release. I've always heard "reward the stay, don't reward after the release." Well, I think a dog doesn't really understand "stay" unless they understand "release" so I taught a release, encouraging Elo to get up at "ok" and then click and treat. I think he understands better now that when he is in a sit or down he is waiting for the "ok" before he can move.

We really need to work more random stays. They're so boring for me, though!

Also, Lok is the same as Lance. He stresses really easily. We've had to go back to the beginning and re-build almost all of his obedience commands at one time or another when they fell apart due to stress. Some days I wish he was more like uber-confident Jun . . . Then Jun tries to bite someone and I wish she was more like rock-steady Lok. LOL! They all have their challenges.

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