Those Damn Stays

I am on several competitive obedience group email lists and facebook groups.  One topic that inevitably rears its head every few months is about the group stays, especially the out of sight stays in open.  And of course the discussion is heated on both sides of the debate with apparently everyone believing either that:
"group stays are massive fights waiting to happen and all small dogs are in jeopardy" or "stays are a training problem and if we only got rid of all those people training with cookies and prayers there would be no issue."

While those aren't direct quotes from people, I believe it pretty much sums up the sides that others will classify you in, regardless of your actual belief and logic used.  Since this is my blog, I want to spell out my thoughts.

First, the AKC has done a pretty thorough study on the number of incidents happening from the group stay exercises.  What they found is that incidents are very, very rare.  We have all heard some pretty horrific stories of dogs being attacked during stays, but the numbers say that there is far more likely to be a fight outside of the ring gates rather than inside.  Whew.

However, judges only report events that deserve a write up.  Actual fights gets reported, what does not get reported are dogs breaking to go visit another dog with friendly intentions or not.  And these are the type of broken stays that I care about.  I am grateful that in this area I have seen very few dogs breaking to go visit other dogs in the B classes.  The A classes (novice and open) are a different story.  In my experience, at least 1/4 of the trials have at least one A dog going to visit another A dog, either while lining up outside the ring or during the actual stays themselves.  Usually the owner in novice quickly goes to gather their dog, but not before a quick sniff or stand over the other dog is done.  And in Open the time taken to gather the dog can be even longer.  Even if the my estimated percentage is off, I'm sure we can all agree that visiting dogs on the stay exercise is not a rare occurrence.

Some may argue that their dog is trained to stay put regardless of whether another dog visits or not.  And I'm willing to bet that my dog's training is that good too.  I may train with cookies, but prayers are only used to keep me from passing out from nervousness!  But the sad thing is that I shouldn't be putting my dog in that position where he has to try so hard to be a "good dog" while being rudely molested.  In training, I make a promise to my dogs that they don't have to worry about other people or dogs.  I have their back and they can trust me.  I actually use my dog's out of sight stays all the time in public as I move their crates and training gear to my car or the other end of the building.  But in those situations I always leave them with someone else watching.  Not so much for watching to see if my dog's move, but to make sure that no one else approaches my dogs.  In a trial, I can't keep that promise I made to keep my dog's safe.  I'm not even in the same room. 

As a quick note to the people who believe positive training equals permissive and is the cause of our stay problems- I note that competitive obedience has very, very few "positive" trainers.  We are a minority group and numbers wise can certainly not make up anywhere near the number of problems that the stay exercises are having all over the country, even if we were all very poor trainers!  Positive is not permissive.

I don't know what the answer is.  The new "pre" classes in AKC where there are no stays are a welcome addition but in my opinion aren't the solution.  I agree with many that getting rid of a stay requirement would be a huge detriment to the sport of obedience.  Even though John Q Public doesn't actually see obedience trials any more, let alone know they exist, stays are the single most impressive thing for the general public and often are the benchmark of a "trained dog."  But changes need to be made.  At minimum, keeping leashes on the dogs is a good start in helping with the "collection" of dog's leaving their place.  UKC has already implemented this change and I applaud them.  Perhaps a second answer would be to have the 3 stewards sitting behind the group of dog's who would be easily able to step on the offending dog's leash within 3 seconds, cutting the time the dog is up at least in half for even the slowest moving steward.  Unfortunately neither suggestion prevents another dog from interfering in the first place.

In UKC obedience there is also an honor stay.  The owner still goes out of sight, but the only other dog in the ring is heeling with its' own owner.  As a working team the owner is there in the ring to protect their dog if needed.  As the honor team, one is still out of sight and out of position to keep their promise, but at least I have never seen a dog try and interfere in the UKC trials I have been to.  I greatly appreciate the human to dog ratio on the honor stay and the fact that the working dog should be focused on his own handler and not even noticing the other dog in the ring.  The downside to the honor exercise is that the judge can not honestly judge 2 dogs at once.  Stewards do not have formal training and may not know whether the foot movement or turning of the body that they see is OK.  Pros and Cons.  From my perspective this seems to be the best option.  Hell, it can even be a stupid sit.

Big Honey Dog (Honey the Great Dane)  – ( August 29, 2013 at 10:03 AM )  

What a fascinating analysis! I haven't had time to catch up with blog friends in ages and certainly not training stuff (hah! The Big Honey Dog Mysteries book launch is taking over my life!) and this has been really refreshing & nice for me to read...

I can totally relate as I've been in those situations too, with the people saying those same things about Out of Sight Stays - it's the same on the other side of the world - ha! ha!

We used to have a problem in our group that you'd get one person who had very poor control over their dog and be very slow to catch it or prevent it going upto other dogs. It was usually just being playful but still...

I totally agree with Stay being an important requirement of Obedience. Personally I think it is one of the ultimate tests of control/self-control and I have to say, I do feel that a dog should stay "regardless" - but having said that, I agree that it's unfair for a dog to have to deal with aggression or bullyign from another dog while trying to be "good". That's too much, but I do think that you dog should be well-trained enough to ignore other forms of distractions such as a dog coming up inviting it to play or sniffing around - as long as it's not threatening, I see those as tests of my dog's Stay. I have often practised Honey's stays in those types of situations even outside training me, being able to perform Obedience in a sterile ring is not enough of a test - the real proof is with real distractions. But I do agree with you that it's not fair if the dog is exposed to threats/danger.

i do like the sound of that honour stay. That sounds very similar to the way our trainer in NZ had us practise stays to begin with 0- rather than all dogs staying down - some would stay and some would be heeling between them...great distraction test for both parties! :-)


Merinda  – ( August 29, 2013 at 12:56 PM )  

I've not done a lot of obedience, although I usually do enter Porter in Novice at the Cardigan specialties (we have never even come close to qualifying, but I'm willing to make a fool of myself in front of other corgi people...)
Anyway, the first few times he stayed perfectly. But the last time we tried, he did get up and wander over to a very pretty merle girl. I was horrified & embarrassed. I think if more people were embarrassed by these things, there would be more training and less breaking.
(I wasn't horrified that he broke, but that he disturbed another dog. That just didn't seem fair to the other dog or handler...)

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( August 29, 2013 at 1:01 PM )  

Hsin Yi- Your comment reminds me of another test of stays. I believe a "food distraction" is used in one of the ring sports where the judge literally throws food at the dog and the dog can't eat it even if it touches his face. My dogs might require a tiny bit more training for that, but I would even be OK with that option! Even out of sight!

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( August 29, 2013 at 1:07 PM )  

Merinda- Things happen. It's not a bad dog or a bad owner if a dog gets up and goes to sniff another dog. The problem though is on two ends. First, the owner should be in complete and utter shock. They should have betted a $100 that their dog would never do that. If they aren't willing to bet that, then the dog should be not be showing. I'm willing to bet that after Porter's incident you did/are doing a ton more stay training before even thinking about entering him in another trial. And that just means you're a responsible owner.

And secondly, the other dogs who have to deal with the charming dog in their face without their owner present.

I find it odd that many people are so against the Honor stay because they think dogs are MORE likely to break when another dog is heeling around vs when they're in a line up. I don't think that's true, but even if it were at least the people to dog ratio is much improved and the other dog's owner is right there to fend off the intruder. I would MUCH rather have another dog approach my dog when I'm there vs when I'm across the ring or worse when I'm out of sight.

Kathy Kail  – ( December 7, 2013 at 5:24 PM )  

My only comment is that whether or not there are many "positive" trainer in the obedience ring must have something to do with the area one is in. Around here (S Cal) we have quite a few students of "positive" trainers in the ring, and while we haven't seen a rise in dogs leaving during the Open B stays, we are seeing more activity in the Novice classes and Open A. As well as dogs in the ring during the individual exercises that wander off, leave the ring or just stop moving.

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