These commands teach a puppy self control, which is going to be very important for a future working dog. The stay and wait are duration behaviors, so it’s simple to understand that a pup will have to build from short stays to longer ones.
This down stay at a class is vastly harder than you might think! That’s I want their sit, down, stay, and wait fairly solid before we go to an obedience class.
The class itself is loaded with heavy duty distractions for most puppies. Other dogs, other people, noises, smells, movement around them all are very distracting to a little pup! It’s asking alot of a puppy.
Always begin in a low distraction place, like home. Then try adding recorded sounds of other places at low volume, or open the window. Try that boring park where you hardly ever see anything interesting. The idea is to have the stay, wait, or leave it solid before you add a new distraction, gradually making the distractions harder to ignore.
This means when I click they can get up and come get their treat. It’s what I’ve been doing while teaching their sits and downs already. But now once they sit, I wait one second, say wait, give another second or two then click.
A great way to begin that keeps a pup focused is to click and treat after 1 second, have them sit again for 2 seconds before the click and treat, then 3 seconds before click and treat for as many seconds as the pup will sit, wait, then sit and wait again.
Doing this in rapid fire succession will certainly capture a pup’s attention and keep it, as well as build their willingness to wait longer and longer knowing the wait is only a little bit longer than the last time.
Then I will try just saying sit and waiting maybe 4 seconds before a click and reward. Then maybe 2 seconds, then maybe 6 seconds. I don’t always want to do a rapid fire exercise, using it only to re-attain their focus if they’ve gotten bored or distracted.
I want to build up to about 5 seconds solid without that rapid fire drill , before I start adding distractions like taking a step away from them, or having passive sounds on a recording playing. Squeaking a toy, making strange movements, having someone walk into the room…all are distractions they need to learn to ignore.
My late little BB in that pic was just learning, but he had the idea of watching me because the click was coming. And I had a goodie bag, with good goodies, and great goodies, and the bestest of all goodies and he didn’t know which one he’d get, either.
Get creative about it too: I would set a treat on their foot in a down and say wait, and they couldn’t have the treat until I clicked. Roll a ball around under your foot, let them see it but lure their eyes back up to yours, then click and let them have their ball!
If they are breaking their wait while you move or have a distraction, return to the rapid fire drill, and if you can, walk around and such while you’re doing it. Remember wait means they can come to you once you’ve clicked!
When I’ve got a solid 10 second wait in low distraction places, even walking around them and not looking at them, we take the show on the road, and find quiet pet stores, or strip mall sidewalks. Somewhere that was still pretty quiet but has a few more distractions they wouldn’t get at home.
Don’t be surprised if the 10 seconds drops way down and you have to rebuild, or return to the rapid fire a time or two. That’s okay–you’ve made it harder. So don’t be stingy with the treats or the affection for what they are able to hold!
Since I start informal waits from day one, and formally practicing obedience around 12 weeks old, I have a full month before they have to face a highly distracting class setting.
Once you’ve taught the sit, and the sit isn’t over until you click, you begin gradually lengthening the time they have to sit before the click comes just like wait.
When they can hold their sit or down for 3 seconds while I’m in front of them, I will wait 1 second after the sit command to say “stay” then 2 seconds later I’ll GO TO THEM before I click and treat. Next I will add some minor distraction, like stepping to the side or back a step or two, and try for the same 3 second stay.
If they are about to break their stay (their bodies begin to move), get yourself over there and click/treat before they get up. Look around and see was there something that broke their concentration or did they just have ants in their pants like a puppy often does. If they can’t hold 3 seconds, go down to asking for 2.
The point of clicker training is to reward success, not correct failure, so you want to gauge what you expect by what they can do right and well, and get rewarded for. Some puppies will easily hold a stay for 7 or 8 seconds, and some will have to work at 3 seconds. That’s okay, reward for what they are giving you.
It’s a little harder to do the rapid fire drill for a stay, since you have to come to them before they can get a click and move, but if you can try it’s a good way to passively prepare them for the stampede of kids at the park, or the reading program therapy work! The back and forth from front and sides is good.
Then I will lengthen the stay by one second at a time for a few days, and when they can do that, we add another, slightly more distracting distraction. You’ll be able to tell what your pup can manage pretty fast, and if they are masters of the stay, make the duration and distraction harder.
Walk around them in circles, go hug a person, slowly building the distance you can get from them without them getting up. Practice at the Walgreens parking lot where someone will eventually walk by with a shopping cart. Keep in mind the distractions an SD candidate will have to ignore as a working dog, and practice them!
It’s good to teach it now, so they know there are some things they don’t investigate.
I used to do this french fry thing to my Kenai and wish I had a pic of it. But Alas, the good GSD shall have to show you!
A turned on stove burner or hot dish out of the oven for instance, or that peice of meat that dropped off your pizza is a good place to start.
You can lure away their nose with a treat saying leave it, or you could call their name if you’ve practiced them looking at you when they hear their name. A hand target is a third option. Another way is to say leave it and just keep walking by something if they are on leash with you.
After going to so much trouble to stimulate their curiosity, we suddenly don’t want them to be curious about some things? Huh? Yeah, self control is what we’re really teaching. Not to mention scavanging off the floor is bad manners in a cafe.
Leave it can be used for anything you don’t want them to go check out, from people, to dogs, to trash, to houseplants, to kids with bad manners. It’s remarkably useful, and if you combine it with a hand target (don’t forget to cl and reward!), their attention is back on you where it needs to be for a service dog.
I can’t seem to stop mentioning a book called “Control Unleashed”, since it works wonders for distraction training. (Puppies are so easily distracted). There is now a puppy version as well, and I haven’t read it yet, but if it’s half as useful as the original version it’s worth getting.
Since I live in the country, I have to “import” some distractions, via recorded sounds, borrowed shopping carts, my trainer’s dogs and the like. I still take the pup to a good doggie day care, and ask for at least a simple sit or down a time or two before they are in an obedience class.
I’ll also be going to a puppy class, and maybe watching other doggie classes for a short time. Who knows, my next pup may have a go at a baby agility class for fun and distraction training. It pays to put the time and effort into a pup before they’re 16 weeks!