I have gotten into some pretty heated debates on this subject with trainers who I honestly have a ton of respect for. The conversations only get heated when the other person can no longer provide logical evidence to support their position. When somebody can help me to better understand why I’m apparently wrong on this, then I’m all ears. Until then, you will NEVER hear me tell a dog to……”STAY”
Ok, so first lets talk about when we would use this magical word “stay”. Often times it is used when we give the dog a command to get into a specific position like sit or down.
Let’s use “sit” for this example. If “stay” means for the dog not to move out of the “sit” position, then pleeeeeeeease tell me, what the heck does “sit” mean?
I was always under the impression that if I told my dog to “sit”, then that means they put their posterior on the pavement and keep it there until I say otherwise. I didn’t realize that it only meant they have to put it there for just a moment, the duration of that moment to be determined by the dog, UNLESS, I give this magical word, “stay” to ensure they remain in the previous position of “sit”.
Yeah, I know, a bit confusing. Seriously though, if I tell my dog to sit, then that’s what he should do. Sit. Until I say otherwise. There is no need for another command. Once the word “sit” has been said, the only thing that the dog needs to hear to move is a release command which means he can do anything he wants, or the direction to move into another position. That’s it. What the heck does stay even mean then? Where did it come from? Ohhhh, I forgot….. humans, they want to overcomplicate everything, now it makes sense how this command found its way into dog training.
Dog training is about building associations as I mention in my post Associate This. When we taught the dog to sit, we built an association with the dog sitting and something positive happening. So after all that work building the association, getting the dog used to the cue "sit", why on earth add in a totally new word that really just means more of the same thing? What is the difference? If this were a conversation with a dog, how would it go?
"Sit means put your butt on the ground, and you don't have to keep it there unless I give you another word, stay, but if I don't say stay, you can do what you want. I know I taught you a release command, but forget about that now, because if I don't say stay, your good, I guess."
KEEP IT SIMPLE
I don’t like “stay”. It’s extra and it’s unnecessary. Watch how much faster you can get your dog to stay sitting when you avoid this extraneous command that will only increase the difficulty level of training. Think about how much proofing needs to be done when this word “stay” is now going to be used in conjunction with a variety of other commands like “down” and “bed”. If I tell the dog to “down”, then they are continually rewarded for remaining in that position until released(yes, we better be using some positive reinforcement to shape this behavior).
Can experienced trainers pull it off? Sure, they do it all the time. However, in my years of working with everyday pet dog owners, I learned that it is totally a waste of time and even makes things more difficult. I stopped using “stay” once I tried to explain it to a particularly challenging client. As I struggled to find different ways to explain the concept and the training steps the light bulb just went off. The client wasn’t the challenging one, I was, and their difficulty in understanding the concept was because it’s a stupid concept. I never used the word stay in training dogs again EVER.
To read more and find out how to teach your dog to stay without confusing them, check out the rest of this article at my blog.