Obedience Training: Teach Position Holding (STAY)

Position holding is the vehicle through which patience is developed. Position holding teaches concentration, focus, and self-control. Most dogs act on impulse. Position holding teaches your dog to think. He then learns to ignore the inputs and the impulses that make him misbehave.

What happened to STAY? When most classes teach STAY, the vocals and hand gesture often become threatening. The word stay has been removed from this part of the language because it was taught in an intimidating or threatening manner, either by repetition of the word using a stern voice, by placing a flat hand in front of the face, or by pointing a finger. Alternately, positive reinforcement has been substituted with praising “good SIT, “DOWN,” or “HEEL” as often as the owner wants (this keeps the thought path positive).

Teach Position Holding

Position holding is taught in two parts. The first part is time, where your dog will learn to hold a position with you at his side for increasingly longer periods of time. The second part is patience, where you will leave your dog’s side and require him to remain without your immediate presence. Reinforcing will combine the two. The concept of position holding will be taught using the SIT command, and after the concept has been tested and proofed with SIT, the DOWN command will be added.

Position Holding for Time

Start by planning a time goal (exam- pie: ten seconds). Give your dog the SIT command. Praise “good SIT.” After ten seconds, release with BREAK and praise “good BREAK.” If your dog gets up, place him back into the SIT command and continue praising.

Verbally praising “good SIT” takes about one second. While you teach position holding, praise every other second. This makes for a convenient timer as well. For a ten-second SIT, you will praise five times (with one-second pause in between) before releasing your dog. Using this verbal timer also insures adequate praise during the teaching phase.

If your dog has trouble focusing during the early position-holding exercises, bait with a treat by holding it in front of his face about two feet higher than his nose. If your dog wants to jump for the treat, step on the leash and wait for the dog to relax in the SIT before praising. Release foot tension on the leash and praise “good SIT” before giving the treat. Most dogs will release from the SIT command after they are done chewing their treat.

Position Holding for Patience

Start with your dog in a SIT command at your left side. Praise with “good SIT” and take one or two “side steps” to your right side. Pause for one or two seconds and return to his side. Praise again “good SIT.” You may need to brace your dog by holding leash tension with your left hand. As you repeat this type of exercise you will want to wean off assisting with leash tension. Release your dog with a BREAK to signal that this position-holding session is over.

Advance the “step away and return” exercise. Repeat the step away and return cycle several times before releasing your dog. Begin stepping away from your dog in different directions. Every time you change directions you may need to brace your dog with the leash in the opposite direction you want to move. Always praise your dog for remaining in the SIT.

Position Holding for Distance

As your dog begins to understand position holding, increase the distance: step away from your dog up to the length of the leash. Do not drop the leash during the teaching phase of position holding. Always return to your dog’s side and pause before you release with BREAK. At no time should your dog begin to anticipate when he is being released from the command.

Once your dog can SIT reliably while you walk to the end of the leash and return, you may begin walking in a circle around your dog. This will be a milestone exercise. Once your dog will allow you to walk around his rear end, he should trust you with the vulnerable nature of the DOWN. We have seen a strong link between the length of time your dog allows you to walk completely around him and when he begins to DOWN without assistance.