Wits End Dog Training: helping you to help your dog be the best it can be

Wits End Dog Training, helping you to help your dog be the best it can be.

Wits End Dog Training | Specifics

6. Staying in place

My dog responds to my instructions to “sit” and “down”.
My dog will remain calmly in place while I walk twenty feet away, stand talking to someone, and return, or enter a shop out of sight, for several minutes.
My dog will stay until I give the next instruction.

These are probably the two most important things you can teach your dog. I don’t just mean that he should do the command on your cue, but the key is to get your dog to persist in the behavior, regardless of distractions until you release him from the command.

"How do we achieve not only the teaching of the behavior
but more importantly to a level of performance
that will mean we can take our dog
with us wherever we go?"

A “sit” that involves the dog touching his butt on the ground after five (or fifty!) requests only to bounce straight back up and run away is no earthly good to anyone, it will mean that you are very unlikely to include your dog in your family life.

Firstly and most importantly please understand that you are preparing to teach, guide and coach a behavior to a different species and then develop the skill to a high standard.

Now imagine that instead of you teaching your dog, perhaps you are taking a young child to gymnastics and asking a coach to develop her skills to a high standard. Maybe not quite Olympic but say, regional finals. You might be looking for a coach who has advanced knowledge, lots of experience, has patience and empathy. A coach who understands and feels what the child feels, who can be gentle and caring, and who can develop the skill while the child also has fun and feels good about themselves while they learn.

"How about you? Will you bring this positive fun attitude to the table to train your dog?"

Or are you looking for short cuts, reverting to using force or aggression to try to achieve the same result because you lack the patience and or the skill to do it without? How successful are you likely to be? Let me ask you, how do you respond to being bullied? Do you just smile and go with the flow? Not many people I know do this, most become skilled at passive aggression and avoidance techniques! This is not what you want from your dog, trust me!

Here is where we describe basic clicker training:

Clicker training is a very interesting technique to help you and your dog learn the tricks you want to learn. It involves you being very clear about the behavior you want to see, marking the behavior using a clicker, so that the dog understands what you want and then rewarding the behavior.

Click and Treat. Repeat.

Many people do not advance their understanding of the technique beyond this, which unfortunately is actually only scratching the surface of the training.

You can not be successful with clicker training unless you are paying attention. Make sure you have a supply of small dog treats in your hand. To start with you might look for an approximation of the behavior, this is actually the difficult part of clicker training. Often people forget to think things through to be aware of what the next step is. So let’s talk about “down” for example. Be prepared, have your clicker at the ready. Stand in a low distraction safe environment with your dog on a six foot leash. Wait for your dog to lie down. (Patience) Trust me, if you wait long enough and stand calmly and still in an “at ease” position, your dog will lie down. Most dogs will do this within five minutes or so if you do not look at the dog! When your dog lies down you click the clicker and drop a treat between his front paws. If you move a lot your dog will probably get up.


This time your dog might nuzzle your hand or even jump up. Relax, he is just trying to find out what caused the treat to drop from the clouds. Wait him out. You might see a look of slight confusion on his face.


Do not at this stage in the training try to cue or coach the behavior, wait until he drops onto a down, then click and reward.

If he gets up again, repeat.

If he does not get up, wait for him to put his chin on the ground. Only click and treat for the chin on the ground.

What you are looking for is that look from your dog which says “What was that all about?” and “How can I get him/her to do that again”.

"This way the dog thinks he is training you!"

Then you need to wait, have a little patience, let him think it through and then he will offer the behavior again.

Now add a hand signal, imagine an Elizabethan bow, picture Francis Drake bowing to the queen of England. Over-acting at this stage will make it easier for the dog to interpret, and connect the gesture/body language as a label to the behavior, to start with you want to be doing the gesture as the dog is lying down, not to try to get the dog to lie down. Imagine that you are attaching the label/gesture/hand signal to a congruent coordination of muscle and skeletal movements in the act of moving into a down position.

(This description is in direct contrast to the old way of dog training, which would be to command the behavior and then force the behavior, which due to the opposition reflex means that the dog would be resisting the movement, straining not to do it while the instructor tries to overcome the resistance. Falsely labeling the resistance rather than the behavior.)

Now add a voice label, coordinated with the hand signal and the dog offering the behavior.

Practice, practice, practice!

Test the dog by using the voice/hand signal combination slightly in advance of the behavior, see if the behavior follows. If it does repeat thirty times. If it does not go back to step 4 and 5.

Practice, practice, practice!

"Practice, practice, practice!"

So now you have a dog who will perform a “down” behavior on your cue, reliably, in a low distraction environment. Congratulations, you have just overcome the first hurdle.

Now we need to consider the three “D’s of Dog Training” -
Duration, Distance and Distraction

Work on Duration first.
How long can you stretch your dogs ability to not just do a down, but actually stay down?

Here is the technique for developing the down stay for duration:

Give the cue for the down, the sweeping arm movement, your dog goes down. When your dog is down, your arm is at the lowest point of the downward sweep, maintain eye contact with your dog and gently raise your hand until, with a low arm, hand upturned at the wrist, the hand interferes with the line of sight from your eyes to his. Maintain this similar to a policeman’s stop command, say “stay” in a low tone of voice like a growl. Wait for a few seconds and click and treat. This is one complete repetition.

"In order to build duration you can think of it as
an elastic band that requires to be stretched."

So perform the following repetitions for the following durations and start to see a pattern which resembles the payout pattern on a slot machine.

2 second duration click and treat
5 second duration click and treat
1 second duration click and treat
7 second duration click and treat
3 second duration click and treat
1 second duration click and treat
10 second duration click and treat

You can see that I am alternating between short and long, stretching the longer ones each time.

"Stop, take a breath.
Give your dog a jackpot of seven treats
one after the other.
Go play for a few minutes, throw a ball or a frisbee."

OK back on task.

Your dog will start to look as if he gets the plan, often staying on the down between clicks and rewards so that effectively your last down stay might have even been 29 seconds long. (all the above short repetitions added together).

Now do another set:

10 second click and treet
4 second click and treat
20 second click and treat
5 second click and treat
10 second click and treat
20 second click and treat
30 second click and treat
5 second click and treat
4 second click and treat
10 second click and treat
45 second click and treat
60 second click and treat
3 second click and treat
1 second click and treat


These drill sets take less time to do than they do to type!

Congratulations you have now taught your dog to do a
one minute down stay in a low distraction environment.

Now do another set. Pay particular attention to limiting both your movement and your vocalization to help your dog be successful:

1 minute click and treat
3 minutes click and treat
5 minutes click and treat
1 minute click and treat
7 minutes click and treat
10 minutes click and treat
3 minutes click and treat
1 minute click and treat
10 minutes click and treat

Yay! Congratulations again!

"Now you have a 10 minute down stay!"

Ah yes, but, you say, what if he does not do one of those? What if he gets up at 5 minutes when I am working on a ten minute? Remember, you already have him on leash so he is not going anywhere. He did not fail. He just did not do it yet. Ignore the behavior you do not want (hard to do for most owners) and look at the sky for a moment, then start over. There is a good chance that if you do not pay attention to the error, neither to correct nor reward, the dog will succeed the next time and you can click, praise and reward.

"If you start to feel upset because it is not going well,
take a break, have a cup of tea and a cookie,
then start over!"

Situational Evaluation Form

Plot the current training session on the following form:

Now you are starting to get the picture.
The next step is to start to reward intermittently, sometimes using treats and sometimes praise.

"Reduce the number of treats, be unpredictable,
and throw in the odd jackpot. Just like Vegas!"

Now start practicing longer down stays. Work up to 30 minutes then 45 minutes then an hour. You can practice while you are at the computer, or watching the telly. If you find that he gets up and creeps away while you are not paying attention you can attach a “Bear Bell” to his collar. Available from REI.

Now you can take it out in public, first in low distraction environments, then gradually building up the challenges, always building on successful performance and finishing on successful performance. Don’t move up the challenge until you have several successes at the same level.

"Don’t skip from a level 5 distraction to a level 8 distraction!
You will set him up to fail.
Step by step is the key to a solid reliable performance."

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