Stay On Task

When I trained my Collie, I used to get up early every morning and take her into a dewy field by my apartment.  We would trot around, practice recalls, practice stays from a distance, and spend quite a bit of time working on the training bugaboo of long duration stays.

These are pretty boring.  The traditional way, in the open field, I would put Lady into a Stay and then kind of stare at her and shift my weight and wonder what to do for one minute or three minutes or heaven forbid five minutes.  But we made it through, and after she was fully trained she would do an hour long down stay at the park while the children played.

With Ranger, I don’t have the time or capability to wander into a dewy field to train for hours on end.  As a matter of fact, I barely have time to train for 15 minutes.  But as I was working with him the other day, I realized something marvelous – we could train the stay while I was getting my other mommy chores done, turning training time into efficient multi-tasking instead of an excuse not to do the dishes.  Here’s how:

First, we built up a base level of duration and distractions.  I had to be able to move around a tad and go at least 15 seconds in order to get anything done.  You can see some of this work in my prior posts.

Second, I decided not to use the clicker for the duration stay, but instead reinforce at intervals before the release.  This allows for more reinforcement of the staying behavior instead of a long, expectant wait and then one reward.  I think this builds a calmer and stronger stay.

Third, I worked on Ranger’s Settle and taught him to flip over on his hip from his Drop position and then relax.  This builds a more stable position for the dog, who now cannot just spring up at a moment’s notice.

Now, when I want to work on Ranger’s stays but I’m being pulled away by an untidy room, dirty dishes, or other chores, I don’t have to choose!  I put him into a Drop-Settle-Stay, and then start taking care of my chores while returning to give him a cookie every few seconds.  I periodically release him, play a little, and then re-set him so he knows it is not interminable.  And if he does release himself before I tell him “Free!”, I just put him back, increase the rate of reinforcement a little, and decrease the difficulty (such as if I tried to step over him) or duration.  This is not needed very often, though, because I want to make the game easy to win.

The good thing about this is that instead of lying there staring me down begging me to click and release him, Ranger is actually chilling out and just waiting calmly enjoying his intermittent rewards, while still aware that when mommy decides, he gets a fun little play time.  We are building a quiet, patient stay instead of a neurotic, wiggly, expectant one.

I’ve done a couple of little video setups to show how this works; in real life, I actually get a little bit more done, but I did not want to be extremely boring and show myself doing dishes for three minutes straight, so I have shortened the intervals for your sake.

And of course, since I am madly in love with clever names, I have dubbed this exercise “Stay On Task”.  Ranger is on task staying… and I am staying on my own tasks… at the same time.  I know, I amaze myself daily.

Here are the videos!

Picking up the Living Room:


This helps out the real life of a mom way more than standing in a field, and I hope you give it a try with your own dog!


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