Teaching Stay Verbal Cue
Age appropriate: Your puppy can begin learning Sit and Down Stay around 3 to 6 months of age. Add distractions at 5 months or older.
Purpose: Guide dogs are expected to be reliable when left on their own for short periods of time when their partners are away from them. They need to remain in the same position regardless of their environment and distractions.
Objective: The end goal of the verbal cue Stay is for your puppy to be left alone for several minutes without moving. However, the objective will vary based on your pup’s age and maturity. It can vary from you taking one step away with the leash still in your hand to leaving the room for several moments.
It is very important that you only expect your puppy to meet goals that are age appropriate, that you can enforce, and at which they will be successful. All puppies learn at different rates so your pup might be more or less advanced than other puppies in your group. Do not rush or accelerate the process if your puppy is not successful at the current phase of training.
You will be giving your pup the verbal cue Stay. When your puppy is young you can also use a hand signal of a flat hand with your palm facing the pup. The hand signal and verbal cue will be given at the same time.
Distractions can be added to the environment slowly to teach your puppy that they are expected to stay regardless of what is happening in their environment. This needs to be done slowly and only advanced when your puppy is successful with the current level of distraction you are currently using. Guide dogs are expected to be trustworthy and stay where they are placed in any environment their partner leaves them.
Use this guideline for the intensity of distractions that can be given and progressed to once your puppy has mastered each level.
No distractions in the environment. Just the puppy and the handler in a familiar room. The handler can talk to the pup.
Another person the pup knows walks toward the puppy to talk to him. They can say the pup’s name but not give any verbal cues.
A familiar toy can be placed near the puppy within 10 feet.
Kibble can be placed near the puppy within 10 feet.
Another person approaches the puppy and offers a toy or food.
A toy is gently tossed or rolled near the puppy.
Kibble is dropped near the puppy within 5 feet.
The environment can be changed to a more stimulating environment like a quiet store, parking lot, or park.
Another dog or puppy can approach within 5 feet while on leash.
Food or toys can be placed right next to the puppy.
The environment can become more stimulating such as a mall, busy store, or in a crowded area.
The handler can move around in a quick manner: jumping up and down, clapping their hands, jogging, making silly noises, etc.
Other puppies are playing on leash with their handlers and the other pups.
Other animals such as birds, cats, or squirrels can be nearby.
The environment can be a busy park, crowds, and people nearby.
Other dogs can play off leash nearby (such as inside a dog park when you are training outside).
Toys can be tossed around or kibble being given to other pups.
Heavy traffic, loud noises, or construction.
Begin with the following steps and make sure your pup is responding appropriately before adding distractions and moving to the next phase.
- Place your puppy on your left side in a sit. Your leash should be in your right hand. Give your puppy your full attention.
- Give your puppy the verbal cue Stay in a calm, confident tone.
- Remain in place with your puppy at your side.
- If your puppy starts to move, tighten the leash by pulling straight up until they relax. Once they relax again release the tension. Your puppy should not slide to lie down on the floor. They should remain in the position you placed them until you give them the verbal cue to release the position.
- If your puppy continues to move, reposition them and control them as they start to move. Pay attention to your pup’s movement and catch it the second that they start to move.
- Be sure to give your puppy lots of praise and verbal encouragement in a quiet, happy voice. The time frame at which the stay is kept should start at 10 seconds and then vary in time up to 1 minute as your puppy progresses.
- Calmly praise and pet your puppy, and then give them the OK verbal cue to release them from their position.
- Start adding distractions as in levels 1 to 3 as described above. Remember to add only one at a time and continue on that level until the pup is comfortable with all of the scenarios in each level.
- Place your puppy in a sit on your left side. Your leash should be in your right hand.
- Give your puppy the verbal cue Stay.
- Step directly in front of your puppy. At this point you can also use the hand signal: hand flat with your palm facing the pup.
- If your pup makes an attempt to move give them a quick, light leash correction. Do not use any verbal correction. Simply give the leash correction and reposition your pup as needed with your hands.
- Pay full attention to your puppy and correct them the moment that they start to move. Start over from the beginning and always return the puppy to the place where you started regardless of where the pup moved to.
- Praise and pet your puppy while they remain in place and then release them with the OK verbal cue.
- Add distraction levels 2 to 4 as described above.
- Remember to balance any correction with the same or more praise. If you feel your puppy is not succeeding go back to phase 1 until your puppy is successful every time.
- Place your puppy on your left side in a sit. Your leash should be in your right hand.
- Give your puppy the verbal cue to Stay.
- Step directly in front of your puppy. While facing them, give them the hand signal verbal cue and take one step back.
- Add distraction levels 2 to 4.
- Once your puppy is successful in keeping their position with those distractions while you are one step away, start adding more distance between you and your pup by taking one more step back and repeating the distractions until you are eventually at the end of your 6-foot leash.
- Should your puppy make any attempts to move, give a quick collar correction and place them back into the original position with your hands and start again.
- When your puppy is comfortable with all of the distraction levels you can begin moving around your puppy as described in level 5.
- After your puppy remains in a stay with your movement around them continue adding the rest of the distraction levels 5 and 6.
- Following the same instructions for phase 3, use a longer leash or long line for increasing the distance between you and your pup.
- As your distance increases you will not be as able to give timely and effective physical corrections so make sure your puppy is proficient in phase 3 before moving to this phase.
- Continue adding distractions and distance between you and your pup. Take your time, use lots of verbal praise, and reward after you have given the release verbal cue OK.
The Down and Stand Stay
The down stay is usually more difficult for puppies because they are closer to the ground and can sniff and easily become distracted. Do not attempt the Down Stay until your puppy is completely proficient with phase 3 of the Sit Stay.
The Stand Stay should only be attempted after your puppy is completely successful with the Sit Stay and Down Stay. Some puppies only reach this level after they are 12 months old. It is crucial that this is not attempted until the pup is ready. This is the hardest stay to enforce by the handler because the pup is given the most freedom in their position – they don’t have to move from a sit or stay to start moving toward a distraction.