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The most common reasons a dog has a problem with "stay" (in no particular order) are (1) inconsistency (2) occasionally rewarding non-compliance (3) relying more on punishment/correction than motivating the dog to stay (4) failure to reward the dog for performing correctly (5) failure to build a proper foundation (6) inappropriate use of anger - which causes submissive behavior which involves appeasement behavior. I think the reason some people have trouble transiting from confinement to house freedom is that they don't know to take it slowly. The pet is confined one day and given hours of "freedom" the next, which many young dogs find to be intimidating not liberating. For many dogs making them "house safe" means paying attention to two factors (1) time and (2) space (which to many dogs is area they are "responsible" for guarding in the absence of the leader).

Why is "stay" important ? Because it builds the tools a dog needs to mature, to be self confident, and to develop the kind of self control that makes the dog fun to be around. Often people who have "separation anxiety" problems don't practice when they are home. For example, requiring the dog to stay in another room even when someone is home, for varying periods, can help the dog learn to deal with separation. In that case there are additional factors (3) in sight or out of sight (4) distance (5) presence of barrier. For example, placing the dog on the other side of a baby gate five feet away will affect the dog differently that closing a door at the same distance.

There are several primary factors in building a "down-stay" (a) time, (b) distance (c) whether you are in or out of sight, and (d) distractions or competing motivators. You start with a short distance (one foot) a short time (5 seconds) with you in sight. Gradually each of these factors is made more challenging. When you increase the difficulty of one you temporarily decrease the difficulties of the others the goal being to build a foundation of success. The dog is not punished for breaking the stay, just put back in its place. During the teaching process the dog breaking the stay is YOUR failure, not the dogs. Your job is to prevent breaking the stay by interrupting the dog, then praising it for actually staying.

Start with just having the dog wait across the room until the dog can stay ten or more feet away for fifteen minutes. Then you remove yourself from his sight, just walk barely out of sight for however long he will wait and remain relaxed. When he can wait fifteen minutes then start closing the door. Make sure he can wait comfortably in each room, with the door closed, for at least fifteen minutes. Then start going out. Or if you have a secure yard or run, putting him out. In each instance try to reach the point where he is just barely uncomfortable. You don't want to wait so long that he actually feels distressed.

In the meanwhile increase his self confidence by regular obedience training. A big part of the problem is that the dog has not learned he can exercise self control. He really hasn't needed to.

Failure to provide a good foundation results in a dog that does not understand what is wanted. Consistency, good timing and patience are absolutely critical. The correct timing is to watch the dog carefully for body language that telegraphs that the dog is ABOUT to move - waiting until after the dog has moved slows down the learning process.

Failure to react persistently and calmly EVERYTIME also impedes the process - to the point of making achieving the goal impossible if there is enough inconsistency. The dog has no human language - it depends upon what you DO for communication. If say every tenth time the dog fails to stay you relent and allow it other than where you wanted it you have significantly impeded training.

Most novice trainers lack the consistency and patience to achieve long down stays. It takes time, energy and commitment by the trainer. For most novice dog trainers there is less conflict and frustration if the person relies on management e.g. a tie down, a gate, a crate. Training is definitely a solution *I* like because *I* want my dogs to be able to do it - but it does take timing and patience.

Train in very small increments three factors (1) distance (2) time and (3) out-of-sightness. Go very very slowly. Increase time in no more than 30 second increments, increase distance by no more than ten foot increments, out-of-sightness is how much of you is showing. Change a factor only when the dog successfully masters a level at least three times.

To the dog there is a very great difference between in sight, but thirty feet away and out of sight but ten feet away.

Change only one factor at a time. The first step of increasing one factor includes reducing one of the others. If you increase out of sightness by disappearing around a tree, decrease distance five feet (or more) from what was successful before. Train for very short periods often. Once they get used to the idea that you can be present but out of sight they much more readily accept not present.

Other things to keep in mind is that your dog will reflect either your anxiety or your lack of it. If you behave as if it is normal and nothing special your dog is likely to behave that same way. If you fuss over her or act in a soothing manner as if there is something to worry about your dog will get worried. While what I outlined above sounds elaborate it really can progress quite rapidly. Don't MAKE it an elaborate big deal. Just use it to understand the principles of teaching the dog the skills of being alone.

Don't leave a pile of toys around all the time. When you are home give your dog a choice of two things. When you leave give the dog something else. Rotate toys so they can be fresh, new and interesting.

1. This might seem counter-intuitive but I would increase his exercise a bit. Do something really active with him - ball chasing, frisbee (but not way up in the air - he should be chasing it not jumping for it), tug.

2. Increase his mental stimulation. Hide things for him to find. For example, if he has a favorite ball get him to "stay" then "hide" the ball behind some furniture - tell him to "find the ball" and let him go get it. Gradually make it harder - don't let him see exactly where you put it and then later don't let him see where you put it at all.

3. Get one of the videos on training tricks and teach him some tricks. More mental stimulation.

4. Have him work for his food. Look at feeding from a Kong, Havaball, or similar item. Carefully measure out all the food for one day. Use it in the toys as described and as treats for rewards.

5. Make sure you are using a high quality food.

Don't forget to train two dogs separately. Teach each dog a "down-stay" When you have a good solid ten minute "down-stay" in one room, then move it to another until you are confident they will each stay (even together). Then start increasing the distance between the two dogs. When you have them reliable at 8 to 10 feet apart start making one stay while the other does something with you. Walking around, playing, maybe start with something relatively placid and work up to fairly active. Switch them back and forth until you have each willing to wait patiently while the other is engaged with you. Next move one dog out of the room, at first in sight of the doorway, then gradually out of the doorway. Next step is to move to another room and do it again. Eventually you want to be basically as far as you can get in the house doing something with one dog while the other waits.

Next step is essentially starting from the beginning in an outdoor environment. If you have a yard, work there, if not well you have two people so each can supervise a dog. Same thing you want to start with time on a down-stay, progress to distance apart, then one waiting while the other does things, then one is outside the territory but in sight, then outside the territory and out of sight.

At this point each dog knows the other is "around" but has started to deal with "not right here". So the next step is reintroduction of a familiar problem - only one of the two going out the door. Keep in mind that you can first adjust distance, then when the distance is as great as you can make it and still have one dog in and one dog out but still in sight come all the way back and start working on out of sight (don’t forget to reduce the time).

All this time each dog has had a person he can rely on with him/her. Also each person works each dog in obedience. Obedience tends to increase confidence because it gives a certain level of certainty. If the dog doesn't know what to do, the human will tell him. He, therefore, has less to worry about. You may also find it useful as you have increased the down-stay time to end it not with a release but with a few obedience commands then quick game (tug, fetch etc) then a release.

I recommend taking a look at clicker training because you will recognize some of the basic principles of working for success and slowly raising the criteria, and because clicker training takes a kind of focus that may help. In any case, it won't hurt.

I'll be Home Soon! Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook Dogs Home Alone
I'll Be Home Soon! by Patricia McConnell Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook, 5th Edition
by James O'Heare  This was a UK resource  Dogwise  is a USA resource
Dogs Home Alone by Roger Abrantes


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Leaving a dog tied and unattended is very very dangerous. First, some parents are incredibly stupid and allow their child to touch strange dogs, but they don't teach the child to be gentle. Some kids pinch and twist ears, tails and noses. Some try to probe into the mouth, nose, eyes and ears. Assuming your dog will tolerate it, it is still asking a lot, I would not put my dog in that position. This is not theory, I have had to intervene in such behavior.

Second, people will be more suspicious and quicker to blame your dog for any incident just because of its breed. It isn't fair but it is a fact. You don't have to be wrong to be sued. People have sued and recovered over tripping over a sleeping dog.

Third, I do therapy work (visiting hospitals and such). I can tell you from experience that some people walking around are quite irrational. A touch with a cold nose can bring a claim of "he bit me."

Fourth, even a friendly dog can cause injury. Someone could get the dog happy excited, if it jumps up it could, quite accidentally cause a scratch or knock someone down, or otherwise injure them. (I got quite a bruise when an excited dog and I bumped heads).

Fifth, how will you protect your dog against passing dogs that may wish to challenge it? Or what if someone decides they like your dog very much and would like to have it? If your dog is safe enough to be left tied and unattended it will go with such a person.

I'll bet there are a lot of differences between the places he will reliably "down-stay" and where he is being left. Here are some possibilities (not all of them may apply)

1. Closeness with which people must pass him. 2. Proximity of traffic 3. That he is tied (and therefore unable to get away/ defend himself from danger) 4. The surface it may be merely different or it may be more uncomfortable. Try putting your forearm (more sensitive than palm of hand) on each surface. 5. Whether you can be seen/smelled/heard 6. His experiences. People will generally react differently to a tied dog than to one on "down-stay" in a park. The dog will react differently to him as well. 7. Length of time left.

Letting him continue to feel distressed may or may not ever resolve the problem, but it is certainly going to leave a very bad impression on the public. It also has many potential dangers not the least of which is getting away and/or reacting to some situation by defensive biting. Stop the practice entirely until he is both comfortable and reliable is similar situations. As you can see there are a number of factors involved. Of those the ones most likely to influence your dog are (1) whether he can keep track of where you really are (I usually break this down to (a) in/out of sight and (b) distance) (2) feeling of vulnerability - including feeling that he is being left to fend for himself - lacking in the support of his "pack"

Take it slowly. Set him up for success. Work on your down-stays adding to it one variable from the above list. Don't change more than one variable at a time. When you make it harder as to one variable (by for example you stepping out of sight) temporarily make the other variables easier (by for example shortening the time). Don't forget to include the variable of tying the dog to a fixed object. You will end up with a more confident and reliable dog if you teach him the skills he needs to learn to deal with the situation.

I confess that although I have in the past left dogs outside while I went into stores I had enough less than good experiences that I'm no longer comfortable with the practice. I've had idiot children tease the dog, stray dogs menace them, and drunks come and loom over them. Tied dogs can and do slip their collars. I guess there are hazards in everything.

Ok ok I know how you feel. It was so nice when I could leave my dog outside and run into a store. Sorry, I've seen too much and learned too much and I can't do that any more. Just think about it ok?



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Copyright © 1998-2003, Diane Blackman
Created: May 11, 1998     Updated November 21, 2010

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