Question: My 3-month-old goldendoodle is pretty smart but I’m having a hard time getting him to “stay.” How do I go about teaching this important cue?
Answer: It’s not surprising at all that you’re puppy won’t stay in one spot. Although it’s not a hard and fast edict, the general rule is no basic obedience work until your dog is about 6 months old. The thinking here is that, until the six-month mark, your pup more than likely can’t really pay attention that well. There are wide variables here, however, because from time to time, I will see a 4-month-old pup who has the requisite maturity for basic obedience. Conversely, it’s not unusual for some breeds and some dogs to not really be mature enough until much later than 6 months.
But there are many other simple rules and boundaries your pup needs to learn in the meantime. Things like “don’t jump on me or anybody else,” “keep your teeth off of me”, and “you can only chew on your stuff.”
“Stay” is a much more advanced cue than most people realize. This command requires a dog to stay glued to one spot until released, and calls for a certain level of focus. Long before I ever teach "stay," I want a dog to know the cue “wait.”
“Wait” is basically a temporary “stay”, for 20 seconds or less. “Wait” is also a very versatile cue because there will be many occasions when you simply need him to momentarily hold his position. I start teaching the "wait" cue at the door each time we go out together. In Max’s head, whoever goes through the door first is the leader, so I make him wait until he’s been released, each time. Later, the parameters of this cue can expand to a fairly complex level that includes stopping your dog on a breakaway. But we start at the door.
So go to the door with your dog on the leash. Don’t let him crowd you at the door. Claim your space using your leg or your shin to make him scoot back a little and give you some room. (Note: This is exactly what a higher ranking dog would do.) As you put your hand on the doorknob, tell your dog one time “wait.” No need to use a corrective tone. We’ll save that for a correction if we need one.
Don’t hold Max in place with the leash either, but correct him with an upwards tug and a simultaneous “no!” if he jumps the gun. We’re teaching him to choose correctly. The idea is for you to be on one side of the threshold with him on the other. Timing is everything because he has the choice to hold his position or jump offside. If he chooses wrong, he gets corrected, but until that instant, the leash is slack.
The slack leash is important. As soon as you get two seconds of compliance, release him with a bright “OK!” But make sure you get that two seconds, and that he’s not already in motion.
If you practice this door protocol each time the two of you go in or out of the house, it’s only a matter of time before he just knows what to do at the door and automatically stands by for you to release him.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who “teaches dogs and trains people.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.