Leaving your dog sitting while you walk away is a valuable skill. This is not an exercise for tiny puppies, but it still depends on your close presence to feel secure. But you can start this training with any dog from about four months old, provided that he has completed the previous exercises in this series.
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Unless you live in a mansion, the exercises in this article will probably have to take place outdoors in your garden. Public parks still need to be more suitable because there are too many other potential distractions (other people, dogs, squirrels, etc.) Training in a different location is in itself a distraction for the dog. So before you start the exercises below, you should spend a little time practicing the simple exercises the dog already knows.
Start from the beginning with some very short sits with your dog on the lead. Gradually reintroduce the removal of the lead and the ‘stepping around the dog’ exercises you have been doing indoors.
Before moving away from the dog, you must add more duration to your trained seat.
Exercise One: Increase duration
In the previous article in this series, Teach your dog to sit in part 4, you taught your dog to sit still for ten seconds. Now, you will increase this time to prepare the dog for the time it will take you to walk away from him and back again.
You only need to teach your dog to sit still at your side for 20 seconds. Use precisely the same steps as you did in part 3. Remember to make ‘sandwiches‘ – put the longer sits in between shorter sits – this helps to ‘set the dog up’ to succeed. Is part 3: building the stay if you need to recap on increasing duration.
Leaving your dog
Once your dog can reliably sit still for 20 seconds, it is time to begin teaching him to cope with being left alone. We will take this in bite-sized chunks, so your dog feels confident and secure. To build this confidence, you need to follow a golden rule.
Always return to your dog.
This makes the dog feel safe. His security is based on the understanding that you will come back. He is not on edge waiting for you to whistle or call him. He can relax, knowing that all he has to do is sit still and wait, and you will return to him.
Remember to ‘mark’ and ‘reward’ successful sits. You may find it helpful to read up on reward markers.
Exercise Two: Walking the T
In this exercise, you will get your dog accustomed to you moving ten yards away from him and walking about a bit.
Step 1: Backing away
Sit the dog and stand in front of him so that you are facing each other. Remove the dog’s lead. Back a couple of steps away from the dog, immediately returning to him and replacing the lead. Mark and reward the sit.
Step 2 – Increasing the distance you back away
Gradually increase the distance you travel backward from the dog to about 5 yards. Return to the dog each time, replace his lead, and mark/reward the seat.
Step 3 – walking away
In this step, you will get the dog used to seeing you disappear from behind. Start the exercise with him in the heel position. Put your dog on your left side, remove his lead, and walk forward two steps. Retrace your steps backward to rejoin the dog, replace his lead, and mark/reward the sit. This is different for the dog because he cannot see your face.
Step 4 – Increasing the distance you walk away
Repeat step 3, gradually increasing the distance you walk from the dog. Once you get to 3 or 4 yards, swing around so that you return to the dog facing him rather than walking backward.
Provided the dog is happy and confident, you can increase the distance. Out to 5 yards or so for a pup 5 months or a bit younger, 10 yards for an older dog.
Step 5 – Walking the T
For this next step, imagine a giant letter T on the ground. Start with quite a small T, not more than 2 or 3 yards in height.
Sit the dog at the foot of the T and walk up to the crossbar. Instead of returning to the dog, step sideways along the bar to your right and back to the center when you reach the top of the T. Then, repeat to the left. Now return to the dog as before
Step 6 – Make the T bigger
Repeat step 5, making the T a little larger as you go on. Start walking purposefully up and down the bar instead of just stepping from side to side. Make the T up to ten yards in height, but finish each training session on a smaller T. Always remember to mark and reward each successful sit. If the dog gets up at any point, go back to an easier stage and work forwards more slowly.
Step 7 – Make yourself more exciting
In this step, you will gradually introduce some activities your dog will find interesting. You can bend down and touch the ground at each end of the T bar, do a little jump, or clap your hands.
This activity is more tempting to the dog, especially if you bend down or sit on the ground, the closer you are to him. So now we will carry out these activities, starting with your largest T and bringing them gradually closer to the dog.
Watch the dog carefully. Take it down a notch if you think he is tempted to come and find out what you are up to. Set him up to win every time.
If your dog seems unsure at any point, simply go back to an easier stage and practice a little more.
Exercise Three: Walking the clock
In this exercise, you will accustom your dog to sitting still while you walk in a circle around him at a distance of ten yards. Sound straightforward? That’s because it is! There are just four steps. Remove your dog’s lead at the beginning of each step and replace it at the end. You can start this exercise when your dog is proficient at the previous one.
Imagine your dog is sitting in the center of a clock. The distance from the clock’s center to 6 o’clock will be only a couple of yards, to begin with. Now sit your dog in the clock center and walk to 6 o’clock. Turn to your right and walk around the perimeter of the clock as far as 3 o’clock. Now about to turn and return to 6 o’clock. Now, return to the dog, replace his lead, mark, and reward.
Repeat this in the other direction (walking towards 9 o’clock)
Increase the distance you travel around the clock, alternating to your right and left, walking as far as two o’clock and ten o’clock, then one o’clock and eleven o’clock. As you move behind him, the dog may swivel his head around to see where you are, but he should not get up.
Walk the entire perimeter of the clock first in one direction, then the other.
Now, you will make your clock gradually bigger. Increase the distance from the clock’s center to its edge one yard/stride at a time. Ensure the dog succeeds several times at each distance before moving on to the next. Keep to a circle of five yards radius in all for four-month-old puppies. Up to ten yards for five and six-month pups, and if you have a big enough garden and your dog is seven months or more, you can take the circle out to twenty yards from the dog.
So far, we have been making the dog work a bit harder each time for his reward. It is time to consolidate what he has learned and introduce intermittent rewards. This is very important, and you can read more fully on this topic in ‘The Gambling Effect.’ In brief, random and sporadic rewards generate deepen and strengthen a dog’s behavior. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, you may find it helpful to visit the link before continuing.
From now on, each day that you practice walking the clock, you should begin to occasionally ‘omit’ the mark and reward that your dog has come to expect. Keep rewarding seven or eight out of every ten sits, but avoid any predictable pattern. The dog must not know when he will get a reward and when he is not.
After a few days of rewarding 7 or 8 out of 10 sits, drop the reward ratio still further to about half of all sits. Remember to reward randomly.
Making ‘stay’ practice interesting
Mix in different types of stay in your training sessions. Sometimes you can walk the T, other times the ‘clock.’ Yet other times, just walk away from the dog and straight back again. You can increase your distances on this one as you become more confident in your dog’s ability.
Sometimes, you can walk around the dog. Other times, you can run. Sometimes, you can sit down or lie down on the ground or sit on a chair. Other times, they remain standing.
The dog is learning that sit means sit, no matter what you get up to. Now, it is time to teach him that he must remain seated no matter what ‘other people’’ get up to. More of that in the next installment!