Certified Dog Trainer, Canine & Equine Massage Therapist and Instructor
Director of Volunteer Services, and Training Coordinator
As a sport dog trainer, I deal with a lot of really high drive dogs that need a lot of impulse control work.
For example : Herding or Frisbee dogs that need to learn that they can't chase everything that moves, agility or water dogs that can't break their sit/stays at the start line of an obstacle course, or on the dock before they are released to jump in the water for water sports. Although I don't train only sport dogs – working with them for the past 10 years, has really changed the way I teach stay for all of the dogs I work with, whether they are family companions or athletes that compete.
Traditionally, stays are taught by asking the dog sit or down, asking them to wait for a duration of time, and then giving them rewards after they're released. In reality – that method is not very fair or fun for the dog – we make them wait and wait and wait and the good stuff (reward or play) only comes after it's over! When working with excitable or high drive dogs we need to make the behaviors we are asking for more valuable than the release or end of the stay. You can do this by rewarding the dog for holding position, and stop rewarding after the release cue is given. For example; ask your dog to sit and sporadically reward your dog (giving small treats) for staying in the sit, then release them and simultaneously stop giving rewards (Of course you can always praise them after) . You might have to reward lightning fast and frequently at the beginning to keep them staying in the sit position, but when you are done doling out the treats, give your release word. After practicing this for a period of time you can space out the number of treats you are giving. Always surprise your dog because they are very good at figuring out our patterns – (for example -don't always give three cookies five seconds apart!) Once your dog learns that it is more valuable to stay in position and receive rewards, they will be less likely to get up and begin to understand the behavior we are trying to teach.
This technique can be used for teaching self-control in many situations, for example: dogs that like to bolt out the door or car. Practice asking them to sit, and then reward their choice to remain seated while the door opens (frequently at first, as they get the hang of it- you can fade the amount of cookies given as well as increase the time in-between). Helping dogs build value in their impulse control, by rewarding the position we ask them to hold, instead of at the release can transfer to many areas of everyday life, and help make those areas a lot easier, and a lot more fun to teach!