Teaching Holly to Stay

Holly is quite an anxious pug. She has attachment issues and noise phobia too so I’m keen to help her adjust to a baby in the house as gently as possible.

We’re working through the suggestions in the book Tell your Dog You’re Pregnant and she’s doing really well! There’s a CD of baby sounds with the book and although Holly’s noise phobic to things like the pepper grinder she had absolutely no reaction to any baby cries or giggles, much to our relief!

One of the case studies in the book handles a scenario similar to one we struggle with and that’s visitors! When ever anyone knocks at the front door (or even on TV if it sounds like a knock at the door!) Holly goes berserk! She runs to the front door barking and won’t shut up until they’ve either come into the house or left and we’ve closed the door! Currently we put up with this behaviour, half telling ourselves that she’s a good guard dog, but it’s got to stop before the baby arrives or grumpy sleep deprived mama won’t be happy if Holly wakes the baby every time someone knocks at the door!

The solution we’ve chosen involves using food base incentives to teach Holly to go to her mat on command and stay there when someone comes to the door.  In the past we’ve tried a few time to teach Holly to stay but with little success, perhaps because we were moving too quickly or perhaps because only now her anxiety has lessened a little she’s finding it easier to learn.

To start our training I bought a yellow shower mat from Dunelm, yellow because dogs see yellow and blue better than other colours so she could distinguish the mat from the carpet/floor and a shower mat because it’s a small square just big enough for her to sit on. A carpet tile or old sample piece will do just as well though! If you’ve watched any of our training Stories over on Instagram you’ll see them both trying to squeeze onto the small mat so I might have to invest in another mat or an actual bath mat but for just one dog a shower mat is perfect!

Then we decided what rewards we were using. A high value treat is called for in the early days of training so that they’re keen to earn the reward. We use chicken, cheese or sausage pieces chopped large enough to deliver a taste but small enough to take only a second to swallow and doesn’t interrupt training. Use what ever works for you, it could be a shop bought ‘treat’ or half a blueberry just remember to count the treats as part of their daily calorie intake because you’ll be using a lot!

Next we worked on associating the mat and our command ‘on your mat’ with good things (food!). This meant I had to repeat the words mat and on your mat over and over and over again whilst pointing to the mat and rewarding every time Holly followed the treat and went to the mat. It’s a long laborious process but if you work on it over a weekend or a few days it gets easier every time you go back to it as they learn the association. If your pooch is used to learning new things you could work on 15-20 minute sessions but if they’re not, or they’re not picking it up, then I’d suggest keeping it to 10 minutes a few times a day and working over a week or so rather than just a weekend. Holly remembered some of our earlier training with the mat, which I thought had failed as she wasn’t picking it up but something had obviously stuck, so we managed to move on quite quickly in just a day.

Once Holly knew the mat meant good things I worked on the stay command. Again the idea being that I’d like her to go to her mat and stay when I ask her to. I asked her to go ‘on your mat’ and when she did I immediately used the stay command. She didn’t get a reward for going to the mat this time, only for staying on it for what was initially just a second or so! That way she learns to associate the mat with stay and then mat AND stay with good things (food!) Holly struggled with stay last time we tried so we worked really slowly taking teeny tine fairy steps until we could take a few paces backwards and return to the mat to reward her. Again it’s a long process so you need to be patient, they want to please you (and get the treat!) so they’ll work at it, just go as slowly as they need to and if they don’t seem to be picking it up just go back to the last step and try again from there.

It took a while and we had some setbacks if I tried to move too far away too quickly but I eventually managed to ask her to go to her mat and stay there while I moved to the furthest point away and then return and reward her before we introduced anything else!

Before we finished our weekend session we managed to introduce some noise distractions so that Holly had an idea of what was expected of her when we return to her training. As expected the first attempt resulted in barking and running from her mat but she was quickly corrected and did return to her mat!

Keep an eye out on our Instagram Stories for more training and we’ll post a progress update here soon! If you’ve got any questions or suggestions for us on the sit and stay mat training let us know in the comments below. Share your own success stories with us too, we’re great believers in training (the hound and the human!) so we love hearing when things work out well for our friends!

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