This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Two of the Advanced Course

Command Training
Page Five of an eleven-page section

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Extending the Distance From Which You Give the Command

Now that you have gotten your dog to sit while your hands are positioned well away from him, it is time to move on to the next phase in which you take steps to ensure that he will continue to follow your Sit command, even when you are a great distance away from him.

At this point in his training, if you were to move far away from your dog and command him to sit, while you stood in an upright position, there is very little chance that he would obey you the way he does when you are right up on him, only inches away.

To get your dog to accept your sit command at a distance, the same way he does when you are kneeling or squatting up close, right next to him, you will need to move slowly from your near the ground position, right next to him, to an upright posture further away, so that over the course of days or weeks and many repetitions, you can gradually increase the distance from which you issue the command, therby avoiding the kind of sudden change in circumstance that so often results in a new trainee breaking the command before the release is given.

It is in every way parallel to the way you gradually changed your tactile cues as you slowly adjusted your hand position over time. You now need to get upright and move slyly away in that same stealthy manner.

Therefore, over time and many trials, you will need to slowly stretch the distance from which you issue your command. Your goal should be to increase your distance in such a painstaking manner that your dog will not even realize that you are gradually increasing the space between you as you issue your commands from further and further away.

As before, if you find that your dog stops immediately obeying your sit command as you move further away, you will need to once again begin commanding him from closer quarters, and then, gradually resume the process of moving slowly away after his sit-on-command response is reestablished.

The Command to Stay

If you call your dog's name in your command voice and follow his name with the word stay - (Fido, Stay!) - you will have transformed those words into a command that indicates to your dog that he is to remain in his present location and in his current posture until he receives further instructions.

When you command your dog to Sit or to lie Down there is both an explicit and an implicit component to the command. Explicitly, you are telling your fur-upholstered pal to follow the command, while implicitly, you are saying, and stay in that position until I let you know that it's okay for you to move.

You can see, then, that just the fact that you commanded your dog to Sit or lie Down carries the implication that he is to continue obeying that command until you get back to him with the release. Therefore, if you have just commanded your dog to Sit or lie Down and, then, you command him to Stay before you have released him from the previous command, that means that your follow-up command to Stay was really just a stating of that which was already implied.

Nonetheless, if you are going to leave your dog commanded into the sit or down position long enough to challenge his patience, it is still often a good idea to follow up your initial command of Down or Sit with a formal command to Stay.

Stay as a Form of Reassurance For a Trained Dog

Even after your dog is fully trained, if you are going to have him on hold, waiting for a release, long enough for him to wonder if you have forgotten that he is on command, then, every now and then while he is waiting, you might want to repeat the word stay, as a reminder and a courtesy in which you reassure your dog that you are aware that it's been a while and you are just letting him know that it's likely to be a bit longer before the conditions will be such that you can release him. In that circumstance you need not precede the word with your dog's name, since your words constitute reassurance, rather than a reissuing of the same command.

Stay as a Reminder and a Form of Reassurance For Newbies

For an uninitiated dog, the idea that you want him to remain, not only in the same spot, but also in the same posture for a period of time may be hard to grasp. After all, it is not a request that one dog would ever make of another, other than, perhaps, early in life when the ever cautious mommy dog restricts the range of her tiny pups. But by and large, it is not one of your more common dog-to-dog requests.

Consequently, in the earliest stage of training, you will almost certainly need to reassure your dog that he is understanding you correctly, that you actually are commanding him to remain in one position. Of course, during the earliest stage of training, when you have your hands on your dog, the fact that you are holding him in place is the ultimate reassurance that you do not want him to move. However, after you remove your hands and begin the process of standing upright and gradually moving away from your dog, at some point he is going to wonder what it is that he is supposed to do while you are inching away, getting ever further from him. Therefore, reassurance is called for.

Every command begins with you calling your dog's name and ends when you give him the okay to release. However, sometimes, especially in the earliest stages of training, in between the command and the release, you will need to say things to your dog either to reassure him or to give him more information about precisely how, or for how long he is to execute the order.

An Introduction to Sandwich Cues

The hints and reassurances that you give your dog after the command are called sandwich cues, or at least I like to call them that, to denote the fact that they are sandwiched in between the command and the release.

Good Dog and Stay are the sandwich cues most needed for a dog who is just starting to develop obedience skills. If you want the training process to go smoothly, you will need to learn to speak those words to your dog in a certain, repetitive way, after you have given him the command and before you give the okay to release.

Differentiating Between a Command and a Cue

I previously asserted that you should not make a habit of repeating the same command twice, so at this point there may appear to be a contradiction in that I am now talking about reassuring your dog that he is supposed to remain in place, by speaking the word stay to him after you have already commanded him to Stay.

To reconcile that seeming contradiction, we first need to revisit the description of a command.

Commands are always:

  1. spoken in a command voice
  2. preceded by your dog's name
  3. followed, sooner or later, by a release command that is also spoken in a command voice.

A command, then, always follows a certain format. Also a command is always issued using a command voice.

However, the way the word stay is used as a sandwich cue is very different from the way it sounds when it is used as a command.

When presented as a sandwich cue, the word stay should not be preceded by your dog's name, nor will it necessarily be followed by a release command. Also, when issued as a cue, stay should always be spoken in a tone that projects a sense of intense warmth and reassurance, which is very much different from the authoritarian ring the word carries when it is plugged in as part of a command.

Also, please note that the purpose of using sandwich cues is to reward and reassure your dog after he is already in the act of obeying your command, which is very different from saying the same words a number of times in an attempt to get him to respond in the first place.

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This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network