Teaching a dog to stay while the handler circles around has some very similar components to the hide’n’seek game. Initially easiest to use the lead it teaches the dog how to feel composed even when it wants to rush forward. In the hide’n’seek exercise the dog is held while the handler disappears away and hides. The feeling of restraint or compression then leads to a rush of energy as the lead is dropped and the dog can race away. This advancing wave of energy then carries the dog to the handler where it can bite a toy and be praised and applauded in its softening.
In the stay exercise this wave of energy is like an advancing and receding wave on the beach, as the handler circles around and then returns the energy rises and falls while the dog remains composed in its place. And like the waves reaching up the beach where you can choose to ride one of those waves and use the energy to come ashore, so can you get the dog to race towards you, leaving the stay to come running to a toy or some food. The preparation for this surge then becomes a useful signal that prompts an eagerness to respond. Following NDT convention I generally use the word “ready” which triggers this alert and watchful state. It can be channelled through more and more enthusiasm, but needs to also be released at the right time. When releasing an arrow from a bow you put tension in the string but you wouldn’t be able to hold that moment for too long, you would need to let fly, and so it is with the dog. The tension of the “ready” moment has to be released at the right time.
The rhythm of the exercise helps the dog know whats coming next, the circles are patterns that can be predicted and understood. Each repetition can then include some variation, increasing or decreasing the distance away. I tend to find there is an easy and natural spacing about which closer and further distances are then both more difficult. Stay while orbiting closer to the dog is paving the way for the visit to the cafe, where you might want to step over the dog on the way back to the counter to choose another slice of cake. You don’t always want the dog to move under pressure from passing feet. The larger orbits are turning the game back to hide’n’seek, and you could easily include hiding a toy out on the perimeter, in readiness for a long distance retrieve.