The key to great start lines stays in agility is reinforcement. Handler and dog are a team: the dog offers the behavior of stay, and the handler provides the toy or treat. By changing the frequency, position, and type of rewards in the face of increasing distractions, the handler/dog team can achieve impressive results.
Where does it start to go wrong for agility competitors? Usually, when the start lines stays are combined with agility training. Suddenly, the lure of obstacle performance becomes overwhelming, sometimes for the dog, but often for the handler as well! Improper and inconsistent reinforcement often leads to rapid deterioration of a hard-earned skill.
Start with a list of your dog’s greatest desires, and see where the reinforcements you use in training rank on a scale of 1-10. Be honest! Here’s my list for my 1 year-old border collie; remember, every dog is different.
1. Tugging with me (10/10)
2. Playing with her canine housemates with toys (9/10)
3. Agility (9/10)
4. Chasing balls (8/10)
5. Tasty food treats (2/10)
You can see from my list that training typically goes well when I can tug with my dog, but we might struggle a bit with running contact training that uses ball rewards only, and she might even walk away from a clicker shaping session with food only rewards.
In summary, work to diversify your rewards, but maintain something more rewarding than agility, so you will have at least one effective reinforcer during agility training.