How To Teach Your Dog to Stay
When you think of the most popular commands to teach your dog, “Stay” often comes to mind. Teaching “stay” is important as it will keep your dog from running into unsafe situations and give you greater control in unpredictable environments.
Teaching stay is a simple process that requires you to establish a “stay” command, hand signal, and release cue. The goal of stay is to have your dog hold a stationary position (sit, lay down) until you give them the release cue.
Stay can have many practical uses and, with consistent training, can be an invaluable and lifesaving tool. The key to teaching your dog to remain in the desired position until they are released requires you to incrementally increase the Three D’s of training; distance, distraction, and duration.
To teach stay, have your dog enter either a sit or down position. Take the smallest step back and with a flat palm, hold your hand near your dog’s nose. We call this a “stop sign” and gives your dog a visual cue that they will rely on for the beginning stages of training. If your dog remains in this position for even a second or two, reward them immediately with “Yes” and “Good Stay.” Then, release them with “Okay,” “Free,” or “All Done.”
If your dog pops up when you take a step back, try moving even a smaller distance back. Or, ask them for a sit and reward them for simply holding this position for a moment. Then, try adding in distance. Your goal is to have your dog stay in position, whether it be a sit or down, and remain there until you give them a cue to exit that position.
It is critical to set your dog up for success when practicing “stay.” With each training session, start closer than you would initially think to start a “warm-up” of sorts. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of failure, which can be frustrating for both you and your pup. Start easy and gradually increase the difficulty. Nothing wrong with a little review!
For most younger dogs, staying in one position when they know you have treats requires a significant amount of impulse control so be sure to be patient with your initial requests.
Increasing Distance, Duration, and Distractions
With any behavior you are trying to solidify with your dog, it’s imperative to increase the difficulty as you go. Your dog is much more likely to stay still while sitting in your house rather than at a busy park that’s full of distraction. Here are a couple of tips to help you level-up your stay:
Using a long-lead, increase how many steps you take back before releasing your dog with “Okay” and a treat. You can also walk back to your dog and give them a treat, and walk away again, letting them know you like the behavior. Releasing with “Okay” should be the only time your dog is allowed to break the stationary position they are in.
Much like humans, dogs have to work on their patience over a span of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was an unwavering stay from your dog. As you train, gradually increase the time you are asking your dog to remain still. This can also be done from a distance or can be something as simple as staying on a mat while you cook dinner. I generally use “place” while I’m cooking, but the concept is the same.
Perhaps the most difficult of the three D’s, distractions can throw even the most steadfast dog off. To gradually increase distractions, ask for a “stay” in the front yard or during a walk, even if just for a moment. Try using “stay” in different environments and around other people if at all possible. You can also toss treats or food near your dog and reward them for remaining in the stay position.
“Stay” vs “Wait”
In my training, I like to teach “wait” in addition to stay. “Wait” follows the same principles of stay as you are asking your dog to hold a position until you give them permission to release their position. However, this is usually from a shorter distance or for less time.
A great example would be asking your pup to wait while you were opening the door to the back door to let them out. Ask for a “wait” and gradually open the door. If they go to run out, shut it quickly. Keep doing this until you can get the door open a bit, then release them with “Okay.” This is great practice for impulse control and also teaches your dog that you are the one who controls access to the environment. I’ll even ask for a “Look at me” before giving them the “Okay” release to make sure they are checking in with me before freedom in the backyard.
Overall, the key to getting your dog to stay on command until they are released is reliant on multiple training sessions with varying degrees of difficulty. Always set your dog up for success by making sure their skill level matches the request. Increasing challenges is important but can be frustrating if introduced too quickly!