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One of the first, most fundamental life skills positive dog trainers recommend is to teach dogs to stay. Why?
If you want to be confident you can take your dog anywhere or even function smoothly in your own home while keeping your dog safe and happy, your dog needs a rock-solid stay.
That's why we've brought together positive reinforcement certified dog trainers, our Dogly Training Advocates, to guide you step by step on how to establish a reliable stay with your dog. You'll learn everything you need to know in this 5-part series - from building the length of time you ask your dog to stay to introducing distractions to adding "wait."
In these 5 guides in the Manners Channel here on Dogly, you'll learn:
- How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay": Starting with Duration
- How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" While Turning Your Back
- How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" with You at a Distance
- How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" with Distractions
- How to Teach Your Dog the Difference Between "Stay" & "Wait"
Here's an overview of each of the 5 guides to help you teach your dog to stay...
Teaching "Stay" Guide 1: How to Teach Your Dog to Stay: Starting with Duration
The essence of the "stay" cue is your dog's ability to hold the stay position for a desired period of time. Easier said than done, right? Have you ever gotten your dog to hold stay for one second only to lose it to chase something while you resort to repeating "stay, stay...stay, stay..." to no avail (and no one's surprise!)?
Never fear, positive reinforcement dog trainer and Dogly Training Advocate Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie is here to break down building your stay cue in small, manageable steps.
You'll sometimes hear it referred to as a stay "command," but we prefer to call it, along with other things you'll teach your dog, a dog-training "cue." You're working together, not in "command" of your dog. Your dog learns with you and your cue is a communication both you and your dog share around a skill your dog wants to do. So much more fun (and reliable) for both of you!
A quick look at what you'll learn in part 1 of teaching your dog to stay:
Step 1: Choose a position for teaching your dog to stay.
Many dog owners are used to teaching their dog to stay by having their dog sit while holding stay, but you can also teach your dog to stay in a down position during training sessions, whatever works best for you and your dog.
Pro tip: Make sure you start from a down position or sitting position your dog already knows so the focus is only on learning stay.
Step 2: Be quick with your click.
Once your dog sits or lies down, you want to click and treat before your pup has a chance to move. As your dog begins to understand treats come for not moving, you can begin to add a little time between clicks/treats.
Step 3: Add a verbal cue or a hand signal for your stay.
Once your dog is getting the idea of staying in place, add a verbal cue ("stay") and reward immediately. Your dog will begin to associate the stay cue with staying and being rewarded with a treat so you'll be able to use it as a true verbal cue.
Step 4: Add a release word.
A solid stay means holding the stay until hearing your release word. Learn how and when to incorporate your word and why it should be something simple like "okay" that you don't normally use around your dog but use consistently as your release cue, in the guide here.
Step 5: Start gradually increasing duration as your dog holds stay.
Once your dog is comfortable holding stay for a few seconds, you'll learn when and how to train your dog to begin gradually increasing the length of time he/she holds a cued stay.
Pro tip: Use high-value training treats throughout your training sessions.
You want your treats small or soft and breakable since you'll be using plenty of them as quick rewards. Your dog's impulse control is a big ask, especially as you introduce greater duration and distractions, so make sure you're using high-value training treats your dog deems worth it!
Why the stay position is so helpful in real-life situations
Think about all the times you want your dog with you. Like mealtimes, when your dog can be safely a part of family life and preferably not counter-surfing. Or when you're heading out for a walk and you want your dog calm and collected rather than bolting out the door. There are an endless amount of situations when a rock-solid stay will be your go-to cue for a safer, saner, and fuller life with your dog!
To get started and put this into practice, jump to the full training guide here.
Now that you have a base to teach your dog to stay, let's take a look at the next level - ensuring your dog stays in real-life situations like turning your back.
Teaching "Stay" Guide 2: How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" While Turning Your Back
You and your dog have a good foundation of training stay now, so you're ready to make it look more like real life. To start adding life-like elements, once again certified professional dog trainer and Dogly Training Advocate Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie takes you through the why and how to teach your dog to stay while turning your back.
What you'll learn in this guide:
- Why being able to turn/look away while your dog holds stay matters
- The 5 steps to teach this slightly new challenge to stay
Step 1: Ask your dog to stay, then break eye contact.
As always, you're giving your dog a treat for giving you the behavior you want - holding stay- before your dog makes a move.
Step 2: Ask your dog to stay, then turn away slightly.
Every dog is different, and you'll learn to read your dog and anticipate how slight and gradual your movements should be to set your dog up for success.
Step 3: Ask your dog to stay, then turn your back.
In this guide, you'll learn how to judge timing for keeping your back turned and how to regroup if your dog happens to move before the release word.
Step 4: Build in duration and turning both ways.
If your dog is comfortable so far, you can begin to expand the time and mix up your turns to practice making holding stay a reliable habit for your dog.
Step 5: Release your dog and have fun!
(You can watch all this in the accompanying video as Tressa explains and demonstrates how to teach your dog to stay even with your back turned.)
Dive into teaching your dog to hold a stay as you turn your back in this guide here or continue to teach your dog to stay when adding distance.
Teaching "Stay" Guide 3: How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" with You at a Distance
Most of the times when you ask your dog to stay in place you won't be standing right next to your pup. You're more likely to want to be doing something a few or more steps away from your dog.
In this guide, you'll learn how to improve your dog's stay by adding distance while keeping your dog comfortable and solid in position.
What you'll learn in this dog training guide:
5 steps to teach your dog to "stay" with distance
Step 1: How to start small - taking one step away from your dog.
You always want to introduce new dog training elements in small increments as you watch how your dog reacts - and of course, clicking and treating as your dog stays.
Step 2: How to level up your dog's stay - taking a few steps in varying paths.
With each step, you'll learn the right timing for adding more distance and more changes.
Step 3: When and how to gradually increase your distance.
Gradually as always, you'll increase your distance as long as your dog remains in sync with you.
Step 4: How to move 360 degrees around your dog
If your dog is good with distance so far, you can begin to mix it up by walking 360 degrees around your dog.
Step 5: Why to watch and read your dog's body language
Every step of the way as you add distance and changes in direction, you'll want to stay in tune with your dog's comfort level. Tressa explains in the guide here how to read your dog to be sure you're always setting him or her up for success.
Teaching "Stay" Guide 4: How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" with Distractions
We always want to set up our dogs for success in learning any new dog training skill or behavior by removing distractions. Once your dog "owns" the skill, you can introduce everyday distractions likely to be vying for your dog's attention to make the skill unshakeable no matter what.
What you'll learn in this training session guide on teaching stay:
- The 3 types of distractions you'll teach your dog to hold stay through and how to address each one
- The 4 steps to teaching your dog to hold a stay despite distractions during your training session
Step 1: How to start with easy distractions.
Start with something not overly compelling for your dog like chatting in normal conversational tones with people/family members around you.
Step 2: When and how to add distracting people movements.
If the first, low-level distractions didn't faze your dog, begin introducing more interesting people movements gradually. If your dog maintains the stay, you can make the movements bigger and weirder (like when you try to do yoga and your dog can't resist joining in).
Step 3: How to use toys as a distraction/reinforcer to stay in position.
Try toys - they can either be a distraction or a reward that keeps your dog in place. Every dog is different, and this is a good way to get to know your dog and know how your pup might react to toy-type, appealing objects.
Step 4: When and how to introduce a high-level distraction - food!
For most dogs, food is at the top of high-level distractions easily capable of getting them to break their stay and into trouble. Tressa explains how to "inoculate" your dog to ignore the temptation of off-limits food and keep their stay in place.
To introduce distractions in your dog's stay training, go to the full guide here or see what's next with teaching your dog the difference between "stay" and "wait" and why it matters...
Teaching "Stay" Guide 5: How to Teach Your Dog the Difference Between "Stay" & "Wait"
What... there's a difference between "stay" and "wait?"
Yes! And in this guide from certified positive reinforcement trainer and Dogly Advocate Holly Ovington, you'll learn what it is and why it matters.
Even better, you'll learn which cue you want when and how to teach your dog to use both skills with you.
What you'll learn in this guide:
- The difference between stay and wait
- The 6 steps to adding a stay or wait to your dog's skills
Step 1: How to decide when you want which cue and how to set the stage for it
Step 2: How to set your dog up for success for both skills
Step 3: How to tell when your dog is ready to gradually increase training difficulty (or not)
Step 4: The 3 steps to teaching your dog to wait
Step 5: How to practice wait in a real-life scenario
Step 6: 4 ways to refresh your stay training now that your dog has both stay and wait skills
As you add skills, it's always a good idea to refresh your foundation skill. You'll learn 4 things to do to practice and re-solidify your stay training.
Jump into this guide to teach your dog to wait reliably. Or if you haven't started the first 4 guides on building your solid stay cue, get started with How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay": Starting with Duration and follow through to How to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" with Distractions.
Check out the Manners Channel on Dogly
Once you and your dog have mastered your rock-solid stay and wait, check out the many other step-by-step guides in the Manners Channel like the super useful Teach Your Dog to Go to Bed (or Mat or Other Place) or public manners for your pup like How to Teach Your Dog to Stay Calm Outside.
If you want to keep training and learning with your dog, you can continue in the Manners Channel to Food Manners, Travel Manners, Public Manners or even Holiday Manners.
Have fun and enjoy the better bond you and your dog are building together. And if you need help, you can ask the Dogly Advocates in any channel or work with them one-on-one through Dogly.