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Stay is one of the most useful and basic "commands" you can teach a dog.
(We prefer the word "cue" to "command" since the most effective training is an in-sync partnership with your dog and "cue" reflects the mindset of the positive, happy tone you want.)
A dog who will stay on cue is a dog you can take anywhere and feel confident that he/she won't bolt off after a squirrel or another dog. The first building block in dog training to establish a rock-solid stay is to teach your dog to stay for a certain length of time or duration.
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The duration or amount of time your dog holds his/her stay will gradually increase over time, so in the beginning, you may only be able to get your dog to stay for a few seconds but after a few repetitions that will increase to a few minutes or even longer.
A lot of dog owners teach their dog the stay cue with their dog sitting but you can also teach the stay cue with your dog in a down position or even standing. Just make sure your dog is already familiar with the "sit" and "down" cues. It will make things a lot easier so your dog is only learning one new behavior at a time!
Whether your dog learns to stay sitting, standing, or balancing on his/her hind legs, it's totally up to you and what's best and most comfortable for your dog during your training sessions.
Dog training pro tip
When training your dog to "stay," first focus on duration, then add distance by stepping away from your dog, then once duration and distance are mastered, you can add in distractions like other pets.
Step 1: Choose a position to teach your dog the stay cue
First, decide which position you want to train your dog to stay. A great place to start teaching your dog how to do a stay is with something your pup is already familiar with, like teaching how to lie down. This is because your dog already knows what the "down" cue means, so teaching what it means when you add "stay" won't be confusing. If your dog isn't great at staying, getting your dog into a sitting position or down position is a perfect way to begin teaching your dog to stay for real life scenarios.
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If you already have a solid sit-stay or down-stay and want to play around with your dog's stay as your dog remains in different positions (like holding a "stand" or posing with two paws up on something), you can also go through this training and work on a fun new challenge! Whatever the position, just always make sure you reward your dog with lots of positive reinforcement, both verbal praise and treats your dog likes.
Step 2: Be quick with your click
Your dog will need to learn to wait in the position they are in until you give them a release cue. In other words, no moving until your cue. That goes for you too! To train this behavior, get your dog into a sit position for example, and be quick with your click and treat so your dog doesn't have a chance to move. So ask your dog to sit, then click and treat before your dog gets up or moves. Both of you stay in position while you click and reward your dog with treats for holding whatever position you are working on until your verbal cue. As your dog understands the process, you can start to delay the click and treat longer, but always make sure you reward your dog before they move.
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Try not to make each time you practice more difficult. Change it up. Throw in a few easier wins as you repeat this training. Break up your practice sessions with some more physical play - holding still is hard! Remember, training should be fun for both you and your dog!
Also, we tend to talk to our dogs a lot. If your dog doesn't have a verbal cue to stay yet, try to let the clicker and treats do the talking. Then begin to add in the verbal cue.
Have your dog sit, stand, whatever position you're working on, and click your clicker and give your dog a treat before they leave that position without saying stay yet. Repeat this behavior a few times. If your dog understands they get a reward for not moving, start to wait a few seconds before you click and treat to extend the duration.
Step 3: Add a stay cue
Once your dog is comfortable being in a stay position, you'll want to add a cue. This is a word or signal that communicates to your dog to stay. When your dog is in the stay position, say "stay" followed by a click and treat as a reward if your dog stays. Don't forget to reward your dog after the click or they will most likely think that moving or getting up is what you want since they are being rewarded for doing that instead of staying. Eventually, your dog will have an association with the cue so it can be used to help your pup know when to go into a stay.
Okay, but tell me more...
Teach your stay cue in a low-stress environment to begin with, in your backyard, for example, or a familiar place in your house with no distractions around. Once your dog has mastered this behavior in the designated spot with the cue, only then should you start using it in more high-distraction environments or from a distance as we will discuss in the following workshops.
Ask your dog to sit, stand, lie down, etc, tell your dog to stay and immediately click and treat reward. Repeat. Once your dog is comfortable, ask your dog to stay and wait a few seconds before you click and treat to extend the duration.
Step 4: Add a release word
A solid stay means training your dog to be able to stay in one spot until hearing a release word. The release word is what tells your dog it's okay to move again. You will want to pick a word that isn't commonly used, like "okay." This way, your dog won't get confused and think he/she is being released from the stay when you actually just need your dog to stay put for a little longer.
Make sure to use the release word consistently each and every time you let your dog move from the stay. If you accidentally forget to say it, don't worry - just release your dog immediately once your pup breaks the stay.
Get your dog in position and give your dog the stay cue. When your dog holds their stay, click and treat, then release with your chosen release cue (i.e., "okay"), then give your dog another treat. Repeat using your stay and release cues consistently.
Step 5: Start gradually increasing duration
Once your dog has a solid understanding of the above steps like staying in one spot and understanding the stay cue, it's time to start teaching your dog to stay for longer durations. You can do this by clicking and treating less frequently - one click every 5 seconds, then one click every 7 seconds, etc. Be sure to not go too fast for your dog though! It's important to take one step at a time when it comes to dogs and training behavior, so listen and be patient with your dog.
Just like teaching your dog how to stay in the first place, start off by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog needs to stay in position before you click and treat. Only move on to the next step once your dog has a solid understanding of the current step. If your dog needs a little more time to build duration, that's okay! It just means more time you get to spend together.
Repeat all of the steps above waiting 5 seconds before clicking and treating your dog. Then go to 10 seconds, etc. Remember - rushing your dog won't work so go at his/her pace!
Why the stay position is helpful in real life scenarios
There are lots of ways a reliable stay command can come in handy, one of which is during meal times. If you have a dog who gets overly excited during mealtimes, teaching them to stay will help ensure they don't jump up on the counters or table where food is being served. Another scenario where the stay position is great is during walks if your dog tends to pull on leash. I think you'll be surprised how many times you'll find stay useful to have in your repertoire.
Want a dog that listens and stays when you need it most? Discover how to teach your dog the 'stay' cue, a fundamental skill for a well-behaved companion.
Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly
Once your dog has a solid understanding of how to stay for longer durations, teaching how to stay for even longer is as simple as teaching how to hold one spot with the added challenge of seeing you walking away or taking a step backwards.
I hope you found this guide helpful on how to teach your dog to stay! Feel free to ask me any questions in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel and continue on to learn how to turn your back while keeping your dog in the stay position in the next guide.
Or, if you need more personalized 1-1 help, sign up to work with me here!