THE STAY COMMAND
PREREQUISITES: SIT, DOWN (OPTIONAL)
EQUIPMENT: TRAINING TREATS, CLICKER (OPTIONAL)
TIME REQUIRED: 10 MINUTES, 2-3 TIMES PER DAY
"Stay" is another basic command that you’re definitely going to want your dog to know. It’s pretty easy to teach the basics, but you’ll want to build on this one slowly and practice it often to set your pup up for success.
You’ll use “stay", usually paired with “sit” or “down”, in all sorts of real world situations. There will be plenty of things that want your dog to stay away from - a rattlesnake on the trail, a tempting plate of chocolate brownies, a skunk cruising through your yard. You’ll need a solid “stay” command to protect your dog. Stay also opens up the world of fun indoor games, like “find it."
What Does Stay Look Like?
When you ask your dog to “stay", you want him to stay in the position where you left him, whether that be sitting, standing, or lying down. This is why we usually ask our pup to “sit” or “down” before we ask him to “stay", it’s just more realistic that your pup will continue in those positions and resist the urge to walk away.
“Stay” should always be used with a release command, like “all done” or “okay” so your dog knows that there is a start and end to the command. If you never tell your pup the command is over, he will get up on his own at some point and then he will start to think that he only has to hold his position for a little while or until you stop watching him. We don’t want that!
The Three D's
When we teach pups to stay, we always keep the 3 D’s in mind: distance, duration, and distraction. These are like the good, cheap, and fast of the dog training world - you can’t ask for all three at the same time, especially in the beginning.
When one of the D’s is tough, the others should be easy. We’ll work up to asking our dog to “stay” for a minute at a time (long duration), but when we do this, we’ll stand right in front of him (short distance) in a quiet room (little distractions). When we ask Max to stay from across the room (long distance), we’ll do it in a quiet room (little distractions), and we’ll only expect a few seconds at first (short duration). When we do this outside for the first time (mega distractions), we’ll stand right in front of him (short distance), and only ask for a few seconds (short duration). Got it? We’ll go into more detail below, I just want you to be familiar with this concept first.
When we first start off, we’re going to tackle duration first and we’ll start with just 1-2 seconds because you gotta start somewhere. Then we’ll bring in those other two Ds. Plan to set aside 10 minutes a day, 2-3 times a day to work on this after your dog has mastered “sit” and “down.” Bonus: every time you practice stay, you’re also practicing those commands!
How to Train Your Dog to Stay
Step 1: Starting Out
Find a quiet area that is free from distractions. Stand right in front of Max and ask him to sit. Praise him when he sits, but don’t give him the treat yet.
Say “stay” while holding one hand up, palm out, in a “talk to the hand” type of motion.
Wait 2 seconds. Yes, just 2. If Max does not move, mark the behavior with a click or a “yes!” Give him a treat and praise.
Release Max from the command by saying “all done” or “okay" and walking a step or two off to the side or backwards. Encourage him to move by saying his name, clapping your hands, or tapping the floor with your fingers.
When Max is up from his sitting position, ask him to sit again.
Repeat steps 2-4 at least 10 times. Remember that you are only asking for 2 second “stays” at a time.
Step 2: Add a Tiny Bit of Distance
Ask Max to sit again and praise him when he does.
Say "stay" again with the hand motion while taking one step back, keeping your hand signal up. You’re still looking for that 2 second stay.
If he stays: mark the action with a “yes!” and step forward, back in front of your dog, treat, and praise. Then say “all done” and encourage him to move from the stay position. Good dog!
If he moves: say “oops!” and simply start the sequence over - just ask him to sit again without giving him a treat. Be patient here. If he’s not getting it, you may want to start over with step 1 and keep practicing there.
Repeat this process 10 more times, taking one step back while you ask for a “stay” and then one step forward to reward your dog. If your dog gets up before you can reward him, say “oops!” and start again without giving him the treat. Make sure you remember to release the command every time.
Make It Harder
Once your dog can reliably stay while you take one step back, you are going to repeat the same process, gradually taking more steps back and increasing the time period between “stay” and “all done.”
As you add distance, remember to walk all the way back to your dog to treat and reward him every time. You’ll be moving around a lot and ideally your pup will be staying put. If your praise is distracting, just quietly mark the behavior from a distance “yes!” and quickly walk back to your dog before loudly praising and treating him.
Step 3: Add Distractions
Once your dog can stay for 10 seconds or more, you can start to add distractions.
Set your dog up for a “stay” by asking him to “sit” and then “stay.”
Turn your back to your pup and take one step away from him.
Did he stay? Great! mark it and give him a treat and some love! Staying while your back is turned is hard, but so, so important!
If you pup got up as soon as you turned your back, make it a little easier. Try just turning your body slightly and work up to it.
Eventually you can add in more distractions, like taking a few steps away and doing a little dance or some jumping jacks (that one is tough!), or taking a few steps away and turning a corner. As you get more advanced, you can bring out some of his toys and ask him to “sit” and “stay” right next to them. Practice when someone else is in the room. Take it outside and do it in your front yard and then practice in a park (on a leash!) when there are other things going on.
If at any point your pup gets up and breaks the stay, say “oops!” and reset him into a sit. His punishment here is that he did not get the treat or praise from you.
Step 4: Practice in the Real World
Like other commands, you should continue to practice “stay" by incorporating the cue into your daily routine. Asking your dog to “sit” and then “stay” before every meal is an easy way to strengthen the command (and strengthen your relationship). If your dog forgets to stay and lunges for his food bowl, pick it up before he gets to it. Ask your dog to “sit” and then “stay” again. He is only allowed to eat after you release the command by saying “all done!”
You can also practice this in front of an open door that leads to your yard or outdoors. Put him on a leash, ask him to “sit” then “stay” and then open the door. If he starts to move, shut the door immediately and say “oops!” if he stays for several seconds, give him your release cue and allow him to exit the door. Exiting the door, in this case, is his real world reward for a job well done.
Training Tips & Common Problems
Keep sessions short and remain upbeat. While your dog is getting the hang of “stay” remember to celebrate each time he holds his position, even if it’s just for a few seconds.
Speaking of a few seconds, don’t ask for too much from your dog when you are just starting! If you can see that he’s about to get up from his “stay” because he’s fidgeting or looking around, quickly mark it “yes!” before he gets up. You want to give your pup as many wins as possible!
When you are building up duration, vary the length a bit. Don’t just continuously make it longer and harder! Your pup may think he failed at something if it keeps getting harder and harder. When your pup holds his first 10 second stay, only ask for 3 seconds the next time, and then go for another 10 after that.
If your dog isn’t getting it, go back to the last sequence that he was able to do and practice that. Build on his skills slowly. Continue to practice short distances and short durations until your dog has this command down cold. Repeat the same sequence many, many times before you add anything or make it harder.
Once your dog becomes an expert at staying, you don’t need to give him a treat every single time, but be generous with the treats in his first year of training. And continue to always praise your dog for a job well done.