Feb 27, 2023
One of the most difficult behaviors for dogs to master is the
“Stay.” This is a command that must be well-defined for your dog.
This includes teaching the stay in several stages, as well as
teaching the behavior in reverse, starting with the end and working
backward for longer and more reliable stays.
Create a Definite Beginning and a Definite Ending
The first and most important rule of the stay is to have a
definite beginning and a definite ending. This means pairing your
stay command with a release word that signals that the stay is
finished. Common release words include “OK,” “Free,” Release,” and
“All Done.” Choose one word as your release word and use only that
word consistently when the “stay” is finished.
To teach the release word, position your dog as you wish, in
either a sit, down or stand. Then give your dog a stay command,
followed almost immediately by your release word and reward. Don’t
worry if your dog does not move following the release word. You can
step back, clap your hands, or otherwise engage in positive
interaction to cue them that it is OK to move.
Do watch out for these common pitfalls when teaching stay:
- Do not give your stay command with food in your hand. This will
only lure your dog to follow you.
- Do not always call your dog to come to you from a stay. This
will cause him to anticipate a recall. Practice by leaving your dog
and returning to him before giving the release word.
Three D’s: Duration, Distance, and Distractions
Once you have successfully paired a release word with your
stay command, you are ready to move to the next step. Dog trainers
refer to these as the Three D’s: Duration, Distance, and
Distractions. Duration is the amount of time your dog is in a stay.
Distance is how far from your dog you go. Distractions are anything
that happens during your dog’s stay.
- Duration – The amount of time your dog
remains in his stay is called duration. To begin, position
your dog as you wish, in a sit, down, or stand. Give your stay
command, without moving count to three, and then release your dog
using his release word. Increase the time you ask your dog to stay
by two to three second intervals. If your dog breaks his stay, just
reset him and ask him to stay for a lesser time in which he was
- Distance – Moving away from your dog is
referred to as distance, and it is common for owners to rush
this phase of training. Teaching distance stays happen literally a
half step at a time. Position your dog as you wish and give your
dog his stay command. Step back with one foot, lean back, then step
back to your dog and release him. Next, take one full step back
then return to your dog for the release and a reward. Continue
slowly, adding only one step at a time. Remember, do not have food
in the hand in which you give your dog the stay command. Also,
return to your dog before you release him, and do not always call
him out of a stay.
- Distractions – Distractions are
anything, big or small, that happens during your dog’s stay. It is
important to have a strong foundation with your release word, stay
duration, and distance before you try and add distractions. Once
distractions are to be added, start with something easy at home or
in the back yard, and work your way up to more distractions in
various environments. One good technique is to use higher value
treat rewards when introducing and increasing distractions.
People love their dogs because they help us remain in the
present moment. Dogs live very much in the here and now. This means
anything, everything or even nothing at all can cause a dog to
break his stay. Proofing is an important part of training the stay
for reliability in a variety of situations. Always start simple and
gradually increase what you are asking of your dog.
- Proofing for duration from the science of
canine cognition we know that dogs understand if we are paying
attention to them or not, no matter what the proximity. Practice
this by asking your dog to stay while you sit, lie down, read,
watch television, or cook. Be sure to reward at various intervals
for the stay, but do not allow them to get up until you have given
the release word.
- Proofing for distance is moving away from
your dog and includes going out of sight. Practice this by moving
away from your dog at various angles, either leaving to the side,
diagonally and/or going behind your dog. When working out of sight,
use a mirror to see your dog around corners. You can either set him
up angling a wall mirror or, as inconspicuously as possible, use a
- Proofing for distractions is one of the
more difficult tasks. Ideas include bouncing or rolling a ball
while your dog is on a stay, jumping up and down, or running past
your dog. Remember, you must start slowly and build up to things
more interesting to your dog. One helpful hint is to use “leave it”
during the stay. Often with distractions, dogs are more likely to
succeed with additional information such as reminding them to stay
or to “leave” distractions like toys.
- If you think your dog is going to move, repeat your stay
- Set your dog up for success. Do what you feel you need to do to
help your dog be successful. The more successful they are, the more
reliable the stay behavior will be.