Training Your Dog to Stay

Training your dog to stay is easy, fun and very useful. Your pooch should know how to sit, down and stand before you teach him the stay command. It is a little harder but every dog learns this fairly quickly.

The command stay can be used to prevent your dog from running out every time you open the door, to greet people without jumping, to wait for the food bowl to touch the ground before eating and even to stay in a certain position at the vet's office during an examination.

Training your dog to stay is an ongoing exercise that you may have to practice in different places, with different people and with a variety of distraction. The more you practice it, the better you pet will respond.

This step-by-step guide is easy to follow and also very detailed, so you can learn as much as your dog!

5 steps to training your dog to Stay

Step 1: introduce the words stay and free

Find a quiet place and start training your dog to stay when he/she is tired (after a long walk).

This is one of those rare cases in which I will tell you that is it OK to start using the verbal commands "Stay" and "Free" from the beginning. But, do not say the word STAY more than once! Otherwise your pet will learn that "stay" doesn't mean anything but "Stay..Stay...Stayyyy" means stay!

Dog stay hand signal by DTE

Stay:Your Pooch must hold the position he/she is in (like sit, down or stand). The hand signal is usually showing your palm to your dog as in "stop".

Free: Your pet can now break the stay. You can use any other word you like (OK!, Release, Done!, etc.). Your hand signal can be moving both hands up and to the sides as in "all done" in sign language.

Dog free hand signal by DT

The main idea is that your dog has to "stay" until he/she hears the release word "free". He will be getting praise and rewards while staying! So, you need to make it clear that praise and Reward! do not mean that the exercise is over. The stay is only over when you say Free!

Your pet will learn this through trial and error. So you must be consistent!

Two ways for training your dog to stay and you can use them both!

1 - Make your pet fail to show him what you DO NOT want him to do. Then reward when he does stay. This method is good to help your dog discriminate between following a treat (which is what we have been teaching him to do so far!) and staying still for the treat to come to him!

2 - Reward your dog constantly while on a stay. Then add time between rewards to teach your dog to stay longer and longer without so many treats.

Here is what to do:

  • Ask your pooch to sit or down.
  • Have a treat near him to "tease" him and make him think he has to go for it.
  • As soon as he moves say "Haha!" (or No!) and do not give him the treat.
  • Most dogs will instantly freeze when you take the treat away.
  • NOW praise  and Reward! This should be for a stay of half a second or so. Keep giving your dog treats every second for up to 10 seconds. Say your Release word (Free!) when you want to tell your dog he can move again. Then start over. Every time your dog breaks the stay without you having released him...HaHa! and no treat!
  • Repeat meany times, you will notice that you will be able to jump to 10 seconds easily.
  • Finally, start adding time between treats. First give treats continually, then one every second, then one every two seconds and so on until you can give your pet 1 treat for a 10 second stay.

Of all the training gear they sell out there, I highly recommend you get a training treat pouch. They are often inexpensive and you will use it all the time!

This one is the one I use, it is designed to stay open for easy and fast access to treats, but it can be closed in a snap to prevent a mischievous dog from getting all the bounty!

You can move on to the next step when your dog can sit or down stay for up to 10 seconds (without breaking the stay) 8 out 10 times you practice!

Step 2: Training your dog to stay in many different places

Repeat step 1 in many different places! Make sure you start with places that are quiet with low distraction and move up to more difficult more distracting ones.

Your canine friend must succeed each new place before moving on to a harder one! This means he can stay for 10 seconds 8 out of 10 times you ask!

Here is a list of places for training your dog to stay:

  • Every room of your house
  • Backyard and front-yard
  • At the front door before going out
  • Other people's houses
  • Vet clinic
  • Pet store
  • On walks
  • Inside the car or truck
  • At the dog park
  • Wherever you take him!

Always think about your pet's safety. If you think your pooch may run away while training, use a hand's free leash to practice in public places.

Step 3: Training your dog to stay with distractions

Repeat step 1 with many different distractions!

Make sure you start with easy distraction and move up to more difficult ones.

During this step you can also work on extending the duration up to 30 seconds.

Your dog must succeed each distraction before moving on to a harder one! This means he can stay for each new distraction 8 out of 10 times you ask!

You are now combining two difficulties! Distractions and Duration. That is why you need to start all over from Step 1. You can't ask your furry friend to sit stay for 10 seconds while you throw a ball, he will most definitely go after the ball!. You need to start with half a second and add a low distraction, then add duration...and so on.

Distractions to work on:

  • Ask your dog to stay while you walk around him! Of course you will have to start by just taking one step to the side and coming back and reward, then taking two steps come back and reward, etc. Mark any errors and reward great responses!
  • Ask your dog to stay while you roll a ball on the floor! Of course you will have to start by just placing the ball on the floor and rewarding him for staying. Then make it slowly roll a few inches away, if he stays reward! and make it roll a little faster, etc.
  • Ask your dog to stay while someone rings the door bell! Have someone else helping you to open the door. Stay near your pet to mark any errors or reward him for sitting down. In this case the ultimate reward will be to release him and let him say hi to whoever is coming. If your pet goes crazy at the sound of the doorbell, try someone opening the front door first. Make the situation as easy as necessary for your pooch to succeed!

Step 4: Training your dog to stay adding distance

Repeat step 1 at increasing distances! Start with one step away, come back and reward! Two steps away come back and reward! continue like this until you are a few feet away from your pet!

If he tries to break the stay, say your no-reward-mark and do not give him a treat! Start over and go back down to a shorter distance if he is not succeeding.

During this step you can also work on extending the duration up to 60 seconds.

You are now combining two difficulties! Distance and Duration. That is why you need to start all over from Step 1. You can't ask your pet to sit stay for 60 seconds while you leave the room! You need to start with half a second and one step away, then two steps...and so on.

Your canine friend must succeed each distance before moving on to a harder one! This means he can stay as you walk away 8 out of 10 times you ask!

Step 5: Combine steps 2-4

Dogs learn better when each aspect of a behavior is trained separately and later on combined together. When training your hound to stay with distractions you had to lower the criteria each time. When you combine three or more aspects you need to relax your criteria too!

For example:

If your dog can sit stay for 60 seconds while you walk 5 feet away, he most likely will NOT be able to do the same while there is a ball rolling on the floor or another dog playing close by.

To train this you need to start with a few seconds and a few steps away while the distraction is happening. Start at whatever combination your dog is likely to succeed!

After training many behaviors in different locations, with different distractions and at different distances, your pet will start "getting" things faster! Eventually you will find yourself in a completely new situation that your dog can master without previous training!

Training your dog to stay is done!

Well, not really...you always need to practice practice practice! Just as a reminder at this point.

Training your dog to stay tips

  • You do not have to train your furry friend to the last step. When you are happy with your dog's response you can stop there!
  • I organized Steps in a logical order but you can mix them up however you want to make things more fun! When combining two difficulties together (for example: Sit stay in a new place), your pet's response might be worse in the beginning. He will get better with...Practice practice practice!
  • To keep training sessions fun use food treats, toys, games, petting and anything else your dog enjoys as rewards.
  • You do not have to set specific training sessions. You can train your hound at any time! Use his/her regular feeding food to get a few trials of practice before you put the food bowl down. Ask him to do something before you throw a ball for him/her.
  • If your pet is failing go back down a step or make your criteria easier! You want your canine friend to succeed every step of the way!

Troubleshooting training your dog to stay

  • My dog keeps getting up after I give him a treat!

This is normal and the only solution is repetition and consistency. Up until now you have been teaching your pooch to follow treats in your hand with Luring. And as soon as he got the treat the exercise was over. Now you need to teach him that he has to stay until you say so. Be patient and go slowly...help him succeed every step of the way. The more your dog succeeds, the more good associations he has with the behavior, the better he will be at it!


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