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.
What can you use the command "Stay" for? Oh so many things!
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, the better your pet will do.
Find a quiet place and start training your dog to stay when he/she is relatively tired.
This is one of those rare cases in which I will tell you it's 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!
An alternative is to avoid using "stay" altogether, instead teach your dog that when you say sit (or down, or stand, or any other cue), he must remain in that position until you release.
I personally like to use the word (or hand signal) "stay" because I am likely to leave my dog in that position without a release word (forgetful me!) which will only teach my dog to get up whenever she wants to. By using the word "stay" I make sure I say it only when I really mean my dog to stay in a specific spot.
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".
Tip: If you are training a family dog (not a dog for obedience competition or service work) then it's OK if your dog changes position (for example from sit to down) as long as he stays in the same place.
Free: Your pet can now break the stay. You can use any other word you like (OK!, Release, Done!, etc. but pick one). For a hand signal you can move both hands up and to the sides as in "all done" in American sign language.
Tip: Your dog won't know the word "Free" the first few times, so he may stay in place after you say it. Just wait and do something different. With many repetitions he will get it!
What I love about teaching the "stay" cue is that it becomes evident that we must teach our dogs the concept in three different groups of situations:
Noticed the 3 D's? We actually call this the 3D's rule. When you beging training a stay, pick just one of those variables and work on it alone. For example, you should never ask your dog to "stay" while you walk 3 steps away and count to 5, not in the beginning any way.
Start with one variable at a time, then work with two variables (but make one easier), then add another and so on and so forth. As always, the slower you advance, the faster your dog learns.
Let's start with "duration", the easiest variable to work with.
Tip 1: When you start increasing the amount of time in between treats do it in a random manner and never increasing the time in a linear ways. For example, 2 sec, 1 sec, 5 sec, 3 sec, 2 sec, 3 sec, 5 sec, 1 sec, etc. This won't matter in the beginning, but when you start adding more and more time, if you only increase linearly (1 sec, 2 sec, 3 sec, etc.), your dog will eventually catch on and get frustrated that the following repetition will always be more difficult.
Tip 2: If your dogs moves away after a treat (or in the middle of the exercise), try to give him several treats in row. The idea is to communicate that if he stays he keeps getting treats. You could say a word such as "HaHa" to communicate that he made a mistake and no treat is given before you start again.
Tip 3: Remember that you are actually teaching your dog 2 words, don't forget to say "Free" when the exercise is over!
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!
This is the second "D" and should not be practiced with added duration in the beginning.
Tip 1: Walk away from your dog, but facing him. Turning away from your dog counts as an added distraction and most dogs can't successful do it the first time they are learning "stay".
Tip 2: When you walk away from your dog, do not stay away for several seconds. This counts as working Duration + Distance which is a more advance skill and should not be done the first time your dog is learning this (he may be able to do it, but why confuse him?)
You can move on to the next step when your dog can sit or down stay for up to 30 seconds and independently stay while you walk 10 steps away (without breaking the stay) 8 out 10 times you practice!
Now that you are training your dog to stay with duration and distance you can start combining the two. Make it a game and take it to different places!
Yo make a game out of a "stay" exercise, just think about different challenges and ALWAYS take mini-breaks to play with your dog:
Tip 1: When you combine two variables (duration + distance) make one of them easier. For example, your dog can stay for 30 seconds and independently stay while you walk 10 steps away from him. Now, walk just one step away and count to 10 then praise and reward! Slowly reach your goal (10 steps away + counting to 30 away).
Here is a list of places for training your dog to stay:
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.
The last "D"!
As mentioned in the steps before, try to ease the other two variables when you add a distraction. Distractions are anything and everything that ... distracts your dog!
"Distractions" is a large category of exercises. So, I will give you one example for you to follow with all other distractions.
Tip 1: If you see that your dog is failing more than succeeding try to think of a way to make the exercise easier. The goal is for you to reward your dog for small victories.
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!
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!
Make it a game though, see how many goofy things you can do while your dog sit-stays or down-stays. Laugh and have fun together!
Training your dog to stay is done!
Well, not really...training your dog to stay in real situations is the final step.
I hope you got the idea that up until now you should have been playing "stay games" with your dog. This will ensure that you and your dog have fun training instead of being a chore.
Now that your dog understand the concept of stay in a fun and positive way, it's time to use it for "real-life" situations. Always keep in mind that dogs can't generalize concepts, so your "stay-games" won't make your dog stay when the door bell rings. You can, however, teach your dog to stay when the door bell rings as a separate exercise. Each real-life situation that you plan to ask your dog to stay, you must train it first.
To train a real-life stay try to think about each component f the exercise and train each one separately (like we did before), then progressively add them together.
Components of the exercise to work independently:
For your dog to succeed, work each variable independently. If you have been working on the previous exercises, then duration and distance should be fairly easy for your pooch. When you add each of the distractions, start with your dog close to the door and progressively have him stay further and further away. For the most difficult distractions (doorbell sound, stranger outside the door), you may have to start very easy. I highly recommend you recruit a friend or family member to help you practice this. Their job would be to ring the bell at variable intervals and in a different session, to enter the home, greet you, greet the dog (who should remain on a sit-stay), then go back out and repeat as many times as it's necessary for your dog to get it!
Sounds like a lot of work? It is, but if you do it right, your dog will know what to do when visitors come to the house.
Target training is a super easy cue that can be helpful in many different situations. Try it!
Leave-it! This cue will prevent your dog from grabbing things from the floor (like things you drop or unsafe things from the street.
Don't know what else to teach your pooch? Look into our list of 50 dog training commands!