Teaching your dog to stay is one of the most important skills your dog can learn. Stay is not only a basic manners cue, but it makes living with a dog easier by successfully communicating not to dart out a door. Stay is also a foundation skill if you ever want to explore any kind of dog sports or activities.
Supplies needed for teaching your dog to stay:
- Quiet area to train
- Small pieces of treats your dog is excited about
Steps to teach a dog to stay
For many dogs, the easiest way to teach Stay on cue is either by teaching a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay. Eventually, you’ll use these same steps to teach a stand-stay, but that is generally more challenging for dogs to learn. Before training your dog to Stay make sure your dog has a solid understanding of a Sit cue, and/or a Down cue.
Step 1: Start inside your house or another very quiet area without a lot of distractions. Cue your dog to Sit or Down. Praise and reward your dog for sitting, release your dog with a Release cue or toss a treat to get your dog to change positions.
Step 2: Cue your dog to sit down again and this time wait a few seconds before treating and releasing your dog with lots of praise and treats. Repeat, waiting a few seconds before treating and releasing. This is where patience is especially important. The goal here isn’t to see how long your dog will hold the position, rather it’s about slowly building up duration, so starting with just a couple of seconds is plenty.
Step 3: After a few repetitions, slowly, just incrementally a few seconds at a time, increase the amount of time you are asking your dog to hold his Sit or Down position before praising and releasing. If your dog gets up, that’s OK! Just ask him to Sit/Down again, wait a couple of seconds, and then praise and treat.
Step 4: When your dog is consistently holding a Sit/Down for a short length of time, between 10 to 20 seconds, introduce the verbal cue of your choice for Stay, such as “Wait” or “Stay” by asking your dog to Sit/Down, give the verbal cue and then wait a few seconds before treating/releasing.
Step 5: Slowly increase the amount of time you ask your dog to hold his Stay. Just remember to slightly increase the length of time you ask your dog to hold each time, making sure to praise and reward your dog for a job well done.
Step 6: In addition to increasing the length of time you ask your dog to hold a Sit or Down Stay, start to slowly increase the distraction level around your dog. Slowly move around your dog while he is in the Stay position, then build up to higher levels of distraction like throwing toys and then venturing outside to areas with more sights and sounds. Build distraction levels slowly until your dog can hold a Stay near high level distractions, such as being around other dogs.
Breaking the Stay cue:
If at any time your dog breaks his Stay, don’t scold or punish him; instead, just calmly ask your dog to Sit/Down again, but this time ask for a slightly shorter amount of Stay time — keep your dog successful. When a dog breaks his Stay, he’s communicating that he isn’t yet ready to handle that level of distraction or that length of a Stay, which is important information for us to have as dog owners/trainers. As a general rule: End your training session on a positive note, where your dog is successfully completing the exercise.