March 2, 2020
by: Levi M.
Your dog may already know how to sit, lie down, or even play fetch, but it can be a bit tricky to teach your dog not to do anything at all. Teaching your dog to stay can even be frustrating, especially if you have a very energetic pup who would rather ravage your living room than stay put in one place — but, just like any other command, teaching "stay" only takes a bit of patience and consistency to see results in your dogs behavior.
Start by looking for a comfortable and familiar space to train in. Ideally, it should have enough space for you to maintain some distance away from your dog. Five to ten paces are usually enough when you’re getting started. Most people train stay in the living room, driveway, garage, or backyard, depending on the size of your dog and what you have available.
It is also a good idea to train your dog when they have the least excess energy. This may be after physical play or a walk. Also, make sure that they have already visited the toilet before training so they are not distracted throughout the entire session, especially if you have a young dog or a puppy.
Stand in front of your dog and make sure that you have their attention. Assuming that you have already taught your dog how to “sit” or “lie down”, ask them to sit or lie down. Maintain eye contact, and give a hand signal, preferably an open palm stop sign, indicating that you want them to stay in place.
Before moving from your original position, say the cue word “stay.” Then slowly move away, first with a small step, making sure to maintain eye contact. It is likely that in the first few tries, your dog will break the stay and follow you. If this happens, try again and tell the dog to either sit or lie down, and then say “stay" along with the hand signal.
Every time they break the stay, gently remind them with a sharp “stay.” Make sure that this will not stress your dog or make them panic. What you want them to do is to recognize that “stay” is a different command from “sit” or “lay down.” This is partly why you have to do a hand sign as a visual cue.
Do this several more times until your dog eventually stays for half a second or a full second. The moment that they stay in place after you move, give copious amounts of praise and treats.
While watching them stay, pay close attention to their body language. Look for signs of discomfort or agitation. This usually means that they are about to break the stay. Praise and reward them before they break the stay, even if they have only stayed for a second or two. This will maintain a positive atmosphere and will keep your dog motivated.
Needless to say, it would take more than a few attempts before your dog can stay for more than a second. Be patient and always reward your dog with praise and treats for every successful attempt. At this stage of the training, what matters is not the length but the number of successful attempts - even if it's just a second or two.
As your dog learns to associate the act with the verbal (“stay”) and visual (stop sign) cues, they will eventually learn to stay after you have moved away. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog. It will take a few more sessions until they become comfortable with you being on the other side of the room. You’ll know that you’ve done a successful job once you’re able to maintain a distance of ten paces away from your dog.
Make sure that you ‘proof’ your newly-taught behavior by introducing new movements, routines, and situations. For example, ask your dog to stay in other contexts, such as when walking outside or when playing in a dog park. This will solidify the behavior and ensure that they will retain it after the formal training. Usually, you'll find out that your dog will find it difficult to stay in new environments. Always bring treats so you can train wherever and whenever. The key is to make the training a regular part of your dog’s daily routine.
“Stay” is one of the most important commands you can teach your dog. Above all, it teaches them patience, a very valuable trait that is expected from any well-trained dog. Dogs who know how to stay are also more likely to behave calmly during stressful situations. Finally, it is a sign that you have a trusting dog. Trust, of course, is a solid basis for a healthy relationship with your dog.