How to Teach Your Dog to Stay

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Teaching your dog to stay is one of the most important commands for your dog to learn during their training. As an owner, you are responsible for maintaining control of your dog at all times, and this includes teaching your dog to remain still on cue. That said, “stay” is a difficult command for a dog to learn because it goes against their active and impulsive nature.

Practice and patience are the keys to teaching your dog to stay in one place. Unfortunately, this is not a command that can be learned overnight and frequent practice is necessary. To help navigate the process, follow these steps as a guide to teaching your dog to stay.

Step 1: Teaching the Command

Like any new command, the first step in teaching a dog to stay is for them to understand what the command means.
  1. Place yourself in front of your dog and remain still. Dogs look at their surroundings for visual cues to figure out what they are supposed to do. If you move, they will too.
  2. Start with your dog already sitting, in a down position, or standing. Do not give the command if they are running around. You want their attention on you. From experience, teaching a dog to stay is easiest when they are in a down position.
  3. Choose a release command ahead of time. A release command gives the dog permission to move again after a stay. “OKAY”, “ALL DONE”, and “RELEASE” are great options because they are short, clear, and common amongst dog owners. Avoid using “GOOD DOG” as a release command – this phrase should be reserved for positive reinforcement and will eventually be given as the dog is in a stay. Once you decide on a release command, be consistent with it or you risk confusing your dog.
  4. Give the command “STAY.” Use an open palm facing the dog as a visual cue.
  5. Release your dog from the stay. Give the release command. Keep the ‘stay periods’ short when you are first teaching your dog to stay. Remaining in a stay for even a second is an encouraging start! Remember, this is a command that goes against a dog’s natural behavior. They need to learn!
  6. Praise your dog for staying! If they stayed until you gave the release command, give your dog a pat on the head and verbal praise. Remember, positive reinforcement encourages good behavior!

As your dog learns what it means to keep a stay, add time between the command and release. Do not rush this process! Keep your sessions short for maximum attention.

Step 2: Adding Human Movement

After your dog learns what it means to “stay”, the next step is for them to follow the command without you directly in front of them. Human movement should be attempted until your dog can keep a stay for about 30 seconds.
 
  1. Give the command “STAY” with an open palm facing your dog. Remind your dog what it means to stay.
  2. Take a step back and lower your hand. At this point, you have eliminated the visual command and you are teaching your dog that they are expected to stay while your hands move. Move slowly at first – your dog should be watching you, not following you.
  3. Release your dog from the stay. Once you have moved the desired number of steps away from your dog, give the command to break the stay.
  4. Repeat. Slowly increase the number of steps you can take away from your dog. Do not rush this process – practice makes perfect! Eventually want to be able to leave the room while your dog remains in a stay.
 
Remember that this is a technique in obedience. Only reward your dog with praise and treats if they remain in a stay until you give the release command.

Step 3: Adding Opportunities for Distractions

Ultimately, you want your dog to keep their stay while disregarding the distractions around them. Once your dog can consistently stay while you move backward, offer opportunities for your dog to keep their focus despite external stimulation.
 
  1. Distract your dog with yourself. While your dog is in a stay, walk around, behind, and over them. Make your dog move their head.
  2. Lay down in front of your dog. Meet your dog at eye-level or to where they are no longer looking up at you.
  3. Have someone walk into the room. Your dog should be aware that another person is present, but make sure that person does not give your dog any verbal commandsMixed signals from different sources are confusing for dogs in training.
 
When a dog keeps a stay, they demonstrate progression and mastery of the command. Start with small distractions, then move to larger ones once your dog seems ready.

Troubleshooting: What Should I Do When My Dog Won’t Stay?

 

Your dog will get up when they are learning to stay. If they seem to be having trouble with the command or its progression, try these hints:

  1. Anticipate when your dog is about to break the stay. Be alert for movement, antsy legs, or a loss of attention.
  2. Use verbal cues to let your dog know that breaking the stay is incorrect. Simple sounds such as “Uh-uh” or “Ah-ah” are easier for dogs to understand than comprehensive words.
  3. Take a step towards your dog and give the stay command again. Restate the command to remind your dog of the task-at-hand.
  4. Resume training. Make sure your dog returns to a stay position. Because they needed to settle down and refocus, release the stay earlier than originally intended.
  5. Repeat the exercise. Practice makes perfect. You may choose not to reward your dog after a broken stay, but make sure to reward if they hold the stay the second time.

 

Expect this command to take weeks to months for your dog to learn. Do not get upset when your dog makes a mistake. Keep the sessions short and fun, and remember that this is not a natural command for dogs. But, with enough training, you will be able to control your canine in just a moment’s notice. Good luck!

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions