How to Teach Your Dog to Stay

A solid “stay” is vital to your dog’s safety.

Too many pet owners give up trying to teach the behavior or don’t stick with it. Here’s how to teach your dog to stay—and actually stick it!

Pick a Position

Sit or down, your choice. Just be sure to take your dog’s comfort into account. For example, my dog Cooper has the frog-like backend common among pits. Holding a sit for several seconds becomes uncomfortable, so I taught him a stay from a down position. Because of that, I’m going to use “down” throughout these instructions, but the process is identical if you choose sit.

Determine Your Cues

Figure out what words you want to use to ask for the stay (“stay,” of course is typical) and for release. It’s tempting to choose “okay” as a release word, but it gets tricky when you use the word frequently throughout the day in other contexts. You might inadvertently confuse your dog. “Free” or “rock star” or whatever else you can think of will work.

Start at Home

One common training mistake is to work on a new behavior in a place that’s too distracting for your dog. Start somewhere with almost no distractions—say, your living room—and slowly build up to more distracting environments.

Teach the Behavior

Start by asking for a down, but don’t reward the behavior. Instead, wait a beat, then mark the elapsed second with either a clicker or a word like “YES!” Release your dog using the chosen release word, and reward your dog with a treat. Hand the treat to him below his nose so as not to accidentally trick him to get up.

©istockphoto/ukid123

©istockphoto/ukid123

Elongate the Behavior

Take that initial step and slowly add a second to the duration. Keep practice sessions short—no more than five or 10 minutes tops—so that you’re only lengthening it a tiny, manageable second or two at a time. Remember, we’re aiming for a stay that sticks here, so slow and cautious training will get you there.

Add Distance

Once your dog holds the down-stay position for a minute or so in the uninteresting living room, add distance to the behavior by giving the cue, then taking a step back. Return to your dog, mark, release, reward. Repeat. Slowly add steps, just as you did with time, by lengthening the distance by only one or two per training session.

Add Distractions

Just like with time and distance, once your dog masters those elements, start to add distractions. In the living room, for instance, you can bounce a ball nearby or have someone walk past your dog whistling. Get creative with distractions. Then, move the training into your backyard where your dog is sure to encounter more interesting distractions. From there, try the front yard and work toward the park. Again, this is a long, slow process, adding only a small distraction during each training session.

Avoid Mistakes

By following these long, slow and, frankly, boring steps, you’ll perfect a stay that sticks. Avoid rushing your dog or raising the criteria too far too fast. The more careful you are, the better the behavior will, well, stay!

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

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