Teaching Your Dog To Stay

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Goal: Teach your dog to remain in a sit, down or stand with the cue "stay."

When and where to use "stay".

  • "Stay" can help teach self control in a dog and help them learn to settle.
  • Your dog can "stay" in "sit" position before receiving food, toys, petting and being leashed.
  • A "down/stay" position can be use for polite greetings to humans to prevent jumping.
  • A longer "down/stay" can be used to redirect your dog from other unwanted behaviors, such as begging at the table, getting underfoot when doing chores and staying calm visiting other environments.
  • A "down/stay" or "sit/stay" can also help teach independence to your dog as they learn to relax and stay further distances away from you and/or "stay" for longer timeframes.
  • "Stand/stay" is helpful for keeping your dog in place for handling (i.e. during vets visits, toweling off your dog or wiping their paws).
  • "Stay" is helpful in multi-pet households in building your dog's self control around small pets.

What you need

  • Have 20-30 of your dog's favorite treats ready. A high value toy also could work.
  • Have your dog on 6 foot leash in a quiet room.
  • It's helpful if your dog knows the cues "sit" and "down" first. But if they don't your dog can learn to "stay" while standing.

How to train the cue 'stay'

  • Have your dog on a loose leash. Stand in front of them, 1-2 feet, and ask them to "sit," "down" or "stand."
  • Once in position, say the verbal cue "stay" as you rise your right hand, extending your arm toward your dog with palm facing your dog, like a stop sign. This is the physical hand signal for "stay."
  • Wait 2-3 seconds before praising and delivering a treat.
  • After delivering the treat, use a release cue of "free" or "done" to let your dog know they're done with their "stay" and are free to move around. If your dog doesn't move, step back or to the side and coax your dog up out of the stay. Repeat this exercise 5-8 times.
  • Practice 2-3 times a day for 5-10 minutes each. 

How to add distance and duration

  • Add distance and duration of time slowly to your stays. Do each task for 8-10 repetitions. Start with 2-3 second "stays", and then move on to 5 seconds and so on until your dog can stay for 30 seconds. Next, try stepping to the left during their "stay." Then try stepping to the right, then two steps to the left, and so on. If your dog fails at a new task, go back to the previous task for 10 more repetitions and then move on to the next task again.

Tips and Next Steps

  • Once your dog is 90-95% successful in low distraction area, gradually add in distractions. More information about improving how your dog responds to cues
  • Only say the word "stay" once. If we repeatedly say "stay, stay, stay," your dog will think that's the cue for "stay".
  • If your dog is having trouble, try training on a bed or a mat first. Staying on a warm surface first is often easier for a dog.
  • Use the "Say Please" program to help keep the training going. Have your dog "stay" for something that they want, like having the ball thrown, before they get a bone or dinner or before going out the door.

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