When you tell your dog to ‘stay‘ what do they do? Do they stay till you tell them they can go? Stay for a minute then get bored and wander off? Or just flat out ignore you? If they do anything other then stay till you say otherwise you MUST read this blog.
Definition of a proper ‘stay’
Stay means ‘stay in this exact position until I tell you otherwise‘. Whether your dog is sitting, standing or lying down. Whatever position they’re in, they need to hold that position until you release them.
Having said that it’s your responsibility to take that very seriously. Think about the position you’re putting your dog in and never abuse your authority over them. Show them the respect they deserve. If you want your dog to stay for a long period of time, make sure the’re in a ‘down’ position, not a ‘sit’ or a ‘stand’.
Decide on a release word
A release word is a word you use to tell your dog they’re done ‘staying‘. I use the word ‘free‘, but you can pick any word. Some people use ‘ok‘ or ‘let’s go‘. It’s up to you but once you pick the word, you and everyone in your family must use the same word.
‘Wait’ vs ‘Stay’
There’s a difference between ‘wait‘ and ‘stay‘. ‘Wait’ simply means they can’t come with you, but they don’t have to hold the position they’re in. If you’re going out for the day or just need your dog to not come with you, tell them to ‘wait‘. If you need your dog to ‘stay‘ where they are till you tell them otherwise, then use ‘stay‘. But once you say ‘stay‘, it’s your responsibility to release them. Don’t EVER forget!
Hand signal for stay
With your dog sitting beside you: Bend your elbow and hold your hand in front of your waist. Then swing your arm down with a flat open hand, palm to your dog’s nose, as you say ‘stay‘.
With your dog in front of you: Again, flat hand, palm facing your dog. Raise your open hand toward your dog and say ‘stay‘. Do NOT confuse the hand signal for ‘stay‘ with the hand signal for ‘down‘.
Before training, always exercise your dog
I always recommend training once your dog has been properly exercised. That way they’ll have patience to learn. So take them to a dog park, for a run, or play fetch. Once they’ve burnt off some steam you can begin.
Begin training ‘stay’
Have your dog sit beside you. Simultaneously say the word ‘stay‘ and use the hand signal. But only ever say the word ‘stay‘ 1 time. Repeating it teaches them they don’t need to pay attention. So be firm and clear. Now take 1 step forward and turn and face your dog. If they’re on a leash make sure you don’t accidentally pull it. If you do they’ll think you want them to come. Also make sure as you turn and face your dog you don’t accidentally hit their front toes with yours. That would likely make them jump up.
Both you and your dog need to hold this position for only about 5 seconds. The point is to teach your dog that ‘stay‘ means ‘stay where you are no matter what I’m doing‘. Now go back beside your dog. If they hold the position the entire time, give them the release word then praise them! If they break the position at any time, stop immediately, say ‘ah’, and repeat the process until you have success. Practice 4-5 times in a row, 3-4 times a day for a day or two, or until your dog understands what you’re asking.
Slowly increasing the length of time and distance
Once your dog flawlessly holds the ‘sit-stay’, increase the time from 5 seconds to 10, 20 then 30 seconds. When you successfully get to 30 seconds it’s time to increase the distance. Start taking a few steps back at a time, but don’t make a lot of eye contact; eye contact often encourages dogs to lose focus and get excited. Positive training is all about setting them up for success.
If ever they break the position, go back to when you had success. If they can’t hold the stay for long or with much distance, you’re probably rushing them. So be patient!
Switch it up
Once your dog’s achieved all this, start switching it up. Return by walking around behind them. Then leave again by backing away or even going sideways. And add distractions. Bounce a ball or have a bite of something to eat. If they break the position, give them the ‘ah‘, put them back in the ‘sit-stay’ and go back to what you were doing. Once they’ll still hold a ‘sit-stay‘ with you acting like a clown and doing all these crazy things, its time to vary the routine once more. Start all over from the beginning, but this time instead of having your dog sit, have them ‘down‘ or ‘stand‘. Then go through all the same steps right from the beginning.
Practice in different locations
If you’ve ever read any of my training blog posts you’ll remember me saying ‘dogs think in photographs‘. As is with all training, once they know the word, you gotta change the location. Take your dog somewhere you’ve never asked them to ‘stay‘ before and start all over again. A well trained dog needs to learn the words apply everywhere, not just at home. Set them up for success!
STEP 2: To train your dog to ‘stay’ even when you go out of sight, click here
Here’s a great way to teach your dog ‘stay‘ and patience at the same time. At the end of they day when it’s time to put your feet up and relax, have your dog ‘down‘ at your feet and tell them to ‘stay‘. They’ll likely just lie there and fall asleep. That’s totally fine, as long as they stay there till you release them. So keep them on a ‘down-stay‘ for an hour or two while you’re watching TV. Just remember to release them before you get up to go to bed!
Written by Brenda McBurnie, Certified Dog Trainer and Natural Nutrition
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