When starting to teach “stay,” choose a quiet place to practice with few distractions so it is easy for your dog to focus on you. To train a successful stay, build it one step at a time: first duration, then distance, and finally distraction. Once your dog is good at all three, you can put them together.

For many dogs, it’s easier to start “Stay” practice from a “Sit” or “Down.”

The Duration Exercise

Note that you won’t add any distance right now. This exercise is for learning duration. Start at a basic level to make it easy and fun for your dog.

  1. Stand in front of your dog. Tell your dog, “stay” in a cheerful tone of voice, pause for a second, and then give the stay hand signal: hand out in front of you, palm facing dog. Praise your dog, give him a treat, and then say, “Break.” “Break” is your release word. It tells your dog that you’re done doing a particular cue. Your dog should “Stay” until you tell him to “Break” – then he can get up and move around. Repeat this process a couple of times to get your dog into the game.
  2. Now tell your dog to stay, pause for a second, and give the stay hand signal. Pause here for one second (one-one- thousand). Praise, treat, and release your dog with “Break.” Repeat several times.
  3. Slowly increase the number of seconds you wait before you reward your dog. Remember to praise and smile at your dog while you practice. All the rewards and praise happen between “Stay” and “Break.” Getting up and moving is easy for your dog – sitting still is the hard part!
  4. Eventually, you will be able to wait for a considerable time before releasing your dog. When you can stand in front of your dog for 15 seconds without your dog getting up, it is time to work on the second component of stay— distraction.

Tip! Vary the length of the stay. For example, do some that are 20 seconds and some that are 5 seconds.

Troubleshooting:

If your dog gets up before you release him, say, “Too bad” in the same tone of voice you would say “Bummer.” After a mistake, immediately ask for another stay –this one a bit easier, to give your dog a chance to be successful and earn a treat. Work your way up to the stay that was too difficult the first time.

If your dog is making more than the occasional mistake, you are going too fast. Go back to something easier and work your way up from there. Remember, the secret to teaching stay is to start easy and go slowly. End on a positive note. Keep your training sessions short and fun!

Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.