Before you take on real-life distractions that are difficult to control, create your own for practice purposes. You can bounce a tennis ball, squeak a toy, or recruit a family member to walk by. The important thing is to keep the distraction small enough that your dog will be able to hold her stay.

The Distraction Exercise

  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.
  2. Add the distraction. For example, bounce a tennis ball.
  3. Praise and treat immediately before your dog breaks her stay. The idea is to reward her before she has a chance to make a mistake.
  4. If your dog starts to gets up, tell her, “Ah-ah.” If that makes her hold her stay, praise her. Wait a couple of seconds, then reward and release. If she gets up, tell her, “Too bad.” Ask for an easier stay and reward her for that. Then work your way back up.
  5. Once your dog has mastered the tennis ball distraction, try a different one! For example, someone clapping or making another light noise.

Once your dog is able to hold her stay through a variety of manufactured distractions, move on to real-life ones. Choose a place for your training session with light pedestrian traffic and activity, like your front yard, a residential neighborhood sidewalk, or a park at quiet times. Nothing too crowded or noisy at first.

Keep an eye out for distractions nearby. As soon as your dog sees something interesting (another dog, a person, a stroller) while in a stay, praise, treat, and try to release your dog before he breaks his stay on his own.

Troubleshooting:

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.