I recently made a very simple video on training your dog to stay. In this post, I am going to go a bit more in depth on the importance of your dog understanding this command and I am going to further discuss the phases of training. This is important for slowly bridging the gap between a controlled training environment and the “real world”, where surprise distractions can occur at any given moment. Here is that video and the follow up.
“Stay” is on the top of my list when it comes to the importance of obedience commands. Nobody wants their dog to run into the middle of the street where they can possibly get hit by a car. We also don’t want our dog running after a cat or getting into trouble with the neighbors and then dealing with “Animal Control”.
So, why would our dogs be in the position where they can run away in the first place? Well, if you are anything like me, you love taking your dog everywhere. I often bring my dog out in the front-yard with me whenever I am working out in the garage (with the door open for supervision of-course). I fully trust that my dog will not run out of the yard to chase anything (as you can see in the video).
Teaching your dog “Stay” goes much further than teaching your dog to temporarily stay still in place; it also plays a big roll in getting your dog to understand their current boundaries and to “stay” in the given environment. “Stay” also helps tremendously with problems such as: running out the front door, jumping up on guests, and sitting still for a moment during a walk (and not pulling!).
This is one of those commands that really helps push our dogs to think and to help control their urge to explore their sudden curiosity. Dogs are naturally very curious and adventurous beings. They love to explore new surroundings and are easily distracted by scents, animals, people, sounds, and, well.. you name it! A dog can take off running just from seeing a plastic bag blowing in the distance!
If someone were to ask me to name three of the most important obedience commands, I would tell them “Stay” , “Come”, and “Leave it”. These three commands are essential for your dog to know for many reasons. In-fact it may be life-saving knowledge for your dog. And yes I use the term knowledge with dogs, because they are very smart beings with the capability of learning detailed instructions. Dogs can learn to understand pretty long phrases such as “go over there and lay down” and “go close the door”. (Not to mention learning to count, take items from the refrigerator, and even drive!)
I like to emphasize the intelligence of dogs because it is something that is really important to acknowledge if you want to build the best possible connection that you can with your canine buddy. You must keep in mind, when training a dog, that there is so much knowledge to be unlocked. Dogs just need our guidance and over time, the more you teach them, the smarter they get and the faster they pick up on every new trick and command that follows it.
Remember, real training happens from the inside out, not the outside in. By this, I mean that if you try to teach your dog obedience with items such as shock collars or by punishing your dog by hitting them, then ultimately, your dog will never actually learn what it is that you want them to learn. It will not help them to learn to think and that is what we want our dog doing. Thinking.
We want a solution that will be far more permanent and as well as help us build a stronger relationship with our dog, instead of frightening them.
So, let’s set the reward criteria, start off with small expectations, and set our dog up for success.
There are a few different aspects to keep in mind when training our dog to “Stay”. There is stay for a duration, stay with a distance added, and then ultimate goal: stay with distractions. With any trick or command, we are going to start off asking for as little as possible from our dog. So, for “Stay” this would be:
Staying For Duration
Start off by having your dog sit down for you. Eye contact is very important, so wait for it and then show them the hand signal that you’d like to use for this command. I like to use the universal hand-sign for stop, which looks like:
So, with a nice close proximity to your animal, show them this hand signal and count for one second. If your dog manages to stay still, say “Yes!” very enthusiastically (or click if you use a clicker). If they do move, just kind of turn around for a moment as if you were turned off by what they did and do not reward. Restart the position and try again. Every second counts. That’s right – even if your dog stays still for just one second, I want you to click and reward!
At this point, we haven’t starting saying the cue word “Stay” yet. I like to wait until the dog starts to catch on to what it is that I am teaching them before adding the magic word. This usually yields stronger results.
Don’t get mad if your dog lays down; that is perfectly okay. As long as they are staying, right? My dog always sits and stays when I issue her the “Stay” command, which I have no problem with.
Once your dog stays still for about 3-5 seconds, then start adding the word “Stay” as soon as you issue the hand signal.
So the process so far is:
- Eye Contact
- Hand Signal + “Stay!”
- Count 1, 2 ,3…(adding duration gradually)
- “Yes!” (click) and Reward for keeping Stay
Remember, eye contact is very important so get their eye contact each time before issuing the hand signal and keep that eye contact as long as possible in the beginning. Work on this for about 10 minutes a day for a week before moving on to add distance.
Staying With Distance
The start of this exercise is the same as the previous. We are going to issue a sit command, lock eyes, and issue the hand signal combined with the cue word “Stay!”. The only difference is that instead of counting seconds within our dogs bubble, we are going to be backing up away from our dog very gradually. I’m talking about half-steps at a time here. We are not yet asking our dog to stay for a duration and a distance, but just to stay for the brief second that we make our movement. Always remember, a slower more gradual training yields stronger results.
- Eye Contact
- Hand Signal + “Stay!”
- Step back one step at a time
- “Yes!” (click) and Reward for keeping Stay
If your dog breaks stay, then that only means that you are asking for too much too soon. In this case, just go back a step and try again. If your dog breaks after one step, then start off by barely lifting your leg half a step back and then go back to original position immediately and reward. It is also a good idea to pretend as if you are about to walk away. Do this by turning to your side just for a brief moment, and then back to original position and reward for staying. Practice with any movement that you think will make your dog want to break their stay. And this is how we gradually add distance to the stay command. From half a step to across an entire field!
Staying While Distracted
Here is when things may get a little harder. But don’t get discouraged and especially don’t get frustrated – because once you do this – you lose. A dog can tell when you are frustrated and can feel the negative energy. This is not about instant success, this is all about a gradual process that will yield much more stronger and more permanent results.
Staying while distracted will solve the problem of your dog running out of the front door as soon as you open it, which can be a frightening experience for many people. I hate to hear about peoples dogs running out into traffic or just running down the street while the owner runs around chasing it like a chicken with it’s head cut off. Instead of being that person, let’s train our dog not to run off in the first place.
With this your are going to need a dog toy that your dog likes or a small piece of food that your dog enjoys. To start, set your dog up the same way you did while teaching stay with duration and stay with distance. That is, ask for a sit (or even lay down), give the hand signal along with the cue word “Stay”, but this time instead of backing away – we are going to stay within our dogs training bubble (very close to your dog) and toss the toy or small piece of food down on the floor in front of your dog. This adds in the enticing distraction of a moving object. And a very tempting one at that. Reward and praise your dog genuinely immediately after you drop the object and they keep stay. Don’t wait for duration, even a split second of your dog staying at first is a great start. If your dog breaks stay, quickly pick the food or toy up before they have a chance to get it, and restart. Your dog will learn that breaking stay has consequences, and in this case- that is no reward.
When you feel that your dog has gotten comfortable with staying while tossing a toy or food item, then you are ready to move along to the front door. Take your dog to the front door and start off with the first two steps:
- Eye Contact
- Hand Signal + “Stay”
Now, turn and grab the door handle. Stop, “Yes!” (click) and reward for keeping stay. That’s right, we aren’t even going to open the door yet. Do this several more times and then move on to opening the door just a crack. If your dog breaks stay, say “No” (firmly but not aggressively) and close the door. Do not reward (duh).
TIP: Keep eye contact while training with distractions. Stay within your dogs training bubble and keep eye contact while reaching for and opening the door.
Try to keep your dogs attention on you in the beginning and reward and praise heavily for keeping stay for even just the brief second that you open the door. If you feel that your dog is going to break stay, try to get their attention back on you and maybe even issue a second hand signal to keep them still. Don’t wait for your dog to mess up and then try re-correcting it. It is much more efficient in the long run to stop the problem before it occurs. Set your dog up for success.
When your dog keeps a solid stay while opening the door for a second or two, then move on by opening the door and letting it stay open for several seconds at a time. Reward before closing the door. From here you can up the difficulty by using the toy or food item from the previous step and tossing it out of the front door. This is combining two different types of distraction. If your dog is still breaking stay, then that always means that you are asking for too much, too soon.
Once your dog has made it this far, you can get creative such as: Asking for a stay and throwing a ball across the yard, then the reward will be getting to go get it! Or asking for a stay, and leaving the room entirely and coming back to them still holding a stay. Now that is amazing. Your dog will get this as long as your praising is very genuine, your rewards are high quality, and you make the process frustration-free.
In order to keep this consistent we will need to use this command very frequently. Each time that you plan on leaving the house with your dog, whether its to go outside back or to leave the house for a walk, insist that your dog hold a stay for ten to twenty seconds before going through the door. In-fact you can even do this before leaving individual rooms in the house as well. Over time, your dog will be a master at holding “Stay”.
At the end of the day, it is our job and responsibility to control our dogs environment and keep them safe. Always test your dog within safety and reason. Use a long leash while training at the front door or outside in the front yard to insure that they will not be able to run off into harms way.
Your dog will never be 100% reliable at any command but they can be very close. So it is worth the effort into training your dog to “Stay”! If you need further help, it is recommended to find a local positive trainer in your area, or you can always visit the online dog trainer.
Ultimately, if you want your dog to stay near you and not run off, it is all about having a very strong communication and bond between you and your dog. The more you teach, and the better you treat your dog, the better the communication will be. Now, get out there and positively train your dog!