How to Teach Your Dog to Stay

Find out how you can teach your dog to stay in one place without getting up.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
7-minute read
Episode #74

Mistakes Make Training Slower

It used to be thought that mistakes were beneficial, because they gave you the opportunity to “correct” your dog--as I saw one old-school trainer do, to haul him back to his stay spot, shove him down, and then cuff him under the chin to really drive the point home. In the first place, way to suck the fun out of learning and teaching. In the second place, practice is often most efficient when it includes the fewest mistakes. If you’ve ever played a musical instrument, you may have noticed how once you hit a wrong note, you tend to repeat the error. Same goes for your dog learning a new behavior.

What to Do If Your Dog Makes a Mistake

If she does get up, take a breath and then give her a short refresher starting at a point somewhat easier than whatever you were working on when she broke. Or consider that she may be tired-- maybe she’s learned as much as she can for now. In that case, ask her to do one very easy rep at a level where she’s letter perfect, and then call it a day.

Teach Your Dog to Stay for Longer Periods

Building duration is, for my money, the dull part of teaching a stay. Apart from watching your dog carefully to make sure you’re not pushing her past her skill level, and slipping her the occasional treat and some praise, there isn’t a whole lot to do. The good news is that if you’ve worked on those first few minutes of the stay and made them rock solid, longer periods will go quickly.

Cook Up Distractions for Your Dog

Cooking up distractions, on the other hand, is kind of fun. Dance a jig. Ring a bell. Answer the phone. Roll a ball or squeak a toy. Brandish your dog’s tug rope. Walk a circle around your dog. (A lot of dogs have trouble holding their stay for this, by the way. Work on that circle one short segment at a time.) Distance, too, is kind of fun. Dog trainers get a little thrill at the point in teaching a stay when we first step out of sight. Come back in view within a nanosecond that first time, please.

When to Add Your “Stay” Cue

Usually, we add a cue for a behavior when the dog has already learned the behavior well. The reason is that we want the dog to associate the cue strongly with the polished form of the behavior, not with a rough approximation. But a perfect stay could last anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour or more, depending on the situation. So if you’re careful to keep your training free of mistakes, your dog’s performance of stay is near perfect from the get-go.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).