Teaching a dog to stay vs. wait

My previous dog Brittni was trained to follow the commands “stay” and “wait.” Each command had a clear meaning, and I was consistent about how I used each.

The trainer I worked with at the time taught me to use the two commands because stay should always mean stay here in this exact position until I return and release you. Wait should always mean wait here until I give you the next command.

Ace is not trained to understand the difference between stay and wait because I have never bothered to give the commands different meanings.

Since I’ve had one dog that was trained to know the difference and one that is not, I can say that it is convenient to train the dog to understand that stay and wait are two different commands – it just takes more work and consistency.

It may sound a bit picky to differentiate between stay and wait, but I would like to train Ace to understand the difference because of these training benefits:

Teaching a dog to wait enforces the stay command

If a dog is told to stay and then told to do something else, he might learn to anticipate the second command and break from the stay position early. This isn’t because he is disobedient. It’s because he’s smart enough to predict what you are going to ask him to do next. This is especially true with owners who tend to practice commands in the same order every time.

If you teach the dog that stay means “stay here until I return and release you,” the pressure will be off and he will understand that all he has to do is stay put. With enough repetitions (and sometimes it takes hundreds), the dog will understand that stay means stay – period.

The wait command is what you would use if you want to tell your dog to wait and then call him once you walk across the room, for example.

Teaching a dog to wait enforces the recall

Using the wait command can help improve getting your dog to come when called.

Some dogs are hesitant to come when called from a stay position since they are often scolded for breaking position too early. Because of this, some dogs need to be called a second or third time. This is because the dogs want to do the right thing, so they wait until they are called a second or third time to make sure it’s what the owner wants. Some owners unintentionally train their dogs to obey a command only after it has been repeated two or three or four times.

If you use the wait command and then call your dog, he can learn that if you tell him to wait there will definitely be a second command to follow. Again, it will take many repetitions to make this clear to the dog.

Teaching a dog to wait helps during agility

Many dogs have a hard time holding still at the start of running an agility course – I know my mutt does! Telling a dog to stay when there’s a good chance he won’t stay will reinforce that the command is optional.

In an agility setting it’s so easy to let the dog get away with breaking from stay too early and run the course anyway. This is especially true in a group agility setting where the students are pressured for time and need to run their dogs quickly so the next person gets a chance.

The wait command is a great option during agility because it teaches the dog to wait for the next command whether it’s jump or tunnel or whatever. Of course, a dog should never get away with breaking from stay or wait too early.

Be consistent when teaching a dog to wait or to stay

I know some people have a hard enough time enforcing their dogs to stay, let alone teaching them the concept of wait. But for those of us who like to perfect training and challenge ourselves and our dogs a little further, using both commands is not a bad idea.

Consistency is always key when teaching a dog any concept.

For me, the biggest challenge is making sure to give my dog a command only if I am able to follow through and enforce it. Every time I tell him to stay or to wait and he does not, I must put him back or he learns that the command is optional.

Be careful that wait doesn’t become a less serious version of stay. I’ve never committed to teaching Ace the difference between stay and wait (until today), but I’ve used both words anyway. This was a mistake on my part. Why use two different words to mean essentially the same thing? That only confuses a dog.

What Ace has learned from my mistake is that “wait” is a less serious version of “stay.” If I tell him to wait, he is much more likely to get bored or distracted and break from position compared to when I tell him to stay. This is my own fault.

You are the one training your own dog and you can decide what each command means. Maybe precision is not as important to you, or maybe you have taught your dog that these two words mean something entirely different than what I am teaching my dog. However you do or don’t define stay and wait to your dog, the most important thing is consistency.

What are your thoughts on teaching “stay” and teaching “wait”?


21 thoughts on “Teaching a dog to stay vs. wait”

  1. I started out just teaching a stay to Emmett and Lucas. Lucas, though, is a door dasher. And it’s any door, including the car. It got so bad that, one day, he actually sprinted past the UPS guy and was standing in the sidewalk in just a few seconds. Thankfully he didn’t make it to the street. To combat that incredibly unsafe behavior, I incorporated the wait command. Basically, I use it to mean: if you hang on for just a second, you’ll get to do something super fun. They wait to get in and out of the car, while I get their dinner ready, before we go into the dog park, etc. I use stay only when I need them to have their butts on the ground without moving. I never call them from a stay. If I know I am going to call them to come, I use a wait. Having the two options has been incredibly useful, and it’s made their stays a lot stronger.

    1. Like you I use the wait command as a temporary measure and in conjunction with recall. I use stay as in stay there until I give you the release cue ‘ok’ and/or return to you.

  2. Personally, I don’t teach a ‘stay’ command. I find ‘stay’ to be redundant, if I ask the dog to sit or lie down it is implied that they stay without an added, verbal ‘stay’.

    I do teach ‘wait’, though, at doors and such.

  3. I think this is something my dog and I can definately work on. I have been working on his recall by putting him in a stay and then calling him to me, but this has definately made his stay less obiedient and he will leave it early because he is anticipating the next command, or I will need to call him more than once. I think implementing a wait command would solve this problem. I tried for awhile doing what Ty teaches and teaching my dog that he does not release from sit or lay down until told to, but I wasn’t consistent enough with that and eventually I just stopped enforcing it, but I think it is a great thing to teach a dog. Thanks for post!

  4. Lindsay Stordahl

    I haven’t been as consistent as I should be, but my dog is trained to remain sitting or lying down until I release him without telling him to stay first. But I use the word stay or wait if I walk away from him.

    It’s very annoying when dogs know the word sit but then pop right back up immediately. This has been a good reminder for me to enforce Ace’s sits and downs better.

  5. I’m not the most consistent person in the world, but I do like to have a wait and a stay. Wait is for agility usually, but I also use it for Obedience on the recall. It “should” mean that my dogs are to wait for another command soon to follow. The stay, is just stay. Don’t move until I come back and release you. I know that at least with agility…I’ve found that if you always release the dog forward, they anticipate that. So, I try in training to also remember to go back and release behind them to a game of tug, or fetch, so they don’t start that creeping forward thing on the line.

  6. Excellent post. This is something I learned about in our last obedience class, and Glory has taken to it pretty well. I think Ace will sigh with relief when you are more clear with him about the differences between “stay” and “wait.” I know Glory did!

  7. Good post. I use both a stay and a wait, which works great for me. Stay was taught in an obedience setting and has the traditional meaning. Wait is more casual, when he is asked to wait on his mat, he can shift his hips to become more comfortable. A wait while sitting in agility is used at the start line and means “stay still but be ready to be released” It has a lot more energy in it, since the dog will usually be pumped up and ready to go.

    As long as you are consistent, which can be hard, I know, the dogs “get it”

  8. Haha – Gus ONLY sits if you have food. It’s pretty funny because if he wants something that you have he will just automatically sit. Stay and wait are not in his vocabulary at this point. He’s coming along though.

  9. Wait….CORGIIIII. OK, another great post, love reading your blog. Addresses one of the biggest problem with my mind-reading, tick-memorizing corgi. The one that sits before I tell her, stays before I tell her, and can sniff a treat from a mile away.

    Work to be done with my stubby legged girl, for sure, but well worth it for such a wonderful companion.

  10. I find the Wait command to be very useful. However, I use it in more everyday situations that in an official training environment. With having 3 dogs in the car at once, leashes get tangled when we’re traveling. I can open the hatch at the back of my vehicle and give a wait command and they will wait for me to attach leashes and get sorted before I give the OK for them to get out of the car, even when we’re going for a hike or to the DP. I’ve also used wait when on a walk off leash and they get too far ahead. They stand still and allow me to catch up until I give the OK for them to get moving again. I’ve got a couple of other less taught commands that I find invaluable. “Leave it”, works great for when the nose gets busy probing things it shouldn’t, like a dead animal or a person’s rear end. I also use it when approaching a strange dog on a walk, to avoid any potential confrontation. I also like the command “back”. I use it if I want them to give me some space, when visitors come to the door, or if they sneak into the kitchen when I’m preparing food. (though they know “get out of the kitchen” quite well also). I am curious to know if anyone else has any lesser known commands that they have incorporated into their routine. Great Post!!

  11. I’ve taught Keeda Stay and Wait the same as you – Stay means expect to stay in that one spot until I come back, which could be a minute or an hour (although we’ve never tested the ‘hour’ stay yet, it’s been 5 minutes or so at the most :P). Wait means I’m walking away and you’re staying here, but soon you’ll be told to do something else, whether that’s “Come” or “Down”

  12. Very interesting difference or separation of the commands. Minor mistake I have made is having my Dakotah stay, then backing up across the room and calling him. I will have to change that. Wait is for at the doors primarily and he waits until he looks up at me and then I say ok and he can go outside. He is only a year old at this time, a GSD/Husky, so I do believe that it is not to late to correct my mistakes. I thank you for your very good explanations and suggestions.

  13. Sandy Weinstein

    yes, i try. i work on stay, wait when feeding them. they get feed in their crates. i make them come to me, stay, then sit, wait b4 they can go into their crates to eat. we also work on these commands in their enclosed pen or when i have them on long lines. they also know go, with the wave of my hand and arm. i use the hand flat to them for stay. finger down to sit, the youngest does not like to sit all of the way.

  14. Michelle Benson

    I love the “wait” command. I use it constantly when working with my dog. I play a game when dog is at the threshold of a door- he has to sit and look at me (all included in the command) while I step out and look around to “make sure it’s safe”. That way my dog is learning to hold still even with me moving around and giving him verbal reinforcement. I use “wait” before getting in or out of cars, before meals, before handing my dog just about anything. I have found that working on waiting for foot treats and toys really reinforces the idea that “wait” means hold still and pay attention for the next command. I also use “wait” as someone already posted, when walking my dog and he is a bit too far ahead. I must release my dog from “wait.”
    Stay I only use really for training purposes- I put the dog on a “stay” and it means stay in that position indefinitely until I release you. I return to the dog multiple times to touch, treat, praise and reinforce that none of those things is a release. I don’t call a dog out of a stay- I return to him to release him- unless it is a very well trained dog – then I might call him out of it.
    I do seem to use the same hand signal- “cop hand” for both – but seems to be working.

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