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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”?

Michelle Benson

Monday 25th of July 2016

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.

Sandy Weinstein

Friday 22nd of July 2016

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.

Chuck Taylor

Thursday 17th of March 2016

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.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 6th of April 2010

Yeah, that seems to be a good way to do it. Glad it's working for Keeda.


Tuesday 6th of April 2010

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"