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Teaching a dog to stay – should I let the dog move around at all?

Most dog owners know how to teach a dog to stay.

But what about getting the dog to actually stay in one position without moving around?

My foster dog Cosmo will stay in one spot, but he likes to swivel his whole body so he’s always facing me. He likes to see if I have any treats.

There’s nothing right or wrong about Cosmo’s behavior. It’s up to me, his trainer, to teach him my expectations.

I thought this would be a good time to ask you what you want from your dog when you tell him to stay. Too often, we don’t really know what we want. Sometimes we allow our dogs to shift positions as long as they stay in the same general area. Sometimes we don’t allow it.

When you are teaching your dog to stay, I recommend you:

Cosmo the American Eskimo up for adoption practices staying on a rug1. Determine what “stay” actually means to you.

2. Be consistent about following through.

If you do those two things, your dog will usually have a reliable stay according to your definition of stay.

When I tell my mutt Ace to stay, I expect him to remain in the exact position he’s in. I am strict about this. Ace knows it, and he understands what is expected.

If Ace is sitting when I tell him to stay, I expect him to stay sitting. If he is standing, I expect him to remain standing. I do not allow him to swivel his body, but I don’t mind if he turns his head or wags his tail. It’s a good thing if he tries to maintain eye contact, and it’s a good thing if his tail is wagging.

If he’s lying down, I don’t mind if he shifts his weight from one side to the other. I also know it’s uncomfortable for Ace to sit for long periods, so I usually ask him to lie down before I tell him to stay.

I have high expectations for my dog because I admire the discipline of formal dog obedience training. It takes a lot of focus and self control for a dog to actually stay in one position.

I can hold a tennis ball or a handful of treats and walk around Ace, and he will keep his body facing the original direction. I can stand directly behind him, and he will not turn his body. Teaching a dog this kind of self control is not for everyone, but it’s important to me.

Maybe you don’t mind if your dog shifts his body to face you. Maybe you see that as a good thing. Maybe you could care less if your dog switches from a sit to a down or if he moves a foot or two in any direction. All I recommend is that you decide ahead of time what your standards are. Don’t let your dog determine the standards.

How to teach a dog to stay

I won’t go into too much detail on how to teach a dog to stay. You can find that information anywhere.

I teach a dog to “stay” by giving him treats for not moving even when I’m standing right next to him. Next, I tell him to stay and I pivot so I’m directly in front of him. He gets more treats as long as he stays. I use the word “OK!” to free the dog, but I don’t give him treats once he’s free. The treats are for when the dog is staying. As long as the dog is successful, I keep increasing the distance between us.

How to teach a dog not to wiggle around when he is “staying”

Cosmo likes to rotate his body so he is always facing me (and the treats). It’s great that he is so focused, but I am working on teaching him more self control. Cosmo is so crazy around food that he shakes while I get his meals ready. His food obsession is worse than Ace’s tennis ball obsession – if you can believe that!

To teach Cosmo not to rotate his body, I started placing him on a small rug about the same length as his body. Dogs are good at understanding physical boundaries, so it was obvious to Cosmo that I didn’t want him to leave that rug. Since it is easier for him to move from a sitting position, I had him stay in a down position.

Once Cosmo was lying on the rug, I went back to basics using the pivoting motion I described above. I started at Cosmo’s right side (so he was in a formal heel position). I told him to stay, pivoted out so we were face to face, gave him a treat and returned to his right side. You can see all of this in the video below.

After three or four successful repetitions, I pivoted to face him again and then took another step around him towards his left side and then back again. He got treats every time I returned as long as he stayed put.

If the dog moves his body while you are doing this, tell him “no” and “stay” and put him back in the original position. Don’t wait for the dog to do this on his own. Just put him back and start again from the last point of success. Don’t rush. You want the dog to be successful.

With Cosmo, I moved further and further around him until I could walk in a full circle while he remained still. I made sure to talk to him the whole time, making sure he knew I was happy. Then we repeated the whole process with Cosmo in a sit position. It was much easier if I kept his leash on, and he actually behaves better when I use no treats at all.

This week, I am teaching Cosmo not to rotate his body even when there is no rug. We are also working on the stay concept in areas other than our living room. He is showing a lot of improvements. It just takes a lot of self control for Cosmo not to turn and see where the treats might be! An even greater challenge for Cosmo and I will be getting him to remain still when someone else walks by holding treats.

What do you expect from your dog when you tell him to stay?


Thursday 6th of October 2011

I like how short and sweet your tutorial was. Definitely a good read. I have 3 dogs and they all "stay" differently. My German Shepherd, Joker when asked to stay will stay untill released whether it's 5 minutes or 25 minutes, while my Boxer, Wyatt doesn't quite have that attention span(not even close, but he is only 11 months). My Dogue De Bordeaux is somewhere in between, though he is the the one that really wants to please me the most. He gets so excited when he does something good. When I catch Wyatt swiveling around while "staying" he definitely gets a "wrong", the other 2 I don't have to worry about. My other problem with Wyatt, that I don't have with the other 2, is when I put distance between us or I am out of site. He just can't help himself, he has to move. It seems like you have some good followers, so that means you have some great info to share. Thanks again!


Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 6th of October 2011

Thanks, Brian! You are not alone. It seems like most people with more than one dog report that they've trained each dog to stay a little differently than the others. And usually it's not intentional.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 5th of October 2011

Thanks, Jennifer!


Wednesday 5th of October 2011

I recommend your site to others now! I have a friend at work that has had the best/worst time training her rescue, I mentioned your blog to her so I hope she has a chance to learn a few things or share her stories.

Diesel knows the command "blieb" since he learned most of his commands in German. What cracks me up is that he is really good at it ... most of the time! I really do think he might be smarter than we know. My father-in-law likes to make him lay down, "platz," and then places treats in front of him. Diesel is usually supposed to wait until he's released but usually Ken forgets and either D is left there with a big puddle of drool beneath his chin or he says to heck with it and just eats the treats after a few minutes.

He's also pretty good about staying in the yard without having to be watched at every second, but he knows it when you aren't paying attention, he'll use it as his time to sneak away and go exploring.

Thanks for a good read! Jennifer Diesel Stomping

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 5th of October 2011

Good boy, Charlie!


Wednesday 5th of October 2011

Charlie stays when I tell him to sit or lay down, but he also knows when I say stay he can either stand, sit or lie down (I don't care which as long as he stays in the same spot) and he isn't allowed to shift to look at me.