Does your dog know the word “stay”? How well?

Some dogs have an easier time with “stay” than others.

My laid-back, easy-to-please retriever always listened well to “stay,” while other dogs have a harder time.

Some dogs always want to be on the go! Or they get distracted easily or their owners aren’t consistent.

I’ve had good teachers over the years who’ve taught me the solid foundations for teaching a dog to stay. These tips have really helped me with dogs, and I thought I’d share them with you as well.

Since there are so many ways to train a dog, please add your own tips for reinforcing “stay” in the comments. I’ll link to some of my other posts at the end.

First, some brief basics on how I teach a dog to stay:

Ace working on stay

I teach him to sit first.

Once he knows sit, I’ll tell him “sit” and “stay” and I don’t go anywhere. I’ll stand right next to him for about three seconds, pop a treat in his mouth and say “OK!” followed by lots of praise.

The dog is rewarded for not moving, even though I’m right there. If he gets up, I calmly guide him back to a sit.

Very gradually over several days, I start to wait longer and longer before releasing him. Five seconds. 15 seconds. 20. And I start to take a step or two back. Then a step to the right or left. Eventually, I might try to go out six feet if we’re in the living room with no distractions.

I make it incredibly easy at first, giving the dog treats for not moving. Only after the dog understands the basic idea do I start adding more distance and time.

What do the rest of you do? Let me know in the comments.

My 5 tips for reinforcing a solid stay command:

1. Always release your dog from stay with “Free!”

You should have a word that signals to your dog he no longer needs to stay. You can use any word you want.

If you don’t have a release word, it’s always a guessing game for your dog. He’ll have to keep testing when to get up, and you’ll have to keep repeating “stay.” Maybe you’re one of those who has to keep saying “Stay … stay … stay … stay.” There’s really no need to keep repeating yourself once your dog learns to wait for the “Free!” word.

I use “OK!” to release Ace and it’s worked well for us. (2018 update: Ace has passed away.)

2. Return to your dog before releasing him.

I know, I’m getting picky here but this does make a difference. I’ve trained my dog that “stay” means “stay here until I return and release you.”

This breaks the temptation to follow me or to get up if I leave the room. It also takes some stress/pressure off him because there’s less guessing. He knows that no matter what I’m doing, he should stay until I return to his side and say “OK!”

If I were to tell him “stay” and then release him from across the room or across the field, my dog would constantly be on his toes ready to follow me.

When I want to leave my dog and then call him or give him any other command, I use “wait.” Dogs can easily understand the difference between the two concepts if we are consistent. See teaching a dog stay vs. wait.

3. Use a hand signal.

The most common hand signal people use is simply to hold their hand out, palm towards the dog, almost like a stop sign.

You don’t need to keep your hand out the whole time. Just hold it out once as you say “stay.” Dogs typically have an easier time learning hand signals than they do verbal signals, so think about a hand signal you can use for all your other commands too.

4. If your dog breaks from stay, calmly put him back.

If you’ve told your dog stay, and he gets up, just calmly say “no” and put him back to the exact same spot. Tell him “stay” again and then release him after a few seconds. You’ll also know you probably pushed him too far. If a dog is breaking from stay too often, it’s probably a situation that is currently too challenging.

5. Practice in many different environments.

Practice “stay” in every room of the house, on different surfaces, outside, on walks, on the driveway, getting out of the car, at pet friendly stores, etc. Everywhere you go, there’s an opportunity to practice “stay.” Just keep it easy when you’re in challenging environments at first.

How do you reinforce “stay”?

Related posts:
Should I let my dog move at all during stay?

Teaching a dog stay vs. wait

Dog shakes or scratches to break from stay

Teach a dog to go to her bed

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