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5 Tips For Teaching A Dog To Stay Reliably

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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Diane Reinhold

Tuesday 2nd of October 2018

I always love your training tips, such great ideas. One thing I learned was not to say stay when I am leaving and my dog follows me towards the door. If I am saying stay, then leave, the dog is forced to break the stay since he is not going to just sit there the entire time I am gone. I simply just go out the door without saying anything.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 2nd of October 2018

yes, that is a good point!


Saturday 21st of May 2016

These are great tips and great reminders for me. The guide dog school works very hard with their puppies on sit-stay and down-stay. All of my guide dog puppies were masters of stay. Unfortunately, I haven't been as successful with Archer as I haven't practiced nor been as consistent as I have been with other puppies in training. We're going to start working harder on his stays with distance, duration, and distraction. The last D is always the most difficult.


Wednesday 29th of April 2015

Great tips. Saying a command over and over is such a big mistake many people make!

Rachel @ My Two Pitties

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

K&N are pretty good at stay. I sometimes tell Kaya to stay, throw her ball & then go through a series of words 'til I get to her release word, "go!" It's so funny to watch how intense she is(you know the ball addict look) as I say, "Apples, I love you, good dog, hello, go...phers, peanut, go!" Haha.

Julia at Home on 129 Acres

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

We used a similar technique. Start really close and then get farther away. Our trainer recommended strong body language. Standing square to the dog with your shoulders back and head up. Put your hand out in the stop position. Say stay. Drop your hand and step away. We found it worked very well.