Teaching your dog how to stay in one spot is a great way to work on building his self-control, and it can prove to be a very useful skill in a variety of situations. For example, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to ask your dog to sit and stay at the front door while guests are coming inside? Or to ask him to lie down and stay on his dog bed while you are cooking or eating dinner? Giving your dog a strong foundation for Stay will help you achieve those goals.
Before you start training, it’s important to recognise that there are three main components of stay that your dog will need to master: Duration, Distance, and Distractions.
- Duration refers to how long your dog is able to sit still in one spot. This is a skill that many young dogs or dogs that are new to training don’t always know how to do, so it’s something that we will work on first to make sure that your dog understands. If your dog doesn’t understand how to sit still in general, asking him to sit still while you move away from him will be very difficult.
- Distance refers to how much you can move away from your dog while he holds his position.
- Distractions refers to how well your dog can focus on you and on staying still when there are things happening around him, he’s in a new place, etc.
By separating Stay into these three categories, you can really pinpoint each one and make sure that your dog has a really good understanding of each one before you make the exercises more challenging. If he has a good understanding of each aspect of Stay, he is much more likely to get it right!
Start by asking your dog to “sit.” Count to 1 and then praise and reward him if he was able to keep his bottom on the ground. Immediately count to 2 and then praise and reward him if he was able to stay. Repeat this step for 3-5 repetitions, each time adding 1 more second onto your count. If your dog gets up in the middle of this exercise, ask him to “sit” again (praise him when he does, but no food reward should be given because he shouldn’t have gotten up in the first place), and then take a step back in your training. For example, if your dog got up when you were trying to count to 7, try counting to 5 or 6 on the next repetition. Count to 5 or 6 for a couple of repetitions before attempting 7 again.
When you’re ready to give your dog a break and release him from his stay, say “ok” and then toss a treat on the floor for him to get up and chase. “Ok” is going to be your release word, the cue that tells the dog that his Stay is finished and he is now free to move about as he wishes. When you are consistently able to count to 10 in between rewards, you are ready to move to working on adding Distance.
Once you are sure that your dog understands the Duration portion of Stay, you can move on to working on adding Distance. Start by asking your dog to “sit.” Take 1 small step away from your dog, and then immediately go back to him to reward him for staying. Then take 1 ½ steps away from your dog, and then come back and reward him, then take 2 steps away, come back and reward, etc. Repeat this step for 3-5 repetitions, each time moving a little farther away. If your dog gets up in the middle of this exercise, ask him to “sit” again (praise him when he does, but no food reward should be given), and then take a step back in your training. For example, if your dog got up when you were trying to take 3 steps away from him, try taking 2 ½ steps away on the next repetition.
Release your dog to take a break after every 3-5 repetitions of this exercise by saying “ok” and then tossing a treat for him to chase. When you can consistently take 3 steps away from your dog in several different directions, you are ready to start adding the “stay” cue. Ask your dog to “sit.” Once he’s settled, take 3 steps away from him and then come back and reward him for staying. As you are moving back to him, you are going to say “stay” and then reward him when you’re standing in front of him again. By practicing this way, you are trying to match the behaviour with the cue so that he is able to make the connection between the word and the behaviour.
Now that your dog has a solid understanding of Stay, it’s time to start adding some real life distractions. For example, can your dog hold a stay while you place his food bowl on the ground at dinner time? Can he stay while you squeak his favorite toy or bounce a tennis ball in front of him? Can he stay while you invite a guest into your house?
It’s also a good idea to take this game on the road. Try working through the exercise at a local park or walking trail where you are likely to encounter new sights, smells, people, etc. The more that you practice with different distractions in your training sessions, the more likely it is that your dog will be able to stay focused on you and on his job when you are out in the real world and something unexpected happens.