Ask the Trainer

Ask the Trainer: Teaching a Dog to ‘Stay’

Stay

Dear Kevin,
How can I get Mugsy to sit and just stay there?
-Laure

Hey Laure,

What does stay really mean? Stay means the dog is in a desired position until the human invites the dog to get out of that position. I teach a stay by using two words. My first word is either sit or down, followed by an end cue which for me is “okay.” Okay means that it is okay to get out of that position.

Does that make sense so far? Basically, I do not use the word “stay.” For me it is just an extra word that doesn’t need to be there. My sequence looks something like this:

-I ask the dog to sit or down.
-The dog gets into position.
-As long as the dog is in that position he is “staying.”
-I verbally reinforce the wanted behavior by telling the dog “good boy/girl.” (For staying.)
-I tell the dog “okay” which means you can get up now.
-I reward the dog with food or toy.

In the beginning I start off with very short “stays.” Each time I repeat the process I increase the amount of time that the dog is in the position for. This is how you start to increase the Duration of how long your dog can “stay” in the position.

A couple other “D’s” that are very important when teaching a “stay” are Distance and Distraction.

Distance means how far away you are from your dog when it is in the desired position. When teaching this take baby steps. If you try to increase the amount of distance between you and your dog too quickly you are setting your dog up for failure. When teaching Distance, it is a good idea to practice walking back to your dog and rewarding it, as well as releasing your dog to come to you to receive its reward. (Don’t forget to use verbal reinforcement as well to tell your dog it is doing the correct thing.)Lastly we have Distractions. It is important to practice a “stay” with distractions because in a real life scenario you better believe there will be some of them around. I start off with very small distractions. Every dog is different so find something that your dog doesn’t really care for in the beginning. While your dog is in the sit or down position, drop the distraction in the most uninviting way you can think of. When the dog remains in the position, tell him “good boy/girl” and reward. From there, start to increase the difficulty of the distractions.

*If you are currently using the word stay, you can continue to. It will not hurt anything. I am just letting you know that technically it is a word that is not needed as long as you have a consistent end cue.

*If at any point during this training your dog messes up, have him go back into the position and start over, it’s not that big of a deal. Failure is often a part of learning.

*Use lots of verbal reinforcement to let the dog know it is doing a good job!

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar Of Helen Cooper

    Helen Cooper

    says:

    Thank you, Kevin for your videos. They all made sense to me and I’m sure my dog will think so as well. For some reason, my dog who is a rescue, goes bananas when she hears the word “stay”. Someone must have put her in that position and left her or something bad happened. She has separation anxiety so it has been a problem for me to get her to stay while I walk away. She will sit on command and most all the other commands she does quite well. She did excellent in her Basic Obedience class and is very smart. I will try working with her using your words and methods. It is the one command I feel is most important for a dog to learn because we never know when the cue word may help save their life when in a dangerous situation. Thank you, Kevin!

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    DeannFGans

    says:

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  3. Avatar Of Deb Perkins

    Deb perkins

    says:

    I cannot get my labradoodle pup to leave my male sheltie alone. He is very dominate where my sheltie is very submissive. I try to get them to get along but I always wind up getting the pup to go into his pen for a time out. Help nothing is working. I also have a female sheltie who is fixed. He doesn’t go after her She would put him in his place. Help. I don’t want to give up on him. Thanks

  4. Avatar Of Kim

    kim

    says:

    My dog practically trained himself. I’m not even sure what words i use that outers him know what to do. I can’t get him to sit or lay down, but i get him to cuddle, go to the bedroom when i let the other diss out, and other stuff. And he has me well trained enough that i don’t know where to start. Would also like to know how to get him & my other two dogs introduced so they can all get along

  5. Avatar Of Debbie Latchum

    Debbie Latchum

    says:

    I think this would be an awesome prize to win.

  6. Avatar Of Joyce

    Joyce

    says:

    In teaching my dog to stay, I had never really considered the idea of Distance and working gradually to increase the number of steps I take. Great idea! I’m sure my Molly will do well with the change.

  7. I find that using the word stay, with a hand signal, is actually a good thing. Stay tells the dog “you are right in this invisible box, for as long as I need you to be, until I come back to you and release you.” Like a stop button on a DVD player. By teaching stay, you can then teach wait, which is a pause button. Wait tells the dog “hold on a second or two and then you can do something else.”
    Also, using ok as a release word can be problematic especially in a stay because if you tell the dog to stay, walk away, have a conversation with a person and by chance say ok, the dog will most likely break the stay and come walking or running over for a reward.
    Where dogs don’t generally know words, they know sound combinations that equate to behaviors, so using commonly used words as markers can make the process of solidifying behaviors even tougher.

    • I just put two dogs in a sit. I walked away about 10-15 feet. I proceeded to have a conversation intentionally using the word “okay” about 5-6 times. One of the dogs is mine and the other belongs to my sister. I do not have a long working relationship with my sisters dog. When I turned and looked at them and said “okay” they both came to me. Dogs are smarter than most give them credit to be. I also don’t see the value in having two cues that ultimately do the same thing. I just use a release word that tells the dog it is okay to get up. It is all about consistency.

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