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Basic Training Command: Teaching Your Dog to Stay

 At times, dog owners may find it helpful to add duration to their dog’s commands. The stay command does just that; it teaches the dog to stay immobile in a position until he is released. When would this command prove helpful? In many situations! For instance, a time may come when dog owners may want to eat at the table or simply enjoy a movie and relax. In this case, a down stay will keep Oliver lying down on a mat and staying there until the owner releases him. Another example is when the dog owner may want to go check on something but without having his dog following him. In this case, he’ll put his dog in a sit stay, go check on that something and then will come back to his dog who has remained as still as a statue. What a good boy!

Most importantly, the stay command can keep a dog safe and out of danger. For instance, a dog can be asked to stay to prevent him from approaching a potentially venomous snake, an unfriendly dog or a skunk, or in an another example, a dog can be asked to sit stay to prevent him from getting near a car that is passing by.

Does this command sound difficult? It is in a certain way as it takes a lot of impulse control, and this explains why it’s often taught later in classes. Puppies with short attention spans may have a hard time learning to stay more than a handful of seconds, and dogs who have a hard time coping with frustration may find it hard as well, but this is an important command all dogs should master. Taking baby steps goes a long way when it comes to training a stay. Following is a step-by-step guide on teaching a dog to stay on command.

Step-by-Step: Teaching a Dog to Stay

In order to teach a dog to stay, dog owners will need a few treats and a quiet area to practice with not many distractions going on. Too many distractions will cause the dog to be more prone to break the stay. Dog owners should play it safe and avoid exposing their dogs to levels of distractions that exceed their training level.

Note: before teaching a dog to stay, the dog should have a solid understanding of the sit and lie down command. This is because the dog will be asked to sit or lie down and then will be asked to stay in that position. A dog that doesn’t know the sit or lie down command will have a hard time maintaining duration, and therefore, staying for a certain period of time.

  • Step 1: put your dog in a sit or down right next to your side.
  • Step 2: step in front of your dog and with your hand open and the palm exposed as a police officer giving a stop signal, firmly pronounce the word “stay.”
  • Step 3: take one step back and return next to your dog.
  • Step 4: praise and reward your dog for staying in place.

Some dog owners also teach a dog to stay in a standing position. The stay stand is often used in Rally Obedience / Rally-O where the dog is asked to stand and stay while the owner walks around him. It is also helpful to teach a dog to stand and stay for conformation shows or simply to stand still for examination at the vet’s office.

Adding the 3 D’s of Dog Training

When training dog commands, three important D’s need to gradually applied. The three D’s stand for durationdistance and distractions. When these challenges are gradually added, and the dog succeeds without the behavior breaking down, it is said that good proofing has taken place. In other words, the dog responds with fluency despite the presence of distractions, distance from the handler and duration of the command.

  • Adding Duration

In the above exercise the stay is quite brief, lasting just a few seconds; basically, just about the time to move in front of the dog and then step right back next to the dog as in the initial starting position. As the dog gets good at staying, duration can be gradually added. The handler may therefore hesitate a bit before stepping back next to the dog and praising. It’s not a bad to idea to mix in briefer and incrementally longer stays so the dog doesn’t know what to expect. For instance, dog owners can ask for a 5 second stay, then a 15 second stay, then a 2 second stay, then a 20 second stay, then a 7 second stay, then a 30 second stay and so forth.

  • Adding Distance

Distance is another challenge that can be added in a stay. The dog owner can start stepping farther and farther away very gradually and systematically in small increments. It’s not a bad idea to do this gradually by mixing in farther distances with shorter distances so the dog doesn’t know what to expect next. For instance, the owners may practice a sit about 4 steps away from the dog, then one step away, then 6 steps away, then 3, then 8 steps away, then two steps away. The dog is always praised and rewarded lavishly for remaining stationary. As the training progresses, dog owners may be able to ask for a stay and even leave out of sight for just a few minutes at a time.

  • Adding Distractions

Ideally, distractions should be added after the dog is doing well with distance and duration put together. The sky is the limit when it comes to adding distractions to a stay. Dog owners can get quite creative asking for the dog to stay in the presence of other dogs, in the presence of noises, around other people, and even performing stays on different surfaces. Will the dog stay if it’s raining? Will the dog stay if asked in front of a fenced baseball field with players running? Will the dog stay on grass? All of these are training challenges that can be overcome with practice.

Making a Game of It

Once a dog has become quite fluent in staying on command, a few fun games can be played. For instance, hide and seek can be played by asking Scruffy to perform a sit stay while the owner finds a place to hide that is initially easy for the dog to spot. Once the owner has found a good spot to hide, he can then release the dog that should come running looking for him. The dog is then lavishly praised and rewarded for finding his owner. As the dog gets good at this, and understands the game, the owner can start hiding in more and more challenging areas even out of the dog’s view.

Another fun game consists of having Scruffy sit and stay in a room while his owners shows him that he has one of his favorite toys. The owner hides the toy in an easy spot at first so when the dog is released to “go search” the dog knows already where to look. The dog is then rewarded lavishly and encouraged to play again but the toy is gradually hidden in more and more challenging areas out of the dog’s view.

Troubleshooting Problems of Teaching Your Dog to Stay

The most common problem with the stay command is a dog getting up before being released. What should dog owners do in such a scenario? The best approach is to be patient, and bring the dog back to his spot and ask to stay again; possibly shortening the length of it if it’s too difficult for the dog. A verbal marker such as “Oops!” can be used to mark the dog’s mistake and inform him that he must try again. When a dog repeatedly breaks the stay, most likely it’s a sign of too much being asked too fast. Splitting exercises into smaller steps helps set dogs for success.

Training Tips

  • Many dogs are in a calmer state of mind after being exercised. Practicing stays after a dog’s exercise needs are met can be helpful.
  • It’s a good idea to use a release command to let the dog know when the exercise is over and he is free to move about. Common release commands are “OK” and “Done”. The word OK though can be sometimes being problematic as it’s commonly used in conversations. This is why many dog owners prefer using the word “done.”.
  • When the dog is asked to stay for longer periods of time it’s not a bad idea to provide an interactive toy to keep him occupied. Good examples of toys and chews that can keep the dog busy are stuffed Kongs, bully sticks and safe chew toys such as Nylabones. For safety purposes, a dog should never be left unsupervised with a toy or bone.

As seen, the stay command can turn helpful in many situations. All dogs should be taught how to stay on command especially since this command can help keep a dog safe and out of danger. Training stay may take a bit of time, but that time is well invested; indeed, once the dog has mastered this skill it can be used in many circumstances and situations.

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