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  • Writer's pictureSara Scott

Unlocking the Secrets to a Solid ‘Stay’: Build a Reliable Foundation with Your Dog

Teaching your dog to stay in one spot is a valuable skill. There are numerous situations where it might be beneficial to manage your dog’s behavior by having them remain in one spot until released. This skill is useful when answering the door, interacting with guests, during meal times, setting up other training exercises, or when passing through a gate. Teaching your dog to stay is straightforward once you break it down into smaller steps. We’ll focus on duration and distance work to begin.

Duration: The First Focus

The first focus is duration—teaching the dog to remain in place for a length of time. Determining what position your dog will stay in is easy; typically, lying down is the best choice. If I were to ask you to wait, you’d probably prefer sitting in a chair over standing, wouldn’t you? Cue your dog to lie down and sit in front of them with a bag of food. Choose a spot where your dog feels comfortable, reducing their likelihood of wanting to get up. Ensure they’ve had some exercise and have had a chance to go potty. You’re going to dole out treats to your dog for remaining in a down position. Start by delivering food to them after just one second. Use reward placement to your advantage by placing the food on the ground between their front paws. Then, count to two in your head and feed them another treat. Continue to build duration by adding one second each round. When your dog decides to stand up, simply restart the process. Cue them to lie down and reward them after one second of staying down, then two seconds, and so on. How high can you count while your dog remains lying down?

Increasing Duration with a Photo Shoot

Once you’ve managed to count to 10-20 seconds and your dog can remain lying down for a treat, you can continue to build duration by having a photo shoot. Aim your camera, focus, and capture the shot, then reward your dog with a treat placed between their front paws. This method not only quickly gains lots of reps of duration practice but also provides a bunch of cute photos of your dog to go with it.

Adding Challenge: Duration While You Stand Up

Now it’s time to work on maintaining the stay while you stand up. This will also give you some exercise, as you practice moving up and down from the floor—a win-win situation. Begin with your dog in a down while you are sitting in front of them. Stand up, count to 1, then return to the ground and reward. Repeat the process: stand up, count to 2, then return to the ground. Continue this pattern until you can stand up and count to thirty before returning to the ground to reward your pup. Bonus tip: if you want to improve your physical fitness while your dog gets better at understanding stay, vary the position you use to get off the ground each time, trying to rise in a novel way each time, or challenge yourself to get up using only your legs and no hands.

Introducing Movement: Adding Human Steps

Once you can stay in front of your dog for 30 seconds while they remain down, you’re ready to add movement on your part. Take one step to the side, then reward your dog with a treat for staying in place. Continue to place the treat efficiently on the ground between their front paws. Once you can easily sidestep back and forth in front of your dog, increase the side-stepping until you can walk a half-circle and eventually a full circle around your dog before rewarding them. If your dog is making mistakes, slow down the pace at which you advance things. Your goal is to progress at a pace that allows your dog to get things right most of the time, aiming for them to get it right each time.

Expanding Distance: Increasing Separation

Once circling your dog becomes manageable, you can start to increase the distance between you by walking away and returning. Take a half-step backward, then return to your dog, rewarding them in place. Gradually increase to a full step back, then two, three, four, etc., until you can walk across the room and return to your dog to reward them. Avoid the rookie mistake of calling your dog to you to give them their treat, as this actually rewards them for coming when called and teaches them to anticipate running towards you when you are at a distance yourself—exactly the opposite of what ‘stay’ aims to achieve.

Mastering Stay in Diverse Situations

Alright, you’ve got a basic stay in the works thanks to your devoted practice. The next phase is helping your dog to perform in different environments and around a variety of distractions of various intensities. Remember, just because your dog has learned to master a stay for one minute while you walk across the house and back when it’s just you and the dog, does not mean they will be able to stay with a visitor at the door, outside at the park, or when there is food on the coffee table. We have to take time to teach our dog all of these pictures through regular practice and reinforcing the behaviors we’d like to see more of.

In a future blog post, I will discuss how to train your dog to manage distractions and generalize their stay behavior to different environments. This ongoing training is crucial for developing a reliable stay cue that is reliable in most circumstances. Stay tuned for more advanced tips on taking your dog’s training to the next level!


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