There are a number of basic commands that dogs generally master when they live in a stable home. Of these, training a dog to stay is the most important, and as such, requires more dedication and patience than other basic skills. Teaching a dog to stay put on your command is fundamental when handling a dog, because it enables you to keep your dog out of harm’s way, learn boundaries, and practice manners. The hallmark of a well-trained dog is one who can easily exercise enough self-control to resist temptations, and does so at the owners’ request.
‘Stay’ is also an essential command to teach because sometimes life throws situations at us that an excited or curious dog complicates. If you are tenuously carrying a heavy object, or if someone is suddenly injured, or an unfamiliar dog is roaming alone down your street- these are some of many situations in which you need your pet to stay.
How to Train Your Dog to Stay
It’s best that your dog already know a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ command so that they are accustomed to following instruction. A critical tool in teaching a dog to stay is a clicker. A clicker is a simple device that makes a clicking noise when pressed. This will, with practice, communicate to the dog that their behavior was favorable, and a treat is coming. Always follow the clicking noise with a treat during training.
The treats should be small morsels, because you’ll likely need a lot of them while teaching the stay command. If your dog happens to prefer a type of treat that is bigger, break each one into smaller pieces, and keep them close to you in a pocket.
To start, begin at a very close distance to your dog, within approximately one foot. There should be little activity around the training session to help maintain focus. The dog should be alert but at ease, sitting or lying down. Distance is key in training a dog to stay, since you will gradually increase the distance between yourself and your dog, therefore prolonging the amount of time your dog can master staying still.
Making eye contact, recite the word ‘stay’ in an audible tone that firm, yet neutral. If the dog, who should be paying attention, does not move from its’ current position, click once and give them a treat. Follow the treat with a positive affirmation and perhaps a pat, to confirm that you are pleased. Try this a few times in a row.
Now you are going to build distance in the training, moving only a few feet further each time. Stay kneeling, or low to the ground at first- this makes it more likely that the trainee dog is paying attention and is aware of what’s going on. If your dog breaks training, lunging for a treat or wandering away, start over at a close distance. You need to successfully master each distance, so that they concept sticks in the dog’s mind.
After you have had good results training the dog to stay at greater and greater distances, practice it with distractions, because you will inevitably need your dog to stay put during more excitable and unpredictable times, First, try commanding your dog to stay while another human is at your home. Then, try keeping them in a stay position while you hold or play with their favorite toy. After they’ve mastered their own backyard, try practicing at a park where strangers and other dogs are active. You might find that the most difficult distraction while a dog is focused on staying is you, the owner. This is normal. Practice moving around and diverting your own attention in small increments after you command the dog to stay. This is quite tricky, because dogs want to follow when we turn around.
At this point, you should stop rewarding the stay with treats. While food is the ultimate motivation for dogs, you cannot continue to feed your dog every time it responds to your training commands in the desired way- that would be unhealthy. However, it’s ideal that you always remember to tell them they’ve done a good job,
Supposing your dog is exceptionally good at staying, well-trained and attentive, you may need to develop a cue for releasing them from the stay position. It’s good idea to wait on considering that until your dog has mastered the first few sessions. Many owners use ‘free’ or ‘done’ because it’s not as common in conversation as ‘okay’ or ‘go’. Other dogs recognize their name or ‘come’ as a cue to break the stay position. It really depends on your dog’s individual level of cognitive ability, your lifestyle, and the situations you use the command for. You also want to avoid using the stay command to confine your dog into situations that cause them anxiety or grief, such as when you’re leaving them alone, or during an unpleasant veterinary appointment. You want to keep them in an emotional space where they don’t mind staying, because it doesn’t necessarily mean something ‘bad’ is about to happen to them.
If you find that you don’t have the patience to teach your dog to stay, or it just isn’t working out the way you want it to, consider hiring a trainer. Many pet supply stores offer obedience courses for pets at a very reasonable rate. Any dog, no matter how distractible or unlearned, can gain skills from a professional. One great benefit of this is that your dog will learn the commands within a shorter time frame with an unfamiliar human, and should be excited to try them out with you. Having a trainer teach commands often gives the dog ‘permission’ to listen to other family members and visitors when they tell the dog to stay, not just the primary owner.
The great news is that training your dog doesn’t just save you from daily inconveniences, it actually makes them smarter. It stimulates their brain in ways that makes them more capable of learning more. This could be why many dogs who master a few skills go on to master even more, with consistent attention and refresher courses.