This is not just the title to a catchy T’Swift song! Although perhaps one of the more boring tricks to show off, a solid and reliable “stay” is perhaps one of the most useful – and potentially lifesaving – skills you could teach your dog. A solid “stay” can prevent your dog from getting lost or being hit by a car when your door or gate is accidentally left open. Asking your dog to “stay” while you prepare and deliver his food can prevent excited jumping or the dog being underfoot.
Some trainers will argue that a specific “stay” command doesn’t need to be taught and that a dog should be taught to not leave a “sit” or “down” without being released. There is definitely nothing wrong with this way of thinking, although I do find that it’s human nature to instinctively shout “stay!” when in a panic, and if we haven’t taught our dogs what this word means, they’ll have no clue what to do.
Below is just one way to teach your dog to stay!
Step 1 : Always begin teaching a new skill in a comfortable and familiar environment with limited distractions. This may be your living room or potentially your backyard.
Step 2 : You may choose to ask your dog to begin in a sit or down. Take a small step back and if your dog remains where they were, return and give the dog a treat. If the dog does not remain where they were, have them return to their initial position and take a smaller step back, half a step or even lean back slightly.
Step 3 : Once your dog can stay while you take one step back, try taking two steps back. Then three steps. Try stepping to the side. Try turning around and walking away from the dog (this is a tough one!).
Step 4 : Once your dog is reliably staying, you are ready to introduce your cue word (most people use “stay”, but you can use whatever word you like). We do not introduce the cue word earlier while the dog is learning the behaviour because we do not want the dog to pair the cue word with an incomplete behaviour (ie. if we aren’t careful, our dogs might think “Hmm ‘stay’ means sit for 3 seconds, then jump up and run to Mom!”)
Step 5 : Once your dog is reliably staying in the initial environment, up the ante a little with a distraction or two. This may mean working with a different person present in the room, in the backyard if you haven’t already, on a long-line in a field, etc. If your dog’s behaviour suddenly falls apart and they seem to have forgotten everything you’ve just worked so hard to teach, it likely means you progressed just a little too fast. Back things up a bit and move to an area with less distractions.
Step 6 : Practice makes perfect! Once your dog has mastered “stay”, make sure to keep practicing it in different environments, with different people nearby and with new distractions around.