The secret to teaching your dog to 'stay' is to not move through the stages too fast. Build the cue up gradually, lengthening the time and distance of the stay. This cue teaches your dog impulse control skills and can be used in a variety of situations, such as the front door, before crossing a road, and when people come to your home.
STAGE ONE – Building Duration
- Start the process by putting your hand in front of you with the palm facing your dog and hold it there for a few seconds.
- Reward your dog’s attention and stillness with a treat paired with a reward word (such as the classic 'good girl').
- Repeat the action and add the word 'stay' as you put your hand up.
- Hold it there for a few seconds and then praise your dog, followed by a food reward.
- Once you have your dog’s focus, gradually lengthen the time that your hand is still until she is staying in one spot for one minute.
STAGE TWO – Add Distance
- Ask your dog to stay and take a step back.
- If your dog moves, lure her back to the original waiting place and repeat the exercise.
- If your dog stays in one place, walk back to her and reward with the verbal praise and a treat.
- Repeat this process a number of times until your dog is really good at staying in one place; only then, increase the amount of steps you take backward until you can walk at least five steps away and back to her without her moving.
STAGE THREE – Increase Distance
- Repeat the first two steps while gradually increasing distance. Do not go too far too fast, but if your dog is responding well, you can make the distance as far as you want.
- If she breaks her stay at any point, go back to the previous distance and build up gradually.
- At this stage you are still facing her while backing away.
STAGE FOUR – Vary Your Body Position
- Dogs like to follow us when we walk away from them, so as soon as you ask your dog to stay and turn your back on her, she is likely to forget everything she has learned and follow you. That is why it is important to practice the 'stay' by turning your body and walking away from your dog as well as walking to her side or around her in a circle.
STAGE FIVE – Proofing the Stay Cue
- Can your dog stay in one place while toys are being thrown around him, when people run past, when the doorbell rings, or if you go out of sight? Verifying all of this is called proofing a behavior. When any learned behavior is taken to a more stimulating environment or situation, it makes it a lot harder for a dog to comply, but every dog can get to this point with reinforcement.
What Not to Do:
This is a hard cue to teach so do not go too far too fast. Be really patient and make sure you build up the time first before increasing your distance.
Problem: My dog breaks her stay when he is excited.
Solution: Reinforce the stay cue in a quiet environment before using it in situations that will force her to fail.
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