Stay

Stay is a muscle – it takes time to build and needs a lot of practice to stay strong and reliable. “Stay” means “remain in that position until released” – usually done in a down or sit position. Your dog should have a solid “down” or “sit” behaviour on cue before you start this exercise. 

  • Marker = a click or word (like “YES!!”) that signifies the exact moment that your dog exhibited the behaviour you were looking for.
  • No-Reward Marker = a word (like “oops!” or “too bad!”) that signifies the exact moment that your dog made a mistake and that you will reset and try again.
  • Release = a cue (like “okay!”, “release!” or “break!”) that tells your dog they’re free to go and no longer have to hold this position. 

Let’s start by building a little bit of duration. 

Picture your dog as a Microsoft Word document. They are likely to “crash” (move out of their “down-stay” position) so your job is to hit “save” (by feeding a treat) frequently until they figure out that they can auto-save. 🙂 

Step 1: While your dog is in a lying down position, stand still and face them. Say “stay” show your dog the “stop sign” hand signal. Count to 1 second (1-Mississippi) and if they’re still lying down, click or say “YES!” and reward from your treat pouch or behind your back in that “down” position. Repeat this 3x while they remain in that position. Give your release cue and let them move away for about 10 seconds or so. When you’re ready to do the next step, cue them into a down again and move to Step 2. 

Step 1.5: If at any time throughout this exercise your dog breaks their stay and moves away or sits up, give your No-Reward Marker and step away. Reset; cue your dog to lie down again and reward that down in position. Go back to an easier step and repeat that before moving on. If the environment is too distracting for them, find a calmer, quieter space to practice. 

Step 2: While your dog is in a lying down position, stand still and face them. Say “stay” show your dog the “stop sign” hand signal. Count to 3 seconds (3-Mississippi) and if they’re still lying down, click or say “YES!” and reward from your treat pouch or behind your back in that “down” position. Repeat this 3x while they remain in that position. Give your release cue and let them move away for about 10 seconds or so. When you’re ready to do the next step, cue them into a down again and increase the time as shown below: 

Step 2.25: While your dog is in a lying down position, stand still and face them. Say “stay” show your dog the “stop sign” hand signal. Count to 5  seconds  (5-Mississippi) and if they’re still lying down, click or say “YES!” and reward from your treat pouch or behind your back in that “down” position. Repeat this 3x while they remain in that position. Give your release cue and let them move away for about 10 seconds or so. When you’re ready to do the next step, cue them into a down again and move on. 

Step 2.5: While your dog is in a lying down position, stand still and face them. Say “stay” show your dog the “stop sign” hand signal. Count to 8  seconds  (8-Mississippi) and if they’re still lying down, click or say “YES!” and reward from your treat pouch or behind your back in that “down” position. Repeat this 3x while they remain in that position. Give your release cue and let them move away for about 10 seconds or so. When you’re ready to do the next step, cue them into a down again and move on. 

Step 2.75: While your dog is in a lying down position, stand still and face them. Say “stay” show your dog the “stop sign” hand signal. Count to 10  seconds  (10-Mississippi) and if they’re still lying down, click or say “YES!” and reward from your treat pouch or behind your back in that “down” position. Repeat this 3x while they remain in that position. Give your release cue and let them move away for about 10 seconds or so. When you’re ready to do the next step, cue them into a down again and move to the distractions level! 

Now let’s proof against DISTRACTIONS!

While you’re training your dog to stay during mild distractions, you are actually building duration! Double-whammy! 

  • Swing your right leg to the side without shifting your weight to it and then bring it back to the original position. Click or “YES!!” and then reward in position.
  • Swing your left leg to the side without shifting your weight to it and then bring it back to the original position. Click or “YES!!” and then reward in position.
  • Step your left foot to the side, shifting your body weight but leaving your other foot planted. Shift back. Click or “YES!!” and then reward in position.
  • Step your right foot to the side, shifting your body weight but leaving your other foot planted. Shift back. Click or “YES!!” and then reward in position.
  • Now you’re ready to move on to Step 3 and follow the diagram below! 

Step 3: While your dog is in a lying down position, take one step to your left and then step back in front of the dog. If they stay, reward them in the lying down position. If they move out of position by standing up to follow you, use your No-Reward Marker and start over. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. 

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 but to your right instead of left until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 5: Repeat Step 4 but take two steps to the left and return to the front of your dog to reward in the down position. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. 

Step 6: Repeat Step 5 but to your right instead of left until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 7: Repeat Step 6 but take three steps to the left and return to the front of your dog to reward in the down position. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. 

Step 8: Repeat Step 7 but to your right instead of left until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 9: Walk in a full circle around the dog starting from the left. Feed when you have reached your starting position; no need to go back around. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 10: Walk in a full circle around the dog starting from the right. Feed when you have reached your starting position; no need to go back around. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Now let’s add more DISTANCE! 

Step 11: While your dog is in a lying down position, take one step backwards and then step back in front of the dog. If they stay, reward them in the lying down position. If they move out of position by standing up to follow you, use your No-Reward Marker and start over. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. Add one step at a time until you are across the room. Keep your eyes on the dog so your No-Reward Marker timing is correct. Return to the, one second after you reach each goal distance, as though there was a bungee cord connecting you two. 

Step 12: While your dog is in a lying down position, take one step backwards and turn your back for 1 second, then turn back and step back in front of the dog. If they stay, reward them in the lying down position. If they move out of position by standing up to follow you, use your No-Reward Marker and start over. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. Add one step at a time until you are across the room. Keep your eyes on the dog so your No-Reward Marker timing is correct. Return to them one second after you reach each distance goal and have turned your back for 1 second. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 13: Repeat Step 12 but turn your back at each distance goal for 3 seconds. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 14: Repeat Step 12 but turn your back at each distance goal for 5 seconds. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Step 15: While your dog is in a lying down position, take one step backwards and turn your back for 1 second, then turn back and step back in front of the dog. If they stay, reward them in the lying down position. If they move out of position by standing up to follow you, use your No-Reward Marker and start over. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. Add one step at a time until you are across the room. Keep your eyes on the dog so your No-Reward Marker timing is correct. Return to them one second after you reach each goal distance and have turned your back for 1 second. Give your release cue and take a short break. 

Now let’s add some DURATION and out-of-sight stays! 

Step 16: Start to build up your time IN VIEW of your dog gradually but avoid consistently increasing the time. Instead, follow this pattern or something close to it: 

  • Do something (busy work) for 3 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 6 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 4 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 8 seconds. Return and feed in position.
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 
  • Do something (busy work) for 4 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 4 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 20 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 20 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 
  • Do something (busy work) 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 20 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 17 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 30 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 30 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 
  • Do something (busy work) 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 9 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 25 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 60 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 60 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 

Step 17: While your dog is in a lying down position, step out of sight for 1 second, then return to the position in front of the dog. If they stayed, reward them in the lying down position. If they move out of position to follow you, use your No-Reward Marker when it happens and start over. Repeat this until you have 5 successful repetitions in a row. 

Step 18: Start to build up your time OUT OF SIGHT gradually but avoid consistently increasing the time. Instead, follow this pattern or something close to it: 

  • Step out of sight for 3 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 1 second. Return and feed in position. 
  • 6 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 4 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 8 seconds. Return and feed in position.
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 
  • Step out of sight for 4 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 4 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 20 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 20 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 
  • Step out of sight for 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 20 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 17 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 30 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 30 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 
  • Step out of sight for 5 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 15 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 9 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 25 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 60 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 10 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • 60 seconds. Return and feed in position. 
  • Give your release cue and take a break. 

We don’t recommend asking a dog to stay in a position while the handler is out of sight for longer than 2 minutes. This is standard. Trial obedience and some evaluations for Therapy work or Canine Good Neighbour certificates will require a 2min out of sight stay. Regular pet dogs do not necessarily need this. 

NEVER use stay prior to leaving indefinitely – this will be a sure-fire way to break your stay behaviour and teach your dog to release themselves when they feel like it. 

Check out our Live Training replay video from August 12, 2020: