How to Teach Your Dog to Stay
I never thought teaching my dog to stay could be so useful—until I asked my cattle dog mix, Uli, to jump on top of a fire hydrant while taking engagement photos.
About seven years ago, my then-fiancé and I grabbed our dogs, Uli and Porter and an expensive bottle of wine, and headed to a field dressed in impossibly fancy boots and designer jeans. Why, you ask? Well, doesn’t every couple put on their Sunday best to hike through farm fields with two crazy young dogs and crystal stemware on a quest for the perfect engagement picture?
Things were going great until the initial excitement of the new place waned. The dogs, being energetic herding breeds, got antsy...
While the photographer bustled around looking for the best light, I busted out some snacks and the dogs did what they do best—work for a treats. As the dogs flawlessly performed trick after trick, I noticed that the photographer was snapping away at us. Show off that I am, I upped my game.
Uli, my cattle dog mix, has always had a penchant for perching on top of objects, and it’s become somewhat of a party trick for us. She will jump on just about any object regardless of height or footing and stay there until released. I had never realized how well I was able to teach her to stay until I cued her to jump onto that fire hydrant—and she stayed there long enough to take pictures from just about every angle.
While training your dog to perch on fire hydrants is more of an advanced trick, teaching your dog to stay in just about any situation brings many benefits to the dog-human relationship, including safety. While dogs can learn a variety of tricks, teaching your dog to stay as well as come, could actually save their life in an unexpected situation.
I love to teach dogs to stay in a variety of ways that are fun and engaging for both of you!
So, what does it actually mean to stay? Stay simply means that a dog should remain in position until you tell him otherwise.
While we typically think of dogs staying in a sit or a down position, I’ve had success teaching dogs to stay in all kinds of positions: stand, sit up, sitting with one paw up. I’ve even taught Uli to stay while maintaining eye contact with me, her eyeballs not moving until I release her.
All of which require practice.
How to Teach a Dog to Stay
When my clients tell me that their dog only knows to stay in their living room, my first thought is, “That’s because you didn’t do a good enough job of proofing!”
What is proofing? Proofing is simply reinforcing a behavior by practicing it under different variables. The four most common variables of training are:
Practicing these four variables of training with cues will make them reliable in just about any circumstance.
And proofing can be fun!
One of the best parts of training your dog is the opportunity to get out into the world and practice with your best buddy. Where should you practice? The sky’s the limit, but my favorite spots include:
- The site of your favorite hobby. Hobbies are best when shared with your dog! I’m an avid horseback rider. There’s nothing I like more than spending the day with my two favorite friends: my dog, Uli, and my horse, Hilde. But there are times that when I’m on Hilde’s back, I need to have Uli stay and wait before crossing a street or while a hiker passes us. In these instances, I’m glad I have thoroughly trained her to stay. So, whatever your hobby is, whether it’s hiking in the woods, brunching in the city, or sailing on the sea, I’ll bet you can find a place where teaching your dog to stay would be extremely helpful.
- Your local pet store. Who doesn’t love the pet store? So many new friends just waiting to be met, smells to smell, and toys to squeak. But if your dog can’t behave, you won’t have a great time in this super-fun place. Try using your local pet store to practice teaching your dog—having him stay while you look at all of the cool stuff that will be draining your wallet!
- Anywhere outdoors. The foundation for teaching your dog to stay is largely done indoors. But the intent behind practicing obedience is usually to get ready for romps outside. If you’ve never practiced outside, how do you expect your dog to be able to hold it together? Once you teach your dog to stay in your home, get outside! Nature is often the best source of distractions. Ask your dog to stay every time he sees a squirrel, a neighbor, or a fellow hiker if you are out in the woods.
- In your local park: Between picnickers, dog friends, and small furry creatures, local parks are usually jam-packed with distractions. Practice with your dog by having him sit and stay until released before playing with a pup buddy, or making a new human friend!
- In your foyer. This can easily be the most exciting place in the house. I mean, the front door is there! The same front door that opens to both let exciting people in, and let excited dogs out to the car or for walks! Get your dog thinking about good habits by training him to sit and stay before you exit, or when new people come in. Helpful hint: if your pup gets too excited to stay while people come in the door, break it down—teach your dog to stay in the foyer with no distractions first. Add distractions in gradually as your dog gets more solid.
Tips for successful stay proofing:
- Practice when your dog is already tired. If your dog hasn’t had a good run all day, it’s probably not the best time to teach him to stay as it requires so much impulse control. Before working on heavy stays, make sure to take the edge off of your dog by going for a long walk, playing a rousing game of fetch, or having a romp in the dog park.
- Leash it up. Have a dog that breaks his stays and walks away? Make sure that you set yourself up for success by keeping your dog on a leash until he is more solid. That way, if the dog gets up, you can redirect him back to the area where you told him to stay and begin again.
- Treats matter!!! It’s no secret that dogs love treats. And if you’ve never noticed that dogs have preferences, put a pile of kibble next to a meatball and see which your dog chooses. So, if you find you are having trouble teaching your dog to stay, up the ante by bringing out a better treat. But treats don’t always have to be food. Some dogs are more motivated by balls, games of tug, or kind words of encouragement than they are by food. So, think about what’s really important to your dog, and work it into your training session as reinforcement for a job well done.
By Nicole Skeehan
Photo credit: April Ziegler Photography
Want to give it a try?
Watch these videos and teach your dog to stay!
Video 1: Four easy steps to a solid stay.
Video 2: Teaching distance
Video 3: Overcoming Distractions
Video 4: Staying put outdoors