The Savvy Trainer

A solid stay is the holy grail of companion dog training. If your dog knows how to stay, they won’t charge the front door barking, lunge at other dogs, jump up on visitors, or chase moving objects. It can help your dog build self-confidence and can help you establish your role as leader. Most importantly, the stay cue can literally save your dog’s life in an emergency.

Wait and stay are different behaviors. Wait is a form of good manners and teaches our dogs impulse control. The wait cue can be used at feeding time, when preparing to go outside, or when exiting a car.


A simple ‘okay’ is the release from a wait. Stay is quite different. Stay is a duration behavior, and the dog should not break from it until they hear a formal release word like break, release, or free.

Behaviors like sit and down are quickly executed. A duration behavior is one that must be done for a longer time. Duration behaviors are much harder for dogs to learn and must be taught in small increments. A dog will not automatically be able to hold a stay for several minutes while his owner walks across the room. 

There are three components to a stay: duration, distraction, and distance. You will need to teach these three elements (the three ‘D’s) separately.

Duration: Your dog will stay for however long you ask. You’ll start with a duration of a few seconds and gradually work up to longer stays.

Distractions: Your dog will stay even if there are lots of fun and exciting things going on.  Again, you will start working with no distractions and work up to bigger ones.

Distance: Your dog will stay even if you are very far away from him. You’ll start very close and gradually move away. 

Step 1: While your dog is in a down or sit position, say ‘stay’ and hold out your palm facing the dog. If he stays in place, say ‘yes’ and give him a treat, then say your release word (break, release, or free).

Step 2: Continue this process, slowly increasing the amount of time he must hold the stay before rewarding and releasing him.

Step 3: Once he is staying in position for at least a minute, begin to add distance by taking one step back. You will need to decrease your duration (the length of time) when you add distance (number of steps). When increasing distance, ALWAYS walk back to the dog, say ‘yes,’ give the treat, and then give the release cue.

Step 4: Slowly increase the number of steps you take backward, holding out your hand to indicate the stay is still in effect. Remember that you need to decrease duration as you increase distance and then build back up.

Once you can easily move far away from your dog and he can hold the stay for a minute or more, make it harder by introducing distractions, briefly moving out of sight, or walking around your dog before releasing him. Keep in mind that you want him to be successful. If he is continually breaking the stay, you are asking too much. Your patience will pay off with a rock-solid stay that can be used in endless ways.

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