How to Teach A Dog to Stay


This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Teagan Lever, BVSc (Hons).

Having a dog who knows how to 'stay' can be useful in lots of circumstances, like stopping him from bolting out the front door when someone comes to visit! It can be difficult to teach in young puppies who have trouble sitting still at the best of times, but with perseverance and lots of short and sweet training sessions any dog can learn. Before attempting 'stay', teach your dog to lie down on command first.

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Step 1 - Understand How Dog Training Works

Dogs learn just like humans, by trial and error. Their learning goes on whether we are actively teaching them or not. Dogs learn in 2 main ways - through classical conditioning, or operant conditioning.

When we are training our dogs to perform certain behaviours or tricks, we are using operant conditioning. This is where we pair the appropriate behaviour with a reward, which makes the behaviour more likely to happen the next time. If used correctly through positive reinforcement, operant conditioning can create a wonderful bond between you and your dog, and is so beneficial for their mental health and enrichment.

Dogs will naturally seek to perform behaviours that have brought positive consequences, and will try to avoid behaviours that have brought negative consequences in the past.

Step 2 - Gear Up with the Right Dog Training Equipment

Before you start training, it's important to have the right tools to make your dog's learning a success. Everyone who will be involved in training your dog should use consistent techniques to help your dog learn quickly and effectively.

'Luring' and 'capturing' are 2 important words in dog training. 'Luring' means to guide your dog to perform a behaviour by using a tasty training treat in front of his nose to get him to move his body into the correct position. The 'lure' is the treat.

Capturing the behaviour means that you let your dog know that they've performed the correct behaviour the moment that it occurs. This can be through the use of a specific word or phrase, like 'yes' or 'good boy', or a dog clicker. This is then followed up by giving your dog the treat. The specific word, phrase or clicker becomes the 'bridge' between behaviour and reward, and becomes an indication to your dog to expect a reward.

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Best Dog Training Treats

There are a wide variety of dog treats available, but for every day training, we recommend choosing a treat that's soft and easily broken up into small pieces for a bite sized reward.

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Step 3 - Find a Quiet Space

You should begin by finding an environment that is free of distractions and noises so that your dog can focus. Next, place him in the lie down position.

Step 4 - Start with Small Steps

Start out small, by just taking one step backwards while holding up your hand out with the palm facing him and saying 'stay' in a low and steady tone. Wait for a second or so before using the clicker, the stepping forwards again and rewarding him with a treat and some praise.

Step 5 - Increase the Distance and Time

Repeat Step 4, slowly increasing both the amount of time you wait before rewarding him as well as the distance you move away. This takes a lot of time and should be done over many short approximately 10 minute sessions so that neither of you get frustrated!

Step 6 -Practise and Extend

Over time you can start to move completely out of view, perhaps making noises like opening and closing doors or cupboards in the house to really test him. If your dog does break free from the 'lie down' position, do not scold or punish him. Simply withhold praise and treats, place him back in position and try again over a shorter distance.

Once your dog has mastered 'stay' you can start getting creative. Why not play a game of hide and seek around the house? Ask your dog to stay and then find a hiding place. Call out for him to come, and reward him when he finds you with a treat!

Further Reading

New Puppy Guide

Teaching Your Dog to Sit

Teaching Your Dog to Shake

Teaching Your Dog to Roll Over

Training Your Puppy to Walk on a Lead

Puppy Training Guide

Flea, Tick and Worm Prevention for Dogs