How To Teach “Stay”–focusing on duration

How To Teach “Stay”–focusing on duration

Whenever we are training any behavior, but most particularly with stay, we need to think about the “3 D’s.”  Duration–how long can the dog do the behavior.  Distance–how far away can you be and your dog still do the behavior. Distraction–can your dog perform the behavior with distractions (can they do the behavior if I’m throwing handfuls of kibble at them?).

There are many behaviors where we work on the three D’s in a more fluid fashion but we do generally build duration, then add distractions and distance.  With Stay, I take a pretty methodical approach to the behavior and work on each D individually to build strong foundations. I have found that if there is a very very solid foundation of stay, it makes it so much easier to increase the difficulty.  When dogs are rushed through the “boring” basics, their behavior tends to break down at some point because the weak foundation starts to falter.

When I first introduce stay, I always start with just duration.  The only “distraction” I start adding early on is breaking eye contact with the dog and looking away once I start getting to about 5 seconds.  Other than that (and whatever may be happening in the low distraction environment), I focus solely on building up the duration.  I’ve found that it makes it so much easier to add distance and distractions when the dog has a really substantial duration.

The boring beginning stage that people often neglect and skip over or neglect is a ridiculously important step in teaching a rock solid stay.  When we teach stay we are actually teaching two behaviors.  One behavior means “do not move” and the second behavior means “okay, get up and move.”  This “get up and move” cue is called a “release word” and it signifies to the dog that the stay is over and they are allowed to get up and move.  IF a handler does not teach a release word, how does the dog know when he is allowed to move?  What generally happens is that the handler thinks the dog understands the behavior because the dog will stay for 30 seconds while the handler moves around or what not but there will come a point–and it’s often an issue of duration–that the dog says “that was long enough, I can get up now.”  If you aren’t consistently telling the dog when the behavior is over, the dog is making the choice to get up himself so in his mind stay mean “do not move for a while….but after a bit I can get up.”  I want my dogs to have the understand of stay of “do not move until mom says that magic word.”

The concept of a release word can also be used to bypass the need to teach a stay.  You can teach your dog that the “stay” is implied when you cue them into a position.  Sit can mean “stay seated until I tell you otherwise”–no need to add “stay” if your dog has a conceptual understanding that sit means get into the position and stay there until released.  I actually really like this method, and initially taught Shayne in this manner.  My problem was that I after bringing Rio into the house, I got lazy about remembering to always release her from a sit or a down.  If you choose to make stay a default, you must remember to release your dog from every sit and down that you cue and I lost that commitment when dealing with a puppy in the house.  I did really like the results I had using this method with Shayne  though–it was simply MY failings that made me change to use a stay.  IF you want to teach this way, you follow the same steps but omit the stay signal.  You will cue the sit or the down, count the duration, reward, and then release.


Here’s a video showing you the steps I use to teaching stay focusing on duration (and teaching the release word).


Always remember, if your dog fails more than 1 of the 5 repetitions, do no move on.  Go back down to the time they were last successful and start there and work your way back up.  With my PERSONAL dogs, I add 1 second at a time until I get to 30 seconds–that way I have done an absolute minimum of 150 repetitions of stay and release.  Once we are at 30 seconds, I will add a few seconds at a time (no more than 3)–again, I want lots of repetitions to build a really strong conceptual understanding of “do not move until I hear that special word” because it creates a stronger foundation that is less likely to break down later when I need her to do a long stay with lots of distractions.

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