How to Train a Dog to Stay

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE

The question I am most often asked is how do we teach a dog to stay. It does not matter which behaviour you teach the dog because stay will be trained the same way. It is important to teach stay because it allows us, humans, to manage situations more efficiently. In addition, a solid stay conveys feedback to the dog. So, how do we train a dog to stay at the Dogue Shop? Well, we do it the social-cognitive way of course. 

My dog will not stay 
Dogs are curious animals who love to meet and greet new people, dogs, and pretty much everything else. Dogs love novelty, so the question then becomes why would a dog stay in one position knowing he loves to explore. Exploratory behaviours are a section in the dog ethogram, aka dog dictionary. Without exploration, canines would not find food, mates, shelter, water, etc. so it becomes mandatory to move. If your dogs do not stay, rest assured, they are normal. 

The environment is also a determining factor for the stay behaviour to occur. If distractions are present, the stay behaviour will undoubtedly be difficult to succeed. This is where most pet owners fail: practice. It is important to generalise the behaviour through variable environments at variable times. 

How to train a dog to stay 
I will make it very easy and describe, in the lowest amount of steps possible, how to train stay. For the sake of this article, we will work on the behaviour sit-stay. I chose the sit behaviour because it is the most common behaviour people wish to train. Therefore, here is the recipe to train the perfect dog sit-stay behaviour. 

1. Teach the dog to sit. We wrote how to train sit the social-cognitive way in our past blog article. 
2. Practice the sit behaviour everywhere you can: inside and outside. 
3. Once you have a consistent sit, name the behaviour and practice the command everywhere. 
4. Once you achieve the previous steps, you can address stay
5. Ask the dog to sit, count in your head Mississippi one and reward. If you are a clicker trainer or owner, count Mississippi one click and reward (R+ for short). 
6. Repeat step five, this time count Mississippi one, Mississippi two and reward or R+. 
7. Repeat step six, this time count to Mississippi one, Mississippi two, Mississippi three, Mississippi four and reward or R+. 

In summary, you will repeat step five and double seconds each time. When you hit your dog’s threshold or his maximum length of time he can stay, you will remain on this number till you can push through in seconds. You will push through by increasing one second at a time and then try to double it. If he succeeds, continue with the original number. Here is an example for visual learners. 

Mississippi 1 + R+ 
Mississippi 1, Mississippi 2 + R+ 
Mississippi 1, Mississippi 2, Mississippi 3, Mississippi 4 + R+ 

Fast-forward to 26 seconds. 

On Mississippi 26 the dog stands or moves away. Ask for sit and go back to 24 seconds and R+ for 5 to 10 times. Try 26 seconds again. If he succeeds R+, if he fails, go back to 24 seconds and R+ another 5 to 10 times. When you get to 26 seconds, R+. From here, you will not double time; you will work on 27 seconds, then 29 seconds, and 33 seconds, so on and so forth. 

You will only name the behaviour, in this case, stay, once the dog has reached your target time, say 30 seconds and can exhibit the behaviour 10 times in a row, in 10 different locations, hence, the practice part. It is easy to teach stay the social-cognitive way because the dog will notice your body. 

Sit and stay does not mean move away 
Did you notice the stay plan does not involve you moving away from the dog? If you did, congratulations! If not, here is why. Distance, as it goes, requires the passage of time. If your dog cannot sit and stay in one place, he will likely stand and follow you as you leave him. 

You will only add one of the 3Ds once your dog masters you target stay length ten times in 10 different locations. The 3Ds are duration (stay), distance (you moving away), and distractions (life in general). Start with duration, followed by distance and end with distractions. You can practice inside first and move outside as soon as possible to generalise the behaviour. Remember to only practice one behaviour at a time. People tend to jump the gun and set up their dog for failure, and we would not want that.

My dog can sit and stay 
I hope you will enjoy our nice little DIY sit-stay training plan. If you did or would like precision, leave a comment. We like to read what worked, did not work, or maybe you would like to add to the plan. We are always open to new ideas. 

Cheers.
G.

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