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Teaching Your Dog to Stay on Cue

Staying when told is another wonderful skill to teach your dog. It allows you to settle your dog down when you want a few quiet moments in the evening or to keep her out of trouble so you can check out a strange noise in the garden. More importantly, staying in place teaches your dog patience and impulse control, and can prevent one of the most common behavioural problems; the inability to cope with frustration. Dogs who learn to stay when asked can be more fun to live with and are probably happier themselves after learning to control their own emotions.

There are three components to a great stay:

  • Duration
  • Distance
  • Distraction

You will need to work on each of these one at a time.

Start with all three factors in the lowest possible level of intensity. This means you need to start in an area where there are no distractions and your are only going to be one to two feet away from your dog. Ask your dog to sit and as soon as she does say ‘stay’ in a low, quiet voice and move the palm of your hand toward your dog as if you were trying to stop traffic. Stand still, look directly at your dog for only 1-2 seconds and then give her a treat from your other hand. Be sure you move towards your dog to give her the treat, so that she doesn’t have to get up to get it.

After you’ve given her the treat, release her with your chosen release word (e.g.’free’, ‘that will do’,’finished’,etc). Then walk away from her and let her do what she wants. Do not praise her or pet her, you want the fun part to be staying in place, not getting up. This will be hard for you, so concentrate on staying quiet when you release her – I promise you it will pay off.

Repeat this exercise 4-6 times per day, asking for 1-2 second stays that are so short, they are almost silly. Your dog will learn more quickly if you have several brief sessions throughout the day, rather than one long one, once a day. Throw in a single sit/stay here and there throughout your day, perhaps whilst you are waiting for the kettle to boil, or whilst you go into another room briefly, or just when your dog least expects it.

Make sure the distraction level is still extremely low, and that she knows you have treats on offer at this point. Don’t be tempted to ask your dog to stay too long at this stage; this is one of the exercises in which creating a solid foundation by going slowly at the beginning will pay off hugely in just a few weeks. So patience, patience, and more patience!

This exercise is also great at practicing on how to give clear and consistent cues with both your voice and your body. Concentrate on saying ‘stay’ with a low, relatively quiet voice. Your dog is more likely to stay in place if your voice drops a pitch or stays flat. Think about your body language; are you using a clear hand signal that is different from your sit cue? Are all members of the family using the same cue? Are they all using the same release word? Remember consistency from everybody is key in communicating with your dog in a clear manner.

Also, try not to confuse your dog by using the same word to praise her and release her. So, saying ‘good girl’ or ‘good’ as a release word is not advisable, as these are the most common words used to praise our dogs.