How to Teach a Dog to Stay for a Long Time

Nov 08, 2023


When new dog owners think of training their pups new skills, the first things that come to mind are probably  "sit" and "stay" commands. These two skills form a basis for many other dog training, allowing owners to have better overall control when with their dogs. 

However, many owners need help teaching a dog to stay for an extended period, a period longer than five to ten seconds. When training a dog to stay, these few seconds may feel like an eternity to both you and your dog, and we often end up rewarding our dogs too quickly because of this. When we are patient with ourselves and our dog, though, we can teach them the skill of patience too.

Why Should I Teach My Dog to Stay?

Stay is a staple of dog training. Once a dog learns to stay, you can teach other skills or "tricks." For example, you can combine a stay command with a roll-over command. Building multiple skills on top of each other provides benefits such as mental and physical outlets for your dog, and it also builds trust and allows for more freedom.

When a dog learns how to stay for an extended period, the dog might be able to use its stay skill in "real world" situations. For example, if you do not want them to come into the kitchen while you cook, you can ask them to stay outside until you are done. You can also utilize its skill outside the home, for example, by asking for a sit-and-wait while you tie your shoe on a  walk.

How to Teach a Dog to Stay

When you're ready to start training your dog to stay for the first time, clear a small, quiet indoor area for your dog training and remove any nearby distractions. Any sounds or smells may make it difficult for your dog to focus on training during the first few training sessions, so be sure to turn off the television and remove other distractions. You may also need to remove anything distracting you as the trainer, such as your phone. Remember, if you expect your dog to give you full attention, you should expect to give your full attention back.

Next, grab a handful of high-value fresh treats before your dog training session. Refrain from showing these treats to your dog; otherwise, they may become overly excited and unable to focus on what you are teaching. Instead, consider putting the goodies in your pocket or in a treat pouch that will hide them from sight.

After that, bring your dog into the quiet training area you have set up and get ready to begin training. When teaching a dog to stay, you can use three training methods: the palm, stay cue, and meal time. Remember that all these methods require that your dog has already learned how to sit or lay down, and if they still need to know this skill, you will have to backtrack and teach that first.

1. The Palm Method

The palm method of training a dog to stay is excellent for all types of dogs, although it is the best method to use with hard-of-hearing or deaf dogs. With this method, dogs are trained to stay with a hand gesture.

To begin training using the palm method, have your dog sit or lay down in one spot. From there, show the dog your palm, much like a "stop" gesture. If your dog is not hard of hearing, you may also like to give a stay command at the same time, whether it be just "stay" or something like "heel" or "hold." With any dog training cue, it's best to use one word or short phrase that is easy for you to remember and simple for the dog to understand.

After showing your dog your palm and giving the verbal cue ‘stay’, take two steps back. Keep your hand up until you are ready to release your dog, then drop your hand and give your dog a treat as a reward for successfully staying. You may also praise your dog with a happy tone so that it understands that it did something well! 

Suppose your dog stayed even a short time before you dropped your hand; reward, especially during your first few training sessions. Their patience and time spent waiting will improve with practice, and it's more important to reward good behaviour rather than scold the dog for not “getting it.” 

2. The Stay Cue Method

The stay cue method is another way to teach a dog to stay, and it nearly mirrors the palm method listed above. 

As with the palm method, begin by having your dog sit or lay down in one place. After that, give your dog's verbal stay cue once in a clear voice; do not repeat this command right away or else the dog will become confused later on, for example, by thinking your order is "stay stay" instead of one "stay."

The first time you teach your dog to stay with the stay cue method, wait to move after telling the dog to stay. Then, reward the dog with a treat for staying still for at least three seconds. As with the palm method, you may also praise in a happy voice that the dog will understand as part of the reward.

The third, fourth, or fifth time you try this training method with your dog, you can try stepping back after giving your dog's stay cue. Pay close attention to your dog as you move, and restart the process if they begin to follow you. As always, reward the dog for staying in place, even if it's just for a couple of seconds.

Once your dog has mastered the stay command method, you may introduce a release word that teaches it to come to you after staying in place for a slightly more extended period. This release word may be like "break” or “free,” It can be said alongside a snap or click of your fingers if you would like. Since your dog will not likely understand the release word immediately, you can offer a treat as you say it so that the dog is encouraged to come to you simultaneously.

3. The Meal Time Method

When you want to avoid overfeeding your dog with too many treats or want to try another training method, consider testing out the mealtime method with your dog. This method must be performed around a dog's regular mealtime, and it is often more effective in teaching a dog to stay because it forces the dog to be patient around food.

To perform the meal time method, begin by preparing your dog's meal at least 30 minutes before filling the dish and leaving it in a high place out of sight. When regular meal time comes around, ask the dog to sit or lay down near the dish's normal position. After that, use a stay command while showing the dog the food dish. After successfully staying for a few seconds, place the food down and praise the dog or use a release word to allow the dog to enjoy their meal as the reward.

Each time you practice the mealtime method with your dog, consider adding more and more duration before placing the dish down. This method works best if you use it daily, and it can speed up the time it takes for your dog to learn how to stay when used in conjunction with the other two methods listed above.

After trying the mealtime method for a week, you may challenge your pup by placing food down and continuing to ask for a stay. This will build up impulse control in your dog and teach patience. 

How to Increase the Duration of the Stay

Teaching a dog to stay is one thing, but teaching a dog to stay for a long time is another. When you want to train your dog to wait between five to ten minutes, you will want to increase the duration, distractions gradually, and distance you use during your dog training sessions.

Increasing the Duration

No matter what training method you use to teach your dog to stay, be sure to increase the duration of the dog's stay each time you practice with them. Be sure to increase the duration in small increments, such as by just ten extra seconds a day.

Adding Distractions

When you want your dog to stay in stimulating situations, such as at the park, there will be many distractions that your dog will want to focus on instead of the task you have given them. If you do not introduce distractions in your training sessions at home, your dog will not learn how to ignore them later. That being said, consider introducing one extra distraction every two or three training sessions; any more than that, your dog will lose focus. These distractions can be anything that your dog would find stimulating, from a loud radio to a pan of sizzling bacon. Ensure the dog is successful each step of the way. 

Increasing Your Distance from Your Dog

One factor often overlooked in training a dog to stay how far away the handler stands from the dog when asking for a stay. When preparing a dog to stay, the trainer will want to stay very close to the dog. Over time, the trainer should gradually move farther from the dog before releasing to teach it that it should not follow. To increase the distance you use with your dog in training, try taking just one half-step back before unleashing your dog each day. Over time, you can step out of sight from your dog before giving your release cue.

What to Do When a Dog Doesn't Stay

If you are having trouble teaching your dog to stay, you may need to reevaluate how you are training the dog. Be sure to test out each of the three training methods listed above and stick to just one or two that seem to work best for your pup.

Other things you can do to make it easier for your dog to stay include:

  • Eliminating excess distractions, especially if you are just beginning your training. Remember, distractions stimulate a dog's five senses, and something as simple as a slippery floor can distract a dog during training.
  • Speaking clearly when you tell your dog to stay. You also want to give your stay cue only once. Aside from your stay cue and release signal, try to speak at all when teaching your dog to stay until the dog is ready to be around distractions.
  • Using a reward for success. If your dog doesn't like the treats you have to offer, it will be less motivated to work for them. If you need to know what treats your puppy likes, give them a chance to try different outside training sessions and take note of what they like. You can also use a favourite toy as a reward during training.
  • Take your time with the training process. A lot of time, dog owners want to see results from their dogs immediately, but dogs need time to learn new skills and benefit most from the repetition of training, which needs to take place multiple times a day for several weeks.

If you have tried everything you can to teach your dog to stay and still need help, consider asking a certified professional dog trainer. Qualified trainers know how to tailor training to every individual dog, and they know how to achieve success from a particular dog because, just like humans, dogs have different personalities and needs. A certified professional dog trainer can help speed up the training process! 

While training a dog to stay may sometimes seem like an impossible task, it does not have to be. By following either the palm method, the stay cue method, or the meal time method step by step, you can train any pup to stay on cue. 

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