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Become Better Lesson #4:

How to teach your dog to stay

If your dog truly loves your company, then it is not easy to teach her to stay in one place, while you walk away. Yet, it can be beneficial for your dog and yourself if you manage to teach her to stay. For instance, if you need to cross a busy street, then you can let your dog stay on the pavement while you go, keeping her away from dangerous traffic. Your dog will also learn patience, and to control her impulses.

If you find yourself too far away to use your voice, then a visual hand signal can help you control your dog when needed. Your dog probably has much sharper eyesight than you. For this, the use of hand signals will be incorporated in this lesson.

You’ll use two verbal commands for this lesson: a word to tell your dog to stay, and a different word to let her know it’s OK now to move (release her from the stay).

As with all training, pick specific verbal commands and use them consistently. The obvious word for the stay command is “Stay.” (Don’t be tempted to lengthen that sometimes into “Stay there.”) The release command can be something like “Release” or “Free” or “Okay.”  Make sure it’s not a word you might use for another meaning in other circumstances (such as “Release” when you want your dog to let go of a toy). It’s probably best to use “Free,” as you’re not likely to use that for anything else. That’s the word we’ll use for this lesson.

Teaching your dog to stay involves working with three elements:

1. Distance. Distance refers to how far you move away from your dog.

2. Time. Time refers to how long you want your dog to stay.

3. Distraction. Distraction refers to everything going on around your dog that is tempting her to get up.

It’s best to begin with easy challenges for your dog in all three elements: short distance, short time, fewest distractions. Eventually we’ll work on each element separately, gradually increasing the degree of difficulty.

Let’s get on with the lesson.


Lesson 4: How To Teach Your Dog to Stay

Read this lesson first, and then practice it with your dog.

  1. First, load up your pocket (or a bag or pouch) with treats.
  1. Take your dog to an area where there won’t be a lot of distractions.
  1. If you’re right-handed, put a treat in your left hand (vice versa if you’re left-handed; you want the treat in the hand you won’t be using for your hand signal).
  1. Place yourself about two feet away from your dog.
  1. Ask your dog to sit. As soon as she does, say “Stay” in a low, quiet voice and raise your hand, palm open and facing her, in the universal “Stop” hand signal. Look directly at your dog. Try not to move any other part of your body.
  1. After a very brief pause of just 1 or 2 seconds, say “Good,” lean forward and give your dog the treat from your other hand. Important: Make sure to quickly move the treat all the way to her mouth so she’s not tempted to get up and move toward it.
  1. While your dog is still eating her treat, release her by saying “Free” in a low, quiet voice, and lean back away from her.
  1. Important: Let your dog get up or do whatever she wants, but do NOT praise or reward her for getting up. You want her to learn that the Stay action is the one that will reap the rewards.
  1. Repeat Steps 4-8. Be sure you don’t allow more than a couple of seconds to go by before rewarding after giving the Stay command.
  1. Repeat this process five times.

Not doing what you want? Here is what to do

If your dog doesn’t stay still for a couple of seconds, she’s probably too distracted. Try moving to a different location, or waiting until she has less energy.

Make sure she knows you have a treat in your hand.

Keep your tone of voice low and quiet, letting it drop in pitch (versus going up, as if you’re asking a question).

Make sure your hand motion is distinct and does not look like the arm motion you use during the Sit training.

Practice for Lesson 4

Practice this lesson several times a day, with fewer repetitions. Vary the time of day and location. Make sure there are as few distractions as possible.

Remember to use the same commands (“Stay,” “Free”) every time, using a low, quiet tone of voice.

Give instant praise and reward after just a couple of seconds by bringing the treat all the way to her mouth so she doesn’t move to get it.

Do not be tempted to see if she’ll stay longer. Right now it’s very important to lay a solid foundation.

Practice your “Stop sign” hand signal and make sure it’s different from your “Sit” motion.

Coming up next week:

Become Better – Training Lesson 5: How to teach your dog to lie down

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