TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
I want to teach my Aussie puppy, Sadie, to “Stay.” I’ve tried, but she always gets up to follow me when I move more than about 5 feet away. How can I teach her not to move until I release her?
A solid “Stay” is the holy grail of companion dog training. If your dog knows how to stay, they won’t charge the front door barking, lunge at other dogs, jump up on visitors or chase moving objects. It can help your dog build self-confidence and can help you establish your role as leader. Most importantly, the stay cue can literally save their life in an emergency.
Stay is a duration behavior and the dog should not break from it until they hear a formal release word like “Break,” “Release,” or “Free.” Behaviors like “Sit” and “Down” are quickly executed. A duration behavior is one that must be done for a longer time. Duration behaviors are much harder for dogs to learn and must be taught in small increments. A dog will not automatically be able to hold a stay for several minutes while his owner walks across the room.
There are three components to a stay: duration, distraction, and distance. You will need to teach these three elements (the three “Ds” ) separately.
Duration: Your dog will stay for however long you ask. You’ll start with a duration of a few seconds and gradually work up to longer stays.
Distractions: Your dog will stay even if there are lots of fun and exciting things going on. Again, you will start working with no distractions and work up to bigger ones.
Distance: Your dog will stay even if you are very far away from her. You’ll start very close and gradually move away.
Step 1: While Sadie is in a down or sit position, say “Stay” and hold out your palm facing her. If she stays in place, say “Yes” and give her a treat then say your release word. (Break, Release, or Free). The word “Yes” is used as a reward marker, indicating to Sadie why she is being rewarded. Clickers are another form of reward marker and can be used in place of the word “Yes”.
Step 2: Continue this process, slowly increasing the amount of time she must hold the stay before rewarding and releasing her.
Step 3: Once she is staying in position for a minute, begin to add distance by taking one step back. You will need to decrease your duration (the length of time) when you add distance (number of steps). When increasing distance, always walk back to her, click or say “Yes,” give the treat, then give the release cue.
Step 4: Slowly increase the number of steps you take backward, holding out your hand to indicate the “Stay” is still in effect. Remember you need to decrease duration as you increase distance and then build back up.
Once you can easily move far away from Sadie and she can hold the stay for a minute or more make it harder by introducing distractions, briefly moving out of sight or walking around her before giving the release cue. Keep in mind you want her to be successful. If she is continually breaking the stay, you are asking too much. Your patience will pay off with a rock solid stay that can be used in endless ways.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.