How to Teach a Dog to Stay Using Positive Reinforcement
The "stay" cue is a super useful skill that every dog should know. It's a foundational skill that can be paired with many other cues in a variety of situations. You can use the cue "stay" on walks to prevent your dog from dashing across the street or when opening the door to grab the mail, and you can even add it to a more complex behavior like "go-to-bed."
Teaching a dog to stay on cue is less complicated than you might think. With good timing, and positive reinforcement, you can teach a dog to "stay" quickly. Just remember in your beginning days of training that "stay" means your dog stays put until you return to them! Don't confuse this cue with "come." Always return to your dog before you mark and reinforce. Remember to start slow and easy, with short time requirements and very minimal distractions.
What You Need to Get Started
Choose a Great Reinforcer for Your Dog
Select a reinforcer to provide your dog as they learn and make great choices. A great reinforcer should be something your dog really wants, is small, and is easy to provide repeatedly. For 99 percent of dogs this is some kind of food item like a treat. Things like cut-up hotdogs, small pieces of cheese or lunch meat, or store-bought training treats are good options.
Form an Effective Marker
A marker (also called a bridge or bridging stimulus) is a sound or hand signal that tells your dog the exact moment they did something that earned them a reinforcer (the treat). A clicker is a great tool to use for this. If you don't have a clicker you can just use a word like "yes" or "good" or a hand signal like a thumbs up, but pick one and stick to it. Mark the behavior the second you see it. The more accurate and quick your mark is, the more effective your teaching becomes.
5 Steps to Teach Your Dog to "Stay" on Cue
Tip: Always set your dog up for success by going slow and reinforcing constantly. Think baby steps! If at any point your dog doesn't hold the stay, consider if you are moving too fast or if your rate of reinforcement is too low. Go back a few steps in the process and reinforce him for shorter periods of time (and smaller distances away from you) in the position.