Jump to section
Having a dog that will stay when told is not only a convenience, it can be a lifeline. A solid ‘stay’ that you can count on is a basic part of having control over your dog, and no puppy training is complete without it.
Luckily, clicker training makes very fast work of training ‘stay’. Because you can mark the behavior you like, and follow it up when you can with a reward, clicker training is a form of advanced communication with your puppy.
If you are new to clicker training, ‘stay’ is a perfect command to start working on because it lends itself very well to this training technique. Read on to find three methods that will traing your puppy to stay with a clicker, each one building on the other to make sure your pup is a pro at ‘stay’.
Although ‘stay’ is easy to train, it does take lots of practice to really build a ‘stay’ you can count on. Luckily for you and your puppy, training time is fun, especially with a clicker.
Your clicker works to "mark" the behavior you like. Since it is always followed by a reward, it is an audible signal to your puppy that whatever they are doing the instant they hear the sound is the right thing.
When you first get started with using a clicker to train, you will find it a bit awkward and your puppy might be a little confused. Don't worry about that one bit. In a few short practice sessions you and your canine will both get used to this way of communicating, and start really having fun quickly learning new behaviors and tricks.
You will need to have a bag of treats in order to start your clicker training (they have special treat bags that hang on your waist for just this purpose). This is because every single click will be followed by a small food reward (about the size of a pea).
If you are training something new, or are working in a high distraction environment, be sure that your treat bag includes at least 30% high value reward, which just means something that is special and tasty like some cooked chicken or cheese. For most dogs, the rest of the food rewards can actually be taken from their daily kibble rations.
The goal with clicker training is to start with very low expectations of what you will take before offering a click/reward. When your puppy is consistently meeting those expectations, you gradually raise the bar.
So, with ‘stay’ training, the basic idea is to click/reward early and often, gradually increasing the distance and duration as you practice your ‘stay’ drills.
Start with our ‘Basic Stay’ if your dog is brand new to learning this behavior. Once she has the basics down, switch to ‘Unsupervised Stay’ and ‘Proofing the Stay’ for advanced skills.
The Basic Stay Method
Take a position
Decide on what position (if any) you want to be standard for your ‘stay’ and get your puppy in that position. ‘Sit’ is a good choice. Say "Staaaaaay" in a long and drawn out tone and use a hand signal at the same time. Click/reward several times in 2-3 second intervals, 5-10 times. Ignore failure. Just start over if he breaks the stay in the early stages.
Introduce your release word by saying "Okay!" and tossing the treat away from your dog. After he gets his treat you are ready to return to the stay drills. Make sure you work on both "Stay" and "Okay!" during your training sessions.
Start to gradually add some distance, continuing to reward frequently. Start with a half step back, followed by a click/reward in short order if he is successful. Repeat for 5-10 minutes during a session, continuing to work on distance as you practice your ‘stay’ drills.
Add some time between clicks, but do it a bit randomly. Your goal is to get the rate of reward down to about one every 30 seconds while you move around, but raise the bar only as your puppy is successful and ready to improve.
Reward only at the release
Once your puppy has successfully mastered ‘stay’ for 30 seconds, and you can move around him in a full circle, you can transition to rewarding only at the release. If your puppy breaks the stay before the release, just say "Too bad!" and start over with a new stay. Over time he will realize that he will only be rewarded if he stays until the release is given.
The Unsupervised Stay Method
Before expecting your puppy to stay unsupervised, make sure you have had plenty of practice with the basics of ‘stay’. Once he is at least 4 months old, and is consistently performing a supervised stay for 30 seconds or more with you being able to be at least 5 feet away, you are ready to move on to this advanced skill.
Near a door
Get your dog into a stay within 5 feet of a doorway inside your home so that you can turn a corner to slip out of sight, but are still close enough for relatively fast rewards.
Increase the challenge
Start your drill like normal ‘stay’ practice, adding a few steps of distance each time you practice a "Stay" and an "Okay!" release as described in the ‘Basic Stay’ method. Work your way towards the door, then briefly dissapear around the corner. Pop your head right back in, pause for a second, release, click/reward. If she fails, say "Too bad!" and get her in position to try again.
Add some time that you spend out of sight, but just around the corner until your puppy will stay unsupervised for at least 10 seconds before being released and rewarded.
Gradually add some distance by walking a few steps down the hall and so forth, making sure that you are setting your puppy up to be successful, and ignoring failure.
The Proofing the Stay Method
This method will teach you how to use the clicker to take your puppy's stay skills from passable to exceptional. It does little good to have a puppy that stays only when in the comfort of your living room. So, once your puppy has the basics down and will stay unsupervised for 30 seconds or more, you are ready to start "proofing" the behavior so you can count on it in an emergency.
Take your puppy outside to a secure environment such as a fenced yard and work on your stay drills (practicing "Stay" and click/rewarding at the release command, "Okay!"). If you don't have access to a fenced area, use a long 30' rope or leash so you can get control over him if he tries to bolt.
Take your puppy to new places where there will be other distractions such as the pet store, outside the vet's office, or outside the dog park. Working on ‘stay’ in high-distraction environments will teach your dog to have more focus in addtion to improving his stay. Make sure the value of your food rewards is high enough to keep your pup's focus in new places.
Practice ‘stay’ drills with other people so that your puppy will learn to obey this command regardless of who gives it.
At some point you will need to add a consequence for failing to stay. It is critical that the stay is well understood and well practiced before you add a consequence. Once you add the consequence, you won't turn back - any failed stay after that point needs to be met with a consequence. A professional trainer favorite consequence is a brief 2-3 minute time out in the crate, pen or a small room for some alone time.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021