Golden Retriever Training: Teaching The “Stay” Skill


I personally believe the “stay” skill is one of the most important skills you can teach your Golden Retriever, along with “leave it” and “come.” Stay is what I called a basic safety command, meaning it is essential to their safety.

However, the “stay” skill can also be difficult for dogs to master in all environments, so teaching this skill requires time and patience. In addition, the “stay” skill requires a lot of impulse control from your Golden Retriever. This is especially true when there are distractions. 

So, what makes the “stay” skill such an important skill set to learn? 

The “stay” skill teaches your Golden Retriever to hold a stationary position. The dog should not move until instructed to do so. The behavior is essential in situations that require a Golden Retriever to be calm and to remain in place, both for its safety and the safety of others.

For example, “stay” can be used to prevent door dashing or the dog jumping out of the car before being leashed. Or, you can use the “stay” when guests arrive by asking for “sit” and “stay” or when you open the door, and your arms are full of groceries.

In each of these examples, we do not want the dog to knock over someone or dashing out the door – safety for the dog and safety for others, calm and in control – this is the purpose of the stay skill.

The Training Session

Start with a quick “pre-training” or warm-up session to get your dog into training mode. Then, I do a few fast reps of the “sit,” “down,” and “stand” skill. Since the dog knows all those skills, I like to do them in a combination and mix them up. 

So, you could ask for a combo of “down, stand, sit,” followed next by “stand, down, sit.” A few reps are fine. But, now is an excellent time to stop rewarding each skill. (Notice that you can now start combining sit/down/stand into a flowing combo).

Instead, reward one of the skills but not all three. In this way, you are teaching the dog to listen without always getting a reward. It makes the reward more powerful when the dog gets a treat since it’s not consistently getting rewarded each time. 

As training progresses, we incorporate more and more skills and reward less often. In this way, we begin to eliminate food rewards.  

Another added benefit of pre-training is it allows you to gauge your dog’s focus. Sometimes your dog will have extra energy, even after exercise or play, or is just not in a learning mode. 

A pre-training or warm-up session gives you an idea if your dog is ready or not. If not, I might play fetch or tug or play in the backyard for a few minutes and try again. If Bailey is still not ready to go, I’ll wait an hour or so and try again. Of course, dogs have their “off” days too. 

Remember, we used “proofing” when teaching each of the previous positional skills of sit, down, and stand. Proofing those skills consisted of the Three D’s (duration, distance, and distractions). 

So your Golden Retriever should already know how to stay at duration, distance, and with some distractions. Now we’re just putting each of those three positional skills on “cue” by adding in the verbal command and hand signal for stay. 

If you haven’t taught the basic positional skills of sit, down, and stand, or if you need a refresher, then I suggest taking a few minutes to read the following articles:

Golden Retriever Training: Teaching The “Sit” Skill

Golden Retriever Training: Teaching the “Down” Skill

Golden Retriever Training: Teaching The “Stand” Skill

Remember to start each training session with a phrase to let the dog know its training time and then another phrase to let it know training time is over.

The Basic Progression: Stay From the Sitting Position

  1. Start with your dog in the sitting position. 
  2. Hold a treat in your hand or have the treats in a pouch behind your back.  
  3. Take a step backward while saying “stay” and hold up the palm of your hand in a stop motion (hand signal). 
  4. Wait a second or two and then immediately say; “Yes” (verbal marker) and then reward. 

That’s it. You’ll notice that this progression was already taught when teaching the “sit” skill. It was the first of the proofing skills used for “duration. All we’ve done is add the verbal cue and hand signal to the skill. 

Practice this for a few repetitions, and then we can now do the same with the “down” and “stand” skills. Like sit, we’re now adding in the verbal cue and hand signal. 

Stay From The Down Position

  1. Start with your dog in the down position.
  2. Hold a treat in your hand or have the treats in a pouch behind your back.  
  3. Take a step backward while saying “stay” and hold up the palm of your hand in a stop motion (hand signal). 
  4. Wait a second or two and then immediately say; “Yes” (verbal marker) and then reward. 

After a few successful repetitions, move to teaching the “stay” skill from the stand position. 

Our pup Bailey doing a calm “stay” in the down position, at duration, distance, and distractions (backyard). The Three “D’s” are discussed below in the Proofing section.

Stay From The Stand Position

  1. Start with your dog in the stand position. 
  2. Hold a treat in your hand or have the treats in a pouch behind your back.  
  3. Take a step backward while saying “stay” and hold up the palm of your hand in a stop motion (hand signal). 
  4. Wait a second or two and then immediately say; “Yes” (verbal marker) and then reward. 

Proofing The Stay Skill

Your Golden should already be quite adept at staying in the sit, down, and stand positions. Proofing those skills required that the dog remained in place for a longer time, at a greater distance, and in a more distracting environment. 

So, we continue these proofing exercises as before and with the same milestones. The only difference is that we ask for the stay (verbal cue) while holding up the palm of our hand (hand signal). 

For each of the three positional skills discussed, begin pausing for a few extra seconds after the verbal cue of “stay” and before offering the reward. Then, increase the duration by one or two seconds at a time before delivering the treat. 

As you increase duration, make sure to use an intermediate marker such as “good” to teach the dog to hold its position.

The milestone is for the Golden to hold “stay” for 30 seconds or more for each of the sit, down, and stand positions. 

Next, add in some distance. Ask your Golden to “stay” and then take a step back and then reward. Then, continue to increase the length by a half-step to a whole step at a time, using your intermediate marker to hold the position of your Golden. 

Many trainers do not train duration separately. Duration is a by-product of distance. So, the farther you go, the longer your dog has to hold the stay position.

I like to teach in increments and only change one variable at a time, but how you do it is up to you.

Aim for a milestone of 10 to 15 feet for each positionthen move to distractions.

Lastly, progress to using the stay skill using duration and distance into a low distraction setting and progress slowly to more distracting settings. For example, start from the backyard and then move to the front yard, then to the sidewalk in front of the house, and so forth.

Only add in more distractions when the dog has mastered the skill in the current environment first.

Don’t worry; the video from Zak George and Bruno below will outline everything discussed. Zak is teaching Bruno the sit and stay.

The same principles are trained for the down and stand positions. That’s why it’s essential to teach the three positional skills (sit, down, and stand first).

Common Problems 

The most likely problem you’ll encounter is your Golden will break the position before you ask. This can occur during sit, down, or stand. It just means you have asked for too much, and you need to adjust back to a level that your dog can do easily. 

For example, your dog might stand up and move before 30 seconds or while you’re only 5 feet away instead of 10 feet.

In either case, you would decrease the time or distance to a level that your dog can easily do, increasing the difficulty more slowly in a gradual progression. 

Remember, your marker training. If your dog breaks the hold (moves from its stay position), then you casually say “nope,” then put your Golden back into position and try again from an easier level.

Hold up. I wrote an article on marker training, explaining why markers are useful, the various markers, and how to use verbal markers and hand signals. Take a few minutes to read that article here: Golden Retriever Training: Using Markers.

Next Steps

In the next lesson, we’ll start teaching the come skill, which is a critical skill in teaching your Golden Retriever recall. 

Asking your dog to come on command, especially in a distracting environment, is the most difficult of all skills commands. To teach this skill, we’ll instruct you on teaching “come” by using a partner or, if you do not have a second person to help out, then by yourself. 

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