The Stay and Release

‘Waiting in anticipation’

The sit stay is where we expect a puppy to sit and stay still for a fairly short duration of time.  For example, somewhere between two seconds and possibly up to two minutes maximum.

Many people, when teaching a stay, focus on achieving great distances while making lots of repetitions of the word ‘stay’ to the dog.

This stay, on the other hand, is a duration exercise and, like heelwork, the aim is that you give one instruction and the dog is able to maintain the behaviour for a certain period of time.

In other words ‘stay’ is about staying until you are told that you can move.  The best way to record successful learning is recording the amount of times that your puppy stays until it is clearly ‘released’ by you, as opposed to how long your pup stayed, especially if it moved on its own accord.

For example if you did 6 x 10 second repetitions of stay and you release the puppy clearly with the clicker every time you have six repetitions of learning and a 100% success rate.
For the puppy to be good at stays it needs to clearly understand the start and, most importantly, the end of the exercise.ut if you aimed for 1x 60 second stay and the puppy moved at 59 seconds, then I wouldn’t suggest that you managed a 59 second stay, I would say that you have one repetition of learning and 100% failure rate.

I want you to consider that when teaching the stay we need to look at developing this as a life skill that we are able to use it in our day to day life.

So in your day to day life I want you to think about when you might find it useful to be able to get your puppy to stay.

There are three elements to teaching a stay which are distance, distraction and duration:

  • Distance is how far away from the dog you can get
  • Distraction is external distractions and physical distractions such as our physical movement and changes in body language
  • Duration is how long the puppy can keep still for

Duration is internal, distance and distraction are external.


If we look at the examples of stay in the real world we can see that distance is not very relevant to the dog but duration and distraction are.

Here are ten examples of the stay in the real world:

  • Waiting while you put a lead, collar and harness on (Duration, Distraction)
  • Waiting while you take the lead off (Duration, Distraction)
  • Waiting at a doorway (Duration, Distraction, Distance)
  • Waiting at the roadside to cross the road (Duration, Distraction)
  • Waiting to get in to or out of the car (Duration, Distraction, Distance)
  • Waiting while you pick up dog poo (Duration, Distraction)
  • Waiting while you climb over a stile(Duration, Distraction)
  • Waiting why you tie your shoelaces (Duration, Distraction)
  • Waiting while you prepare the dogs food (Duration, Distraction, Distance)
  • Waiting while you lock your front door (Duration, Distraction)

The distraction is mainly varying body language and movement from the handler, and during several of these examples the handler is also going to need to turn their back on the dog and look elsewhere.


So we need to incorporate these real life distractions into stay training.  There is no point standing in front of your dog with your arm stuck out repeating ‘stay, stay, stay, stay’ while you see how far you can get from your dog.  This might be useful if you want to show off in the park, but it is not going to help you to teach a real life stay.


We’re going to start by focusing on duration and we’re going to use the ‘300 peck’ method for building duration.  This is a Karen Pryor clicker training method and works by building one second of duration at a time.

You need to deliver the treat by throwing it onto the floor. The clicker clearly marks the end of the exercise and throwing the treat enables the puppy to re-set itself in the sit position ready to start again.

The clicker is clearly releasing the dog from the stay and clearly marking the end of the exercise.

So it starts with a sit and it ends with a click

  • Sit (count to one) click and treat
  • Sit (count to two) click and treat
  • Sit (count to three) click and treat

It is important that you don’t count out loud but count in your head otherwise you may have a puppy that only stays while you’re counting.


As you are building duration your puppy is going to ‘break’ the stay at some point so you need to decide what ‘breaking the stay’ is.

Here is a list of examples that I would class as breaking the stay:

  • If the puppy gets up and moves
  • If the puppy lies down
  • If the pup barks
  • If the puppy shuffles

If the puppy breaks the stay I won’t reward it but I will just gently encourage it out of its position so I can reset it and start again.


When the puppy has made an error you have to go back and again start at one second and rebuild the stay from there.

When you get to about seven it isn’t so bad, but when you get to fifty nine it’s quite soul destroying from our point of view! What you are doing here is managing frustration, because when the puppy makes an error while learning a new exercise we immediately reset it up for success.

As you are building your duration you can start to introduce some subtle body language changes from yourself for example:

  • Looking at the puppy, looking away from the puppy
  • Scratching your ear or your head
  • Putting your hands on your hips
  • Shifting your weight from one hip to another
  • Turning your head to look in another direction

Once your pup can reliably get to about 20 seconds you can, if you like, start to introduce the cue ‘stay’. So next time you would say ‘sit, stay’ and then build your duration.  This means you are associating the word stay with the puppy actually staying in the same position.

Personally I think it isn’t actually necessary to ask your puppy to ‘stay’, you can just teach them that ‘sit’ means stay there until you are told that you are released.


The Release Cue

We are now going to look at the release cue.

At the moment the click is marking and ending the behaviour so the puppy is learning to wait to get the click.

In am going to transfer the click and we’re going to use a release cue instead.  The cue that you use is your choice and something you are comfortable with.  I use the word ‘break’ because I am not likely to use this word much in a conversation.  Other suggestions are ‘finished’, ‘free’, ‘ok.’

This time you’re going to ask the puppy to sit, count to five (in your head) and give your release cue.  As you give the release cue you’re going to encourage the puppy to move, as it starts to move you’re going to click the movement and then throw a treat.


We are now rewarding the puppy for moving when given permission, which is the release cue.

This cue will eventually be replaced with action cues like retrieve and hunt. It is permission to move from the sit, the dog must remain engaged with you and get a reward from you after the release cue. It is not permission to go off and do your own thing, a cue that you might use in the park for permission to go free and play. You need to make sure this is different . My cue for this is ‘off you go’

Your puppy will enjoy this exercise a lot more because movement is more fun than stillness, especially if your puppy is busy and active.

The puppy needs to keep still to get the release cue.  In the dog training world we call this the Premack principle.  It is also known as grandma’s rule, e.g. if you eat your tea, you get your pudding.  In this scenario if you keep still you get to be released.

My dogs love waiting for the release cue, it’s one of their favourite things to do and they think it’s the best game ever, waiting to be allowed to be busy Cockers once again.


Watch the Video 

Group Release Cue Video 

Jane Ardern Bsc (Hons) Copyright 2019

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