A reliable Stay can be useful in many real-life situations, such as having your dog stay safely where you put her while you clean up a broken glass, or sit and stay as joggers and bikers pass by while you pick up after her on a morning walk. One of my favorite times to use Stay is when I come home from an evening of teaching classes: The last thing I want is for all my dogs to be swarming around me like bees. So I ask everyone for a Down-Stay and they quickly and willingly oblige. The rooms in my house are small and my dogs are big ~ I literally have to step over each of them on my way to the stairs. After changing into comfortable clothes, I go back downstairs and once again have to step over each of the dogs on my way to the kitchen, where I say hello (finally) to my husband and maybe have a sip of wine. Then I thank the dogs for their Down-Stay and release them, giving each one a treat for their good behavior.
My dogs weren't always able to stay for such a long time without making a mistake. It took lots of practice and building the behavior bit by bit, but it was very much worth the time and effort.
The problem people run into when trying to teach the Stay is that they ask for too much, too soon, and this causes the dog to make mistakes.
A friend and colleague of mine, Carol Miller CPDT-KA of Pooches Dog Training, uses the analogy of Silly Putty. You can stretch Silly Putty pretty far if you do so slowly and carefully. Pull too hard and fast and it snaps in two.
Inevitably I'll have a student who comes to class the week after we begin teaching Stay, relating to me that they put their dog in a Stay and left the room, only to find that their dog followed them! Instead of staying close to their dog, reinforcing the Stay after every second or two, gradually adding distance and duration and keeping their dog successful, they pressed their luck by asking for a much more difficult, longer, out-of-sight Stay.
Their Silly Putty snapped!
So how does a trainer go about teaching Stay? By carefully and methodically "stretching the putty". Adding low-level distractions before higher-level distractions. Adding a little more distance, or a little longer duration, bit by bit instead of all at once. Always watching for signs that the putty might break and stopping before that breaking point, before the dog could make a mistake.
When you're training your dog to Stay, think of Silly Putty.
Take your time.
Teach it slowly and carefully and you and your dog both will be successful!