Stay and come are two of the most important behaviors you can teach your dog. Both stay and come are the most misused, under trained and under enforced behaviors. What exactly does stay mean? I actually looked it up and there are alot of meanings for stay but my meaning for stay is stay put until I say so. So if I put my dog in a stay, that means they are there until I give them the word to move.
The largest problem with stay is that people get lazy and don't enforce a stay. Stay is used in a casual manner meaning to stay until the dog feels like moving away. I see people telling their dog to stay but don't really mean for the dog to stay. So when you don't teach a formal stay, how will your dog ever know when you really mean for them to stay? The best course of action is to first understand what stay means. Then choose another word that will replace the lazy or casual stay, like wait, hold or pause etc.
But stay must mean stay. You can use whatever word you want, my word is stay for my official very serious stay. My casual word for "hey wait up," or "just hold on a minute," is wait. In official obedience trials a dog must do a sit stay and a down stay without altering position. In my obedience they can sit or down, it doesn't matter to me but they must stay in the spot I put them in.
Stay takes enforcing, which means that if they decide to get up and leave, you must enforce. Enforcing takes skill, patience and close attention to body language. You must be serious but not angry because an angry approach to your dog will almost always send them further away from you. Rewarding them for staying is very good through talking and food treats. Although you must be careful when you use vocal or verbal praise because too much can break a stay.
Just like with every behavior you teach your dog you must start out slow and grow with each success. Don't expect your dog to do a 5 minute stay the first day. Once your dog is doing a several second stay you can move up with your time. Distance is another tricky one, some dogs have a safety zone around them and once you leave that they feel they must come to you. Dogs who have separation anxiety can have problems with staying quite a distance from their guardian but this is a great thing to work with them on.
One of the biggest mistakes when teaching the stay exercise is calling your dog out of a stay. The way I was taught to teach my dog a stay was to put them in a stay, walk away and then call them. What does this teach? Calling your dog out of a stay teaches anticipation, that at some point your dog will be coming to you. I think this interferes with a very solid stay and that especially in the beginning you should always go back to your dog to release them. Teaching them that the only way out of a stay is by hearing the "release word."
My release word is "okay" and it is my release for everything, wait, boundary training, eating, jumping out of the car and stay.
Don't use Stay unless you mean it and unless you plan on enforcing. Lack of enforcement teaches nothing and leaves your dog with the sense of "they can do whatever they want."
Some dogs who are not use to doing what you ask of them may baulk at this exercise. "What do you mean I can't move?" They run around barking and jumping on the guardian. For these types of dogs baby steps are a must, reward each tiny success and stay close by. It is much easier to stop your dog before they move rather than try to catch them once they are up and on the run.
Continuous failure can cause frustration which can lead to mental shutdown. So quit while you are ahead and reward the smallest of success, building on that.