The difference between Wait and Stay can mean the difference between successful management vs everyone running down the street chasing the fluffy lighten-bolt that is their dog.

Dog training commands should be simple, but can often become complicated and confusing for the dog (and human too).

For example, if one handler uses command “X” to mean one action for their dog, and then another person uses command “Y” for the same action, our dogs are left having to remember which word which person uses for which command. And, handlers are left wondering why their dog isn’t understanding and preforming simple commands.

Pinball couch headtilt
“Say what?”

The dog’s internal response is probably the dog version of, “Honestly, I’m not sure what either of you mean.”

To make life easier for everyone, dog, handlers, parents, kids, dog-sitters, trainers, etc., it is imperative that everyone in the house use the same command for the same behavior.

The Wait and the Stay commands are often used interchangeably.

In a home with low distractions, one dog, and no kids, this is probably not a huge problem. However, when we start layering the distractions like kids, other dogs, many visitors, etc., the difference between Wait and Stay can mean the difference between successful management vs everyone running down the street chasing the fluffy lighten bolt that is their dog.

The definitions of Wait and Stay in standard dog training are…

Wait – Hang on a second or two, (a short duration) then receive a follow-up command or release word.

Stay – Hold position, freeze in place for an undetermined length of time (could be awhile).

The difference is often hard to see at first, but in the dog’s head it is a major difference in difficulty.

Wait is something a dog can usually achieve even when they are cranked up by exciting visitors, or stressful situations.

However, the Stay is harder to hold depending on how stressed or excited a dog might be.

To understand this in terms we humans experience, we need only look to air travel. We experience differences in difficultly between a short fifteen minute wait to board our airplane, verses the delayed flight that could be hours. One is much harder than the other for different reasons for different people, but in the end, the two different lengths of delay are very different demands on us.

Here are some sample situations where I would use the Wait and Stay commands differently:
  • Dog wants to go outside
    • Ask for wait before opening the door.
    • Door is opened only if dog holds position for a few seconds
  • Aunt Millie is knocking on the door
    • Ask for a wait
    • Door opens if the dog is holding position
    • Once Aunt Millie is in, the dog gets the go say hello command.
  • Baby drops toy
    • Ask dog for a wait
    • Pick up toy before dog gets there, or redirect the dog with a touch command.
  • In an elevator
    • Ask for a stay
      • Dog freezes in place for the duration of the ride regardless of the number of people getting in and out
    • At the veterinarian
      • Ask for a stay for the examination, shots, blood draws
        • Your veterinarian will thank you
    • At a traffic light
      • Ask for a stay
        • Dog freezes in place for the duration of the light regardless of the distractions that go by, like bicycles, skateboard, other dogs, etc…

Your dog will learn the difference between these two commands because once you have an understanding of what the commands are, you will mark and reward the appropriate behaviors.

You give your dog the WAIT command and he holds a position for a short duration – Praise and Reward.
You give your dog the STAY command and she freezes in place for an interval between one and three minutes – Praise and Reward.

Wait and Stay are two of the basic, essential commands I outline in Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs And they are initially covered in the Basic classes I teach, then expanded on in the Intermediate classes.

If your dog doesn’t have a good wait and a solid stayit is time to do some homework.

4 thoughts on “WAIT vs STAY”

    1. Hi Debbie,
      When working on a stay there are three critical aspects that have to be worked on separately – duration, distance, and distraction. First you will build the duration by simply asking your dog to stay, praise him three or four times and reward and release immediately. Slowly build the duration. We need the dog to understand there is no breaking from the stay. After you have a long stay two minutes, then you can add distance, but walking a couple steps away, and immediately returning to the dog for a reward. Keep slowly adding more steps and returning to your dog. Only release the dog when you are back at the dog. Then… you can begin to add in distractions like balls, other people and other dogs, etc. To build a great Stay is a process.
      Hope that helps.

  1. I do not think a dog would hear much difference between the commands “wait” and “stay” because they both have the long a sound. I think the words have to be paired with different hand signals in order for the dog to differentiate between the two commands.

    1. Give what we know about dogs like Chaser and her ability to understand 1,000 words, we cannot say for certain that our dogs won’t be able to differentiate between the sound of wait and stay. In fact for many years competition obedience folks have used these words to differentiate even less significant varied meanings.
      Your point about using different hand signals for the two different behaviors is good, I usually use different hand signals for all my commands because it is often easier for dogs to understand body language (hand signals) over our words probably because they use body language between conspecifics with such success.

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