What’s the Difference Between Stay and Wait?
There are bunnies and squirrels in our yard. I am hoping to avoid the carnage of dogs vs. itty-bitty wild creatures. I tell the dogs to wait while I open the back door and clap my hands several times in warning. When I’m satisfied that I’ve sounded the “dogs are coming” alarm, I release the dogs and they’re off, bounding into the yard in search of bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, or whatever else might be spending time in our fenced yard while the dogs aren’t looking.
That’s a wait – the dogs are put “on hold” briefly while I do something or other, and then I release them from wherever I am. It’s definitely not a stay. It’s more of a “hang on a minute, we’re going to do something, but you have to wait until I’m ready.”
My doorbell rings and there’s our UPS delivery driver with a package and his trusty clipboard that I must sign. I tell the dogs to sit and stay, and then I chat briefly with the driver while I sign for my package. The door is wide open to the unfenced front yard. I need my dogs to stay in place until I return to them.
That’s a stay – the dogs should get comfortable and not move until I return to them. Stay means “get comfortable, nothing else is happening until I am back by your side.”
Here’s a quick video that shows you the difference between the behaviors and why you want your dog to know both.
I use wait in many different situations:
- When I’m attaching my dog’s leash to her collar before going out the door
- As I’m opening the car door so I can gather her leash and my belongings
- To fix the blankets on the bed before she jumps up into the bed
- When I stop to adjust the leash, my shoes, etc. on our walk
- Practicing come when called
Wait tells the dog to hang on a minute, I’ll be right back to her. It’s a sort of pause button. My dogs have learned that wait means that shortly, something else is going to happen. It means “stay tuned, you’re going to be asked to do something (or released to do something) in the near future. It helps the dog know that she should stay alert for my next instruction.
I find it helpful to have both a wait and a stay because they are very different behaviors and I have a good use for both.
Stay is different from a wait. Stay means “get comfortable.” I use stay in these situations:
- When I’m greeting a visitor at our front door
- When I’m walking out the door or leaving the room and the dogs aren’t coming with me
- When I’m walking to the mailbox and I want the dogs to stay well away from the road
- If I need them to be still while I look at a possible injury, clean their feet, or administer medication
Stay, in my mind, is a more formal behavior than the wait. There’s another important distinction between stay and wait. In a stay, my dog never leaves that position until I return to her, release her from the stay, and then we move away together. I don’t ever call my dog out of a stay – she stays there ‘til I return.
This is mostly a safety issue. I know that my dog’s stay is rock-solid. She’s never practiced leaving that position. Coming to me isn’t something we’ve ever paired together with the stay. Here’s the point: you don’t want to put your dog on a stay, walk to the mailbox, and then – before you know it – see your dog in the road because she thought you were going to call her and just came running. If you routinely call your dog to come to you from a stay, that situation could very well be a disaster in your future because the dog could easily anticipate your call and leave the safety of the stay.
Is A Stay Always Longer Than a Wait?
The difference between the two has less to do with the amount of time staying or waiting, and more with what happens after the stay or the wait. In the wait, the dog stays more alert, watching and listening to you for what to do next. In the stay, the dog knows that he’s staying put until you return to him.
I think of stays as more relaxing for the dog. She is free to daydream, sleep, or watch what you’re doing. She knows that she doesn’t really have to pay attention until you return back to her side. It’s like telling her she’s off-duty until you’re back by her side.
Do You Really Need Both?
I use both stay and wait daily in my house. I love having an easy way to tell the dog “pay attention, something’s coming next, but just hold on a second.” Just last week, I was going to let the dogs outside, but before I opened the back door I saw something unusual in the backyard. It looked like a dead animal. I wasn’t going to let the dogs out until I knew just what it was. I told the dogs to wait, then walked out to the questionable “thing.” It turned out to be one of their stuffed animals that had been left out, gotten drenched in the rain and it’s “fur” was starting to stick up as the toy dried out. I yelled “release!” and all four of the dogs came bounding out into the yard. I just needed the dogs to hold on for a minute while I checked the suspicious thing in the yard. They stayed attentive to me, waiting for my signal to join me.
A salesman showed up on my front doorstep a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to put the dogs away – this guy might not have really been a salesman – so I told them to stay (right next to me) as I opened the door. Visually, four dogs are intimidating. The pest eradicator salesman hurried through his pitch and didn’t try to sell me when I declined his services. He left as quickly as he came and the four dogs got some stay practice. It was a good day for everyone (except the salesman who didn’t get his sale, poor guy). I didn’t want the dogs to do anything other than stay where they were. They could lie down or sit, I didn’t care – they just had to get comfortable and stay there; nothing more would be required of them and I’d let them know when they were done by returning to them.
The safety of my dogs is a top priority and that’s the main reason I teach a wait and a stay. I don’t want them to anticipate me calling them out of a stay and come running whenever they think I want them to come to me. Instead, I teach them that I’ll never call them from a stay and that they will only be released from a stay when I return to them. By setting up that kind of predictability and consistency, my dogs are very good at staying planted where I leave them in a stay.
If you’ve already taught your dog that she can come to you from a stay, you’ll want to teach her a new word that means “stay where you are until I return.” Follow these instructions and when it comes to adding the word, you’ll choose a brand new word that’s distinctly different than your current word. It’s that simple!