How to Teach Your Dog to Stay

Find out how you can teach your dog to stay in one place without getting up.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
7-minute read
Episode #74

In an earlier article, I described how to teach your dog to wait for permission before going out an open door. It’s handy to teach a general “Stay” cue, too, so you can park your dog and keep him out of your hair while you check that leak under the sink, or sit on the floor to wrap large birthday presents. This week, how to teach your dog to stay, and how not to wind up backing away from your dog with your hand out and chanting “Stay, stay, stay,” only to have her get up again.

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How to Start Teaching Your Dog to Stay

Start with your dog in the position you want her to hold, whether it’s a sit or a down. (1) For most purposes, it doesn’t matter which you choose, but bear in mind your dog’s comfort. A sit may be physically harder to maintain after a few minutes, whereas on the other hand a dog lying down may feel more vulnerable in some situations. I wouldn’t ask a dog to remain in place on a hot, wet, or icy surface. Also, small and short-haired dogs can feel miserable on a cold floor, while your Siberian Husky will likely revel in it.

Teach Your Dog a “Release Cue”

Arbitrarily, let’s work through the down-stay, but the procedure will be the same if you choose a sit. Because the whole point of a stay is that your dog stays put till you let her know she’s free to move, you’ll need a “release cue,” a word or gesture that means the stay is done. “Free,” “Banana,” “On your bike!”--it doesn’t matter. Many people find that “Okay” gets them into trouble because when they say it in conversation their dog thinks the stay is done. I use “Okay” and haven’t had this problem, maybe because I look at the dog and speak in an artificially bright tone.

How to Teach Your Dog to Stay

Practice stays when your dog is relaxed, especially if she’s young and bouncy.

To work on your dog’s stay, pick a time when she’s relaxed and well exercised. That applies especially to puppies and bouncy young dogs. I don’t have to spell out the reasoning, right?

Ask your dog to lie down, but instead of delivering a treat as soon as she hits the floor, hold off for one second. Then say “Yes!” in a calm, warm voice and give her a treat. Or, if your dog tends to bounce up again instantly, have two treats ready. Feed one right away, before he has time to move; then say “Yes!,” and feed the second treat.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).