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

You’ll need to move fast enough that your dog is still in the down position. Once you’ve delivered the treats, immediately give your release cue and encourage your dog to get up. Then do another rep. Over a dozen or so reps, begin waiting a little longer before the “Yes” plus treat.  For the dog who bounces up, you can start to delay the first treat for a moment.

Deliver Treats Between Your Dog’s Front Feet

A common newbie mistake is to deliver the treat slowly and high up. Result, your dog sees the treat coming and, since she doesn’t know the stay game yet, gets up to meet the food en route. Solve this problem by bringing the treat toward your dog quickly and low--the best place to deliver it is right between her front paws. If you’re working on a sit-stay, give the treat at chest height.

Work on Stay a Little at a Time

When your dog can stay for about five seconds--that’s an arbitrary number, of course--start to add a little distance. At first, you’ll walk backward, because your dog is likelier to get up to follow you if you turn away. Take one single step, then return to your dog, say “Yes,” and deliver a treat. Give her the okay to get up immediately, even if five seconds haven’t passed.

Here’s why. The stay gets harder and harder for your dog depending on how long it is, how far away you are, and what else is going on around her. Trainer shorthand is “distance, duration, distraction.” For best success in teaching a stay, work on one factor at a time. Whenever you make one factor more difficult, ease up on the others at first, then build them back up. That’s why, when you take that first step back from your dog, adding distance, you should cut the duration of the stay.

Or suppose you’ve made a lot of progress and your dog is able to lie quietly for one minute while you stand ten feet away from her. On your next rep, you plan to distract her with a bouncing ball. Stand five feet from your dog and bounce the ball just once or twice. A rock-solid stay is mostly a matter of working slowly and patiently to start with--the ideal is that your dog never makes a mistake and breaks her stay.


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).