Teaching your dog to stay

Once you’ve taught your dog ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stand’, and have introduced the release cue, you can extend any position into a ‘stay’. But pick your battles – don’t start this when your dog is over-excited. Take the edge off first with a walk or a different exercise that will use up some of their energy.

Although it doesn’t matter where your dog is at the start of this training (e.g. by your side or in front of you), it may be easier to start with your dog in front of you. As you progress, and if you decide to do any tests or competitions at a later date, it’s worth bearing in mind that you will need to do this to the side of them.

  • Stand with your dog in front of you if you can and simply ask them to go into the easiest position (sit, stand or down). Extend the time that your dog is in the position for a few seconds before you give the reward. Make sure your dog gets the reward for the stay you are asking for, i.e. while they hold the position
  • You can incorporate your ‘leave’ and ‘watch’ cues to help if your dog is becoming distracted. You can use the hand signal that you may have developed from your initial training by holding your hand still in front of your dog and showing the flat of your hand to them
  • A release cue is essential so your dog knows when it’s ok to move – avoid saying ‘good dog’, as this is said in other places and can be confusing for your dog. Different words such as ‘that’ll do’ or ‘free’ are ideal. Follow up by guiding your dog off the spot and cease any reward
  • Repeat and progress. Count a few seconds more each time, sometimes doing a noticeably short stay and then reward in position and release. If your dog gets fidgety, opt for a short successful position, get the reward in and then end by giving your release cue
  • Gradually build up the time your dog can stay in position. As you are doing this, repeat the position cue in a positive, calm way, reminding your dog what they are doing e.g. ‘Good sit, good stay’, then reward and release using your release cue

Progression

  • Once your dog can stay in the position with you close to them, you can change things by starting to gently and gradually move away from your dog a little. A simple movement of your foot position or a lean away from your dog will be enough to start. Help them to stay by repeating your position cue as you do it. Go back and reward your dog in position before releasing then, a full step away, go back and reward, two steps, go back and reward, and so on
  • Build this distance just one step at a time. When you introduce some distance, go back to very short periods. Even if your dog has managed to stay in position for a minute with you by their side, it is quite different when you move away, so start with just a second or two, go back to your dog, reward and release
  • Once your dog can manage a bit of both distance and time, you can gradually merge them and work on both

Generalise and proof

  • Think about the places you may want to use the ‘stay’ exercise and work on versions of this that are not too distracting to start with, and then build by adding real distractions. You can also move on to walking around your dog, working off lead and so on. But change one thing at a time and build up gradually

Test

  • Your reality for this exercise may be doing The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme test, competing in competitive obedience or working trials. For these you must build up to several minutes and may even be out of sight of your dog. This takes time and confidence building. Don’t go any further than your dog can cope with. For some dogs this may mean staying by their side for a long time, especially if other dogs or distractions are around. Others cope more quickly. Go at a pace that your dog can cope with and get the close training incredibly secure before moving on

Real life

  • For most it’s more likely that you want your dog to settle down under a café table or in a beer garden, which will begin with a ‘stay’ but then in time can be turned more into a ‘settle’ - where your dog is happy to stay where it is, but might move positioning. Generally a ‘stay’ means no fidgeting or moving and can be especially useful in an emergency (you may need to leave your dog while you deal with something else). This training is the foundation for all of the scenarios – gradually introduce your dog to the places that you may want them to stay and help them throughout

Maintain

  • Keep working at it. Again, if you don’t keep the maintenance work up your wall will come crumbling down!

Please note: there are many different ways to train your dog. This is just one method of teaching. If you are ever in doubt, please seek professional advice. 

For more information and advice, you can find training classes with The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme, browse our full list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you.