Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

How to teach your dog to stay


Stay” is an incredibly powerful command to teach your dog. I like to virtually bomb proof it, so when I ask for a “stay”, my dog stays there no matter what. This gives you a tonne of control and safety in a variety of situations – for example, do you want to have your dog sit at the curb and not run across the road? A perfect “stay” command is what you need.

How is stay different to the “wait” command”

When you ask your dog to “stay” you are asking them to stay in that exact spot until you return to release them. So with a “stay” command, you should not walk away and then call your dog to you from a distance. With a “wait” command, you can release your dog from a distance because you are asking them to just “wait there until I say so” rather than stay in one exact spot. Wait is taught in a similar way, but I’ll cover that in another blog.


The command and hand signal

When teaching a “stay”, I use the verbal word command as well as a flat hand signal (like a “stop” sign).

What you’ll need

  • A dog mat or towel folded in half 
  • A long lead of around 5-10metres or retractable lead.  A long piece of very light rope will do. 
  • Your dog’s normal flat collar
  • High value food rewards e.g. cheese or cooked chicken, cut into very small pieces
  • A clicker (not essential but highly recommended). If you don’t have one or haven’t used one before, read my blog here on how to use a clicker and alternatives if you don’t have one

What to do

  1. Start in a low distraction environment. Set up a retractable lead or long lead that goes through a loop attached to the wall (or around the leg of a heavy piece of furniture) before being attached to your dog’s collar, like a pulley system. This will allow you to hold your dog in place from a short distance away. 
  2. Ask your dog for a “sit” and a “down” to begin, on the dog mat or towel. If you haven’t taught these commands yet, go back and do this first. It’s helpful to have the dog mat or towel as it gives your dog a very specific spot to sit and stay on, that they can differentiate from the rest of the floor. 
  3. When your dog is in a relaxed “down”, position yourself square on to the dog, standing tall and giving a bit of eye contact.
  4. Give the flat hand “stay” signal and speak in a slightly lower voice intonation when you deliver the “stay” command. 
  5. Take a couple of steps away then immediately come back and use a clicker to click and reward your dog with a food reward for staying in place. Use a high value food reward such as small pieces of dog roll or cooked chicken – the size of the treat is not important, in fact smaller is better because it’s better to do lots of repetitions than to give a huge piece of food as a reward. Reward your dog when you are really close to it, and put the treat between your dog’s legs to prevent her from wanting to stand or sit up to take the treat from you. 
  6. Gradually extend the distance you are walking away, walking backwards and continuing to face your dog (repeating the “stay” command and flat hand signal as you back away if necessary). In very slow increments, increase the amount of distance you are walking away, and the amount of time you are staying away for. At first it will only be a millisecond, then you can work up to 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes. 
  7. If the dog moves toward you hold the lead tight to resist it from coming forward (don’t frighten them with it just hold them in place at first). As they get used to this back pressure, you can begin to give a little check on a “no!” command if they move towards you, and ask them to sit again and stay. Repeat.
  8. When you’re confident your dog is staying put, next time you give the “stay” command, turn around and walk away with your back to your dog (at first just a few steps, then gradually increasing the distance again).
  9. When you have mastered this in a low distraction room, proof the behaviour in new situations such as outside in the garden, then in public. Whenever you move to a new situation, shorten the distance right down to a couple of steps again, then slowly build back up to moving a fair distance away with your back turned.
  10. Always come back to the dog on the “stay” command to release it. Do not move away then call your dog to come to you if you have asked the dog to “stay”, because “stay” should mean “stay in that spot until I come back to you”. If you want to walk away then call your dog to you, use a “wait” command to differentiate it from “stay”.
  11. Click and reward your dog for every good stay. 
  12. When you want to release your dog, I like to clap and say “that’ll do”.

If you want to teach your dog all the most important commands, if your dog has persistent behavioural issues, or if you simply want your dog to listen to you more, my interactive Dog Zen Virtual Dog School covers how to train your dog and solve common behavioural issues. Find out more here. 

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