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How to teach a dog to ‘stay’

The ‘stay’ command: difficult, but by all accounts, necessary.

Dogs love their owners’ company, so staying away from them disagrees with all their natural instincts.

That said, teaching your dog to stay where they are is a key part of making them well-socialised. With the right amount of dedication and practise, your furry friend should pick it up in no time.

You will need:

Treats. Try some super-tasty, extra delicious treats for when your dog is learning a new command and some commonplace, run-of-the-mill treats for when you’re fine-tuning a command they know relatively well.

Time. Although no huge chunks of it… training works better when done in short, frequent sessions rather than huge half-hour blocks.

Space. Nominate one area of the house use for training. Ideally, the space should be free of distractions and obstacles.

Teach your dog to ‘stay’, step by step

  1. Ask your dog to sit. If they don’t know this command, it might be worth teaching your dog to sit before going any further with teaching them to stay.
  2. Once they’re seated, take a very small step back – no further than a foot away. Don’t leave them for any longer than 1 second at first. Open your hand so your palm faces your dog, this will help to teach a visual signal.
  3. Step back to your dog and, assuming they’ve maintained the position you left them in, reward them with a ‘Yes! Good dog,’ followed by a treat.
  4. The first few times you try this, your dog will probably try to follow you, especially if they’re a puppy. Be patient. Every time they get up, say ‘Rubbish’ in a calm voice, and ask them to sit again. If they’re struggling, try attaching a lead to their collar and asking a friend or family member to hold them back for you.
  5. If you can step away and return to your dog without them moving, begin increasing the distance. Try turning away from them too – sometimes stepping backwards can entice them even more.
  6. When your dog can ‘stay’ away from you at lots of different distances, mix things up by calling them to you instead. This will help to practise the recall command.
  7. While you’re moving away and your dog is waiting for you, label this behaviour with ‘Stay’ or ‘Wait’. Say this as you hold out your flat palm, just prior to stepping away.
  8. Keep practising. The better your dog gets, the further away you should be able to go. Eventually they’ll be able to do the command without treats, too.

fluffy dog lying down on sand

And remember...

Keep it interesting: if your dog is good at learning tricks, try getting them to ‘stay’ in different places and at longer distances. Try this command with the ‘Lie down’ command too!

Practise makes perfect: There’s no denying that ‘stay’ is a useful and necessary command for your dog to be able to do, but some will learn slower than others. Be patient, prepare for mastering this command to take a while and always use positive reinforcement when training – never scold or shout at your dog if they’re struggling.

Need more info?

For more help on how to teach a dog to stay, have a chat with your local vet – they’ll be able to recommend a local qualified canine behaviourist if you need one.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.