Dog Training: How to Teach a Dog to Stay

Updated: 4/3/20242-4 minutes

Teaching your dog how to stay is a key part of his obedience training. As one of the basic commands for dogs, it is critical for developing your dog’s good manners and teaching him household obedience.

When your dog learns the sit and stay commands, it makes your life – and his life – easier. You’ll have more control over your dog on walks and in public places.

What is the difference between the place vs. the stay command? The stay command for dogs is used when you want him to stay right where he is and not move until you release him. The place command is a little different. It’s used when you want your dog to go to a designated location, such as an area in your home, and to stay there until you give him the okay to leave.

Dog owners may also wonder about the difference between the stay and wait commands. The wait command is more of a pause before continuing, while the stay command is about training your dog to stay in position in a specific spot.

Below you’ll find nine steps from the pros at Purina for the best way to teach your dog to stay. You can view our video and see the tips in action. With proper training, your dog will learn that it is more rewarding to stay put than to break the stay position.

How to Train Your Dog to Stay

Along with the sit and lie down commands, stay is a basic command that becomes the foundation for future training. It will take a little time and patience to teach your dog the stay command, but with consistent practice, repetition, and treats, your dog will understand that staying is more rewarding than roaming. 

To prepare for training, get your dog’s collar and a short leash, some of his favorite treats, and begin in a quiet room with no distractions.

Step 1: Put your dog on a leash 

  • Have him sit  
  • Make sure he is paying attention to you 
  • Pro tip: 
    • If the leash means it’s time for a walk, and your dog becomes too excited for training, you’ll need to desensitize him to the leash before training him to stay

Step 2: Give the stay command 

  • Say “Stay” and take one step backwards from your dog

Step 3: If your dog gets up to follow you 

  • Start over 
  • Move back to your dog’s position 
  • Give the sit command

Step 4: Take a few steps backwards if your dog is successful at the one-step level 

  • Repeat the stay command 
  • Hold for a second, then release, praise, and reward 
  • Repeat, gradually increasing the time your dog stays put before releasing and rewarding 
  • Follow the three “Ds”: distance, duration, and distraction, focusing on one “D” at a time  
  • Here, you are working on duration at a short distance 
  • Next, we’ll add distance and then finally distractions 
  • Occasionally, return to your dog so he isn’t always looking to be released and run to you 
  • Pro tips: 
    • Use a consistent release word like “okay,” “free,” or “release” 
    • Just make sure it’s not a word you use often in day-to-day speech 
    • If your dog is struggling with the command, have your dog move to your left side, and hold the leash with your left hand  
    • Hold the treat with your right hand away from your dog

Step 5: Slowly add distance 

  • Walk backwards until your get to the end of the leash 
  • Repeat the stay command 
  • Gradually increase the distance with each repetition while resetting duration training to an easier level 
  • Pro tips: 
    • If he starts to pull toward the treat, wait patiently and avoid tugging on his leash 
    • If he sits back down and holds the position without pulling, calmly praise him and reward with a treat

Step 6: Praise and reward 

  • Praise and reward your dog when he keeps the stay position 
  • Return to your dog or release him from the stay position 
  • Then praise and reward him 
  • Pro tips: 
    • Watch for clues that indicate your dog may be about to break the stay position 
    • He might take his eyes away from you, start looking around, or start sniffing the ground 
    • Don’t reward him if he breaks the stay position before you give the release command 

Step 7: Introduce hand gestures 

  • Give your dog the open-hand, fingers-up, palm-up, stay cue with the voice command 
  • Take him off leash and keep training indoors

Step 8: Increase the distance 

  • Give the stay command and hand cue while gradually increasing the distance  
  • Release and reward when he stays 

Step 9: Keep practicing 

  • Practice at home off leash in different locations 
  • Increase duration and distance slowly  
  • Then, start adding some distractions with short duration and short distance stays 
  • Distractions can be toys, clapping, knocking on the wall or owners jumping 
  • Practice outside using a longer leash 
  • Pro tip: 
    • Practice with short sessions on a regular basis

If your dog does not understand the lessons or you’re getting frustrated, pause the training for a bit and come back to it later, starting at shorter distances, durations and/or distractions. Stay training is important, but it should also be fun and an opportunity for you to bond with your dog.

Remember, teaching your dog to stay will take patience and a real commitment from you. But once you’ve trained your dog to stay, hanging out in the house, playing out in the yard, and going on walks will be more enjoyable for both of you.

For more expert tips on training your dog, explore our dog training page.  

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