How to Teach a Dog to Stay

Teach your dog to stay

To teach a dog to stay you need to first establish a sit position, then pair that sit with a cue or command like the word ‘sit’ or a hand gesture. You’ll need to proof the command to distractions, slowly adding in more complex scenarios like outdoor settings, passersby or even the local wildlife. The stay should initially be taught in very small durations, mere seconds that are slowly built up over time. Positive reinforcement is key, as it going at your dog’s pace. Today I’ll share how I teach my dogs to stay, and help you to get a dog that will sit and remain in that place regardless of what excitement is going on around them! You’ll have exercise to work on, and steps to follow with diagrams. I’ll give you lots of reassurance that you’re on the right track, as well as advice for what to do when things don’t go to plan!


Does your dog fidget or get up if you tell him to sit, especially when there are people or other dogs around? Will he SIT momentarily, but then get up again? So that you have to keep telling him to SIT all over again? If you have ever envied people who can tell their dog to SIT or LIE DOWN then walk away, leaving the dog patiently and obediently waiting for them, this is the article you need.

Not only will you discover how to make your Labrador STAY where you put him, even if you go out of sight, you’ll find out how to make your dog SIT and stay in all kinds of challenging situations.

Why teach your dog to stay?

Most people want their dogs to ‘sit and stay’ or ‘lie down and stay’ for a number of reasons. This might be to keep the dog safe – waiting in the car to be told to get out will prevent your Lab dashing from your vehicle before you get a lead on him for example. Or it might be for convenience.

A short stay

A short stay enables you to put a lead on your dog without him spinning around or let visitors give him a treat without him jumping up at them.

A longer stay

A longer stay can let you eat your dinner in peace while your dog rests in his bed, or even allow you to a pint in the local pub without feeling that you have to watch him the whole time. The STAY is simply a ‘proofed’ SIT or DOWN that lasts for more than a second or two.

What does ‘proofed’ mean? Well, proofing means making sure that your Labrador will obey your instructions even when there are other things he’d like to do. Such as chasing his tail, or playing with the dog next door. The sit stay or down stay duration is partly up to you and will partly depend on a number of other factors.

How to teach a dog to stay - a complete dog training guide

How long should my dog stay for?

The duration of the stay should depend on several factors:

  • The age of the dog
  • The temperament of the dog
  • How long you have been training
  • The distractions around your dog

The age of your dog

Puppy stays need to be short. Puppies have shorter attention spans and are more likely to lose their concentration. So we need to take a dog’s age into account when deciding how long he should be asked to stay for.

The temperament of the dog

All dogs can be taught to stay, but we usually expect more excitable dogs to learn at a slower pace than dogs of a calmer nature.

So for example, your six month old Labrador might be able to stay for one minute without any trouble, a more fidgety six month old spaniel might only be able to manage thirty seconds at the same age. Consider your dog’s temperament and if in doubt make the stay a little shorter.

How long you have been training the stay

You need to build on what your dog can already do. If your dog can reliably sit for one minute, in all kinds of different places, it is fine to start training towards a ninety second sit or even a two minute sit. If he has never sat and stayed for more than five seconds, you should not be aiming for more than ten.

Teaching a really long stay takes time and patience. Making big leaps might seem like a good way of speeding this process up. BUT if you increase duration or distractions too quickly, then your dog will probably break the stay.

This can be a bigger deal than you might think, especially if he manages to engage in some kind of rewarding activity after moving. You’ll then need to go back to shorter, easier stays for a while, and this will be frustrating for you. If you go slowly enough so that the dog almost never breaks a stay, it will never occur to him that he can. So overall progress will be quicker even if training seems to be taking longer.

The distractions around your dog

When you start to ask your dog to stay in more challenging situations: when another person comes into the room for example, or when another dog is passing by on the other side of the road, you will at first need to reduce the length of your stays.

So, if you are asking your dog to sit outside the school gates, ask him for a two second stay to begin with, not 30 seconds or a minute. Otherwise you will repeatedly find yourself in a situation where you say SIT, your dog sits, then gets up and you say SIT again. Over and over. Your sit cue soon becomes worthless and your dog ignores it altogether. Before you know if you are reduced to hanging on to his collar and apologising to people while he licks their babies or gets his lead twined around their legs.


What command should you use for STAY?

This might seem like a strange question.  After all, if you want the dog to STAY, surely the right command is – “STAY!”. In fact, the word ‘stay’ as a cue is not necessary and may be a bad idea.  I’ll explain.

The stay cue

Like many trainers I never use a stay cue. The reason is this. When I tell my dog to sit, or to lie down, I expect him to remain there until I release him. A stay cue implies that if you DONT say STAY, it is OK for your dog to get right back up again. This is almost never the case! So, you won’t be needing the word stay, your SIT cue is all you will need from now on. All you have to do, is remember to release your dog when you are done.

How to end the stay?

There are three possible ways for a STAY to end

  1. The dog gets up of his own accord
  2. You give the dog another cue (come or heel for example)
  3. You release the dog

You’ll need to plan your training carefully to ensure the first of these three never happens. If your dog gets up from the stay without permission and enjoys the experience, he’ll probably try to do so again. I’ll explain how to avoid this in the training instructions.

We’ll be looking at teaching a release cue below. This is a signal you can give to the dog to end the stay with your permission. It tells him that he has completed the job and is free to do his own thing.

Should you teach your dog a Sit-Stay or a Down-Stay?

We can actually teach a dog to stay in any of three different positions

  • SIT
  • DOWN

But outside of the obedience or show ring, most people only use the first two. The training process is the same for either, so for this example we’ll use the SIT as our example. You can then work through the process again if you like, substituting the down cue for sit.

For very long stays, the down is a better position for your dog as sitting for long periods of time can be uncomfortable. So if, for example, you want your dog to remain in his basket while you watch a movie, a down-stay would be a better choice.

Why won’t MY dog stay?

You may have already tried to train a stay and found it a bit of a challenge. Many dog owners struggle to teach the stay for two reasons

  • They ask for too much too soon
  • They use rewards ineffectively

Too much too soon – duration

It is common to see people succeed with teaching young dogs or puppies to sit and stay, then starting to leave them for longer and longer periods of time until eventually the puppy gets up.


The person in charge then often repeats the mistake, or even punishes the puppy for getting up. This might not be a harsh punishment, it might be a NO or simply pulling the puppy back to where he was, but it doesn’t help matters at all

Punishment for breaking the stay makes the dog feel insecure and makes him want to appease the owner, to do this he needs to get close to the owner. This often results in the puppy crawling after the owner time and again or constantly getting up for reassurance. The answer is to reinforce very short stays to begin with and to ensure that getting up from a stay is the last thing on a puppy’s mind.

Too much too soon – distractions

Another common cause of problems is asking for stays in situations that are too challenging for the dog at that point, when the dog is too excited for example or too close to distractions. This is especially important when it comes to adding other dogs or people into the equation.

Distractions need to be introduced gradually, at a distance and reward values increased in the early stages. This is what proofing achieves.

Ineffective rewards

Some people struggle with the stay due to ineffective use of rewards.  Either rewards that are too low quality for the challenging nature of the task, or rewards that are spaced too far apart. I’ll explain how to get around this as we go.

Teach Sit Before You Teach Your Dog To Stay

In this article we are going to train STAY with the dog in the SIT position. If you have not yet read Train Your Dog To Sit, I recommend you do so at this point. There are five stages to teaching the SIT STAY (and all other commands). The first three stages teach the basic SIT while stages four and five teach the STAY.  You can follow the links to find out more about each one

  • One Get It!
  • Two Pair It!
  • Three Teach It!
  • Four Proof It!
  • Five Maintain It!

Remember there are two key parts to the SIT STAY

  • stages 1-3 are for SIT
  • stages 4-5 are for STAY

Once you have worked through stages One to Three of the SIT STAY – you’ll be ready for Stage Four Proof It! below.

Preventing the dog from breaking the stay

If your dog gets up before you intend him to he has ‘broken’ the stay.  Preventing your dog from ‘breaking’ from the stay without permission is crucial. If dogs are not taught to remain seated during specific distractions, they are likely to move when these occur. If they do move, they might find this rewarding, and be more likely to move in the future.

Your dog might for example get up if you

  • Move around him
  • Walk away from him
  • Talk to someone or answer the phone
  • Don’t release him for an unusually long time

He might also get up if

  • Another dog walks past
  • A child goes up to him
  • They offer him food
  • Someone throws a ball near him

This is not naughtiness – it is simply lack of proofing. Different dogs are likely to be tempted by different things. You know your dog, so keep in mind his own preferences. During this whole training process, try hard to make sure that your dog is not placed in situations where he cannot resist breaking the stay. He will get better and better at resisting temptation as your training progresses provided that you increase the level of difficulty in little steps so that the dog is less likely to fail.

Making a list of distractions

To be successful in training the stay, we need to think about – and plan for – trouble. This is where we need to consider potential ‘distractions’ You’ll need to make a list of all the situations in which your dog might be tempted to get up from the SIT, before you give him permission to do so. You can then check each item off on your list as you complete the relevant training. This will help you introduce your dog to remaining seated in each of those situations where he might be tempted to move, in gentle and effective stages.

Distractions are not the only factor that will influence your dog’s ability to stay. We also need to think about the duration of the stay – how long we want him to remain seated for- and his position relative to you, as his handler, and the distance between the dog and his owner. People often make the mistake of moving too far from their dog in the early stages of stay training. This can make him feel insecure and may encourage him to move towards you.

The 3 Ds of dog training

So there are three separate issues to consider

  • duration
  • distractions
  • distance

These are known as The 3 Ds. And what we will do, is increase the difficulty of only one of these three factors at a time.

Important rules for teaching the stay

  1. when one D gets harder, make the other Ds easier
  2. physically prevent accidental reinforcement
  3. choose the right rewards
  4. if you mess up make things easier for a while

Rule 1

Duration, Distance and Distraction need to be tackled separately, starting with duration. And when one D is made more difficult, the others need (temporarily) to be made less challenging than before. So, when you first teach your dog to sit for one full minute (higher duration)have him in a quiet place without people or dogs (lower distraction) right next to you (lower distance).

When you first teach your dog to sit while people throw balls around him (higher distraction), have him right next to you (lower distance) and reduce the length of the sit from one minute right back down to three seconds (lower duration).

Rule 2

You are responsible to preventing your dog from accidentally reinforcing the wrong behavior. What do we mean by accidental reinforcement? Well, rewards reinforce behavior. That is why you reinforce the behavior you want to see your in your dog, with nice tasty treats. But there are lots of ways that behavior you don’t want, can be accidentally reinforced. This is particularly likely to happen if your dog ignores a cue that you have given him.

So, not only do you need to do everything in your power to ensure that your dog does not break the stay (because this weakens your SIT cue), you also need to prevent your dog being accidentally rewarded if he does break the stay. Accidents happen. Sometimes we mess up and push the dog too far too fast. He gives in to temptation and chases after that ball. How are you going to make sure he doesn’t get hold of it? Because that would be a massive reward for the wrong behavior.

The best way is to set up your training session carefully. Have the ball thrown between two friends for example. So that if the dog breaks, he doesn’t catch it. Have your dog wear a trailing line on a harness so that if he wanders off from the stay without permission, you can pick up the line and prevent him playing with a passing dog. Plan ahead, expect mistakes, but do everything you can to avoid them.


Rule 3

Choose your rewards carefully. Challenging distractions require powerful rewards until the dog has mastered the right response to your cue in those situations. Do not attempt to train with praise alone, studies have shown this is not an effective long term way to change a dog’s behavior.

Rule 4

If you mess up, and your dog makes a mistake, go back to an easier exercise for a few sessions. Shorten the stays if you were increasing duration, move further away from distractions, raise the value of your rewards. Set the dog up to win.

Choosing and using the release cue

Before you start training, you need to decide on that release cue. I use OK, a lot of people use FREE or BREAK or GO PLAY. Arguably, you shouldn’t use something that is commonly used in conversation, so my OK is probably not ideal. However, if you say your cue in a very predictable and specific way OKAY!! Rather than in a conversational tone, your dog will probably not be confused.


Ready to start training?

So, we’re done with all the explanations – it’s time to start training.

To begin with, I’m deliberately going to go into a lot of detail here so nothing is left to the imagination. As we progress, I’ll make more assumptions because by then you’ll understand the process and be able to figure out the detail for yourself.

It may look like a lot when you read through but it is actually very simple and you’ll fly through these first exercises. Remember, you must work through the first three stages using the exercises in Teach Your Dog to Sit, before begin this one. Done that?  OK – here we go.

Sit-stay Stage Four Proof It!

We’ll begin by teaching your dog to sit and stay for twenty seconds. Now that might not seem a very long time to you, but it’s quite a long time for a dog that has never done this before. Your dog must be close to you, either at your side, or sitting in front of you.

If you dog is very young, remember, small puppies have short attentions spans, start easy and build up. Let’s just recap Exercise 4 from the previous article – Teach Your Dog To Sit.

Exercise 4

1. Observe your dog and while he is standing up say SIT.
2. As his bottom touches the floor say YES
3. Throw a treat far enough from the dog that he has to get up in order to reach it.
4. Repeat several times

In the next exercise, we’re going extend the length of the sit, still with the dog near, or next to you. We’ll release him with your new release cue. Let’s assume you’re going to use GO PLAY. Like this

Exercise 5 – treat streaming for ten seconds

1. Take three treats in your hand
2. Stand close to your dog and give the cue ‘SIT’
3. As his bottom touches the floor feed him two treats one at a time at roughly one second intervals
4. Give the release cue GO PLAY and throw the third treat away from the dog so that he has to get up to eat it.
5. Take four treats in your hand
6. Stand close to your dog and give the cue SIT
7. As his bottom touches the floor feed him three treats one at a time at roughly one second intervals
8. Give the release cue GO PLAY and throw the fourth treat away from the dog so that he has to get up to eat it.

Repeat this exercise two or three times adding more treats each time until you are feeding about ten treats to your dog in succession. Now you can start to slow down the delivery of the treats and space them out just a little. Like this

Exercise 6 treat streaming for twenty seconds

1. Take some treats in your hand
2. Stand close to your dog and give the cue SIT
3. Feed all but one of the treats to your dog, one at a time, at TWO second intervals (count one thousand, two thousand in your head)
4. Give the release cue and throw the final treat away from the dog so that he has to get up to eat it.
5. Repeat, several times

What if the dog gets up?

If the dog gets up, stop feeding him. Wait for him to sit, or lure him back into a sit again, and revisit the previous exercise before attempting this one again.

Treat streaming – fading the treats

Treat streaming and is a great way to get some initial duration into a new behavior that you have just taught your dog, without using any kind of force or correction. Ten treats at two second intervals will give you a twenty second sit.

Obviously, you don’t want to have to shovel food into your dog continuously in order to keep him in a stay. So the next step is to lengthen the gap between the treats until the dog gets just one treat after he is released from the stay.

Exercise 7  the twenty second sit

1. Proceed as for exercise 6 but start to slip in some three second gaps between treats. Don’t bunch these all together, sandwich each three second gap between some two second gaps.
2. As long as the dog is comfortable with this you can then proceed to four second gaps etc.
3. Make a note of the following targets and tick them off as you reach them.

  • Five treats fed at four second intervals.
  • Four treats fed at five second intervals.
  • Three treats fed at six second intervals.
  • Two treats fed at ten second intervals.

Don’t go straight from one target to the next, make it easy for your dog. It is good practice to end the session on some shorter gaps and to surprise the dog occasionally with some extra good treats as the task becomes more difficult. As long as you don’t stretch the gaps between treats too quickly, the dog won’t make mistakes. If he gets up, you are increasing the gaps between treats too fast.

Once you have got your twenty second sit, and practiced it over several training sessions, you can begin to add some distractions.

Teach your dog to stay while you move around

The first distraction we introduce into a stay, is the movement of the dog’s owner. It’s important that you add this after duration (because the act of moving around takes time) and before introducing any physical distance between the two of you.

Early mistakes in stay training

It is very common for everything to fall apart at this early point. Often the dog’s owner will take it into their head to walk away from the dog. The dog immediately gets up to follow them and the stay has been broken without the release cue being given.

Most people will then correct the dog by saying NO! And take him back to where he was. There is no need to do this, if we introduce your body movement as a distraction, more carefully. Like this

Exercise 8 – stay while I move a little bit

You’ll start by lifting up your leg as you feed your dog a treat. Just bend your knee and lift up one leg as if you were about to take a step. Some dogs will get up if you move any part of you, but the risk of this is reduced if you feed during the distraction to begin with.

  1. Cue your dog to sit
  2. Feed a couple of treats in succession
  3. As you feed the third treat lift your leg and put it back down again.
  4. Feed another treat then give your release cue and feed again
  5. Repeat from step one only lifting the other leg
  6. Then again but this time lifting an arm
  7. Repeat again with the other arm
  8. You are just establishing the principle that the dog must not move even if you do.

It is a simple thing, but if you get this right at the beginning, progress will be swift. Notice we are going back to more frequent feeding while we get this new idea underway. Now its time to move your body before you feed rather than during feeding.

Exercise 9 – stay while I move a bit more

1. Cue your dog to sit
2. Feed a couple of treats in succession
3. Lift up your leg and replace it. Feed
4. Feed again
5. Lift the other leg and replace it. Feed
6. Feed again
7. Release the dog and feed
8. Repeat from 1, raising your arms instead of your legs

If the dog gets up at any point go back a step or two. When he is comfortable sitting still while you lift up either leg or raise either arm with a treat after each movement, start to omit some of the treats. Lift one leg then the other then treat. And so on. I’m sure you get the principle now.

Once your dog can sit still while you lift either leg and then raise either arm, and then raise both arms you are really making progress. Practice these in varied order feeding a treat only on releasing the dog. Try moving more vigorously, and making your movements more pronounced.

Keep practicing until you are satisfied your dog has no intention of moving, no matter how strangely you behave. Now you are ready to begin stepping away from and around, your dog.

Exercise 10 – stay while I step away

In this exercise you are going to move a short distance away from your dog. Each time you move away from him, you will return to him to release and feed him. I am not going to describe this in great detail. You understand the principles now.

Instead I am going to give you some goals to help you break this down into easy stages for your dog. Each time you return to the dog feed and release him. Here are your goals. With your dog sitting in front of you.

Some Indoor Stay Goals

1. Take one step back and one step forward (to where you started)
2. Take two steps back and two steps forward
3. Take three steps back and three steps forward
4. Take one step back and turn around 360 degrees on the spot so that you end up facing your dog again
5. Turn your back on the dog. Count one thousand two thousand and turn back to face the dog again
6. Turn your back on the dog and walk one step away. Turn to face the dog and return
7. Turn your back on the dog and walk two steps away. Turn to face the dog and return
8. Take two steps to one side and back again
9. Take two steps to the other side and back again
10. Walk a quarter circle around your dog and return
11. Repeat the quarter circle in the other direction
12. Walk all the way around your dog clockwise
13. Walk all the way around your dog anticlockwise
14. Take five steps back from your dog and return
15. Turn your back on the dog, walk five steps away, then return

Take your time

Don’t try and reach all these goals in a single session! This may take you several days or even weeks, depending on how many sessions you can fit into a day. By the end of exercise 10 you should be able to walk all around your dog without him moving and also to walk five steps away from the dog with your back to him without him moving.

Take your time. Early success makes for swifter, better results later when training gets harder. You can also add your own goals. For example, you could ask your dog to stay while you

  • Switch on the kettle
  • Sit in a chair
  • Sing
  • Jump up and down
  • Open and close a door

The more you practice, the stronger and more reliable this fledgling ‘stay’ will become. I’m sure you can think of some other goals. If you think your dog will find a goal difficult – break it down into stages. For example, touch the door handle, then open the door a crack and so on. You can also add some more duration to the stay at this point. If your dog is over six months old, work your way up to a two minute stay.

Take your time and err on the side of caution. Now this is probably all you have space to do indoors on your own. You can now move outside to progress with your distance training. You will also need to move outside to add strong distractions such as other dogs, because these need to be introduced at a distance to begin with. There are several things to consider when we teach a dog to stay outdoors.

Teach your dog to stay outdoors

Training outdoors is a new distraction for your dog. Of course, you won’t be introducing difficult distractions like other dogs or people at this point, but the new environment will in itself be a distraction. So everything else must be made more simple.

Go back to exercise 8 or 9 when you first start working outdoors. Then move back on up through exercise 10 before moving on to exercise 11 below.

Rewarding the dog outdoors

Indoors you were able to throw food on the floor after releasing the dog to reward him and to encourage him to get up and ‘reset’ him ready for the next sit-stay. Throwing food on the floor outdoors is not quite so practical, especially on grass, so you’ll need to release the dog and feed him by hand, or alternatively you can use a toy to reward him.

A few seconds of tug play or a fetch of a ball make great rewards especially when dogs begin sitting for longer periods of time. Choose whatever you think your dog will like best.

Exercise 11 – walking the T

For this exercise imagine a large letter T on the ground. Start with a T that is not more than 2 or 3 yards in height.

1. Sit the dog at the foot of the T and walk up to the cross bar.
2. Instead of returning to the dog,  when you reach the top of the T step sideways along the bar to your right,  and back to the centre.
3. Then repeat to the left.
4. Now return to the dog as before and release/reward him
5. Repeat step 5, making the T a little larger as you go on.
6. Start walking purposefully up and down the bar, instead of just stepping from side to side.
7. Make the T up to ten yards in height,  but finish each training session on a smaller T.
8. As you progress you can add some body movement (yours)

You can bend down and touch the ground at each end of the T bar, do a little jump, or clap your hands. Watch the dog carefully, if you think he is tempted to come and find out what you are up to, take it down a notch. Set him up to win,  every time. If at any point your dog seems unsure,  simply go back to an easier stage and practice a little more.

Exercise 12: Walking the clock

In this exercise you will accustom your dog to sitting still whilst you walk in a circle around him at a distance of ten yards. Sound straightforward?  That’s because it is! This is just a scaled up version of what you did when you walked around your dog indoors. It can help to imagine your dog is sitting in the centre of a clock. The distance from the centre of the clock  to 6 o’clock will be only a couple of yards to begin with.

  1. Sit your dog up in the clock centre and walk to  6 o’clock.
  2. Turn to your right and walk around the perimeter of the clock as far as 3 o’clock.
  3. Now about turn and return to 6 o’clock.
  4. Now return to the dog, release and reward
  5. Repeat this in the other direction (walking towards 9 o’clock)

Repeat, increasing the distance you travel around the clock, alternating to your right and to your left. Walk as far as two o’clock and ten o’clock,  then one o’clock and eleven o’clock. Soon you’ll be able to walk the entire perimeter of the clock first in one direction,  then the other.  At this point you can begin to make your clock gradually bigger.

Increase the distance from the centre of the clock to its edge one yard/stride at a time.  Make sure the dog is successful several times at each distance before moving on to the next.

How far should I go from my dog when I leave him on the stay?

Keep to a circle with a maximum five yards radius for four month old puppies.  Up to ten yards for five and six month pups. If you have a big enough garden, and your dog is seven months old or more, you can take the circle out to twenty yards or more from the dog.

How you progress with this kind of distance training is really up to you. Just be aware that the further you go, the harder it is for your dog to see and smell you, and this is very challenging for some dogs

Other ways to make the stay harder for your dog

You can make things more interesting by including short periods where you are actually out of the dog’s sight and building on those. Your disappearance is another form of ‘distraction, and each time you add some new distraction, you need to make it easy for the dog to succeed by staying closer to him. So for example, you could sit your dog next to a tree and step behind it for a couple of seconds keeping the stay really short so that the only new challenge is not being able to see you

Up until now, you have trained well away from serious distractions.  However, it is now time to grasp the nettle and get to work on these. The two biggest challenges for many Labradors when left on the stay, is the presence of other dogs and people.

Teach your dog to stay when there are other people in your home

Many Labradors are extremely friendly and find it very hard to sit still when an exciting visitor approaches them. To train your dog not to move in these situations, you are going to need some helpers.

Choosing your assistants

You will need to choose your helpers quite carefully.  Children under ten are rarely very good at this. You need a person who will follow your instructions to the letter. The person helping you must not give your dog any feedback if he makes a mistake. One badly timed kind word, or any attention at all from your assistant, and you may have inadvertently rewarded an error.

As always you will reduce the distance between you and the dog,  and make sure that the sit is as easy as can be in all other respects. Once the dog has mastered the new distraction at close quarters,  you can increase duration/distance etc again. In this case we will take the training session back indoors to where you first started training. And we will introduce the following distractions to him, one at a time.

  • Person enters the room
  • They circuit the dog
  • Person strokes the dog
  • They feed the dog

It is a good idea to add some more duration to the sit before starting exercise 13.  Take the sit up to a minute using the treat streaming and treat fading techniques you used in the previous exercises. Let’s give you some examples now.

Exercise 13 Sit while a person enters the room

You will need a pre-arranged signal with your helper. You will be in one room with your dog. Your helper will be in an adjoining room. Tell your helper that he is not to enter the room you are in until you give the signal  ‘enter’.  To begin with he won’t enter the room completely, just open the door a crack and pop his head around it.

  1. Cue your dog to sit – remain close to your dog
  2. Say ‘enter’ to your helper
  3. Your helper should open the door a little bit, put his head round sufficiently for the dog to see him and close the door again
  4. Release and reward the dog
  5. Repeat from 1

Progressing the exercise

To progress the exercise, have your helper step momentarily into the room and withdraw, then step into the room and walk about briefly without coming near to the dog. If you think your dog will struggle with this, use treat streaming to begin with. Eventually, the helper should be able to walk all around the dog without him moving.  And then to gently stroke him.

Finally you can have the helper approach the dog and give him a treat from his hand. Be aware, some dogs will find this much harder than others.  Many will fly through this exercise. With others you will need to be very careful to ensure that the dog does not become overwhelmed with the temptation to move.

Remember that your dog only knows how to sit for one minute. If your helper takes too long,  the dog may get up simply because he doesn’t realise a sit can last this long. If necessary practice longer duration sits before moving on. Once your dog is reliable at this exercise, you can, if you wish, make it harder by putting some distance between you and the dog before you cue your assistant to enter the room.

Try and practice polite sitting indoors with as many different helpers as you can. You can also practice in your yard or garden by having helpers come out of the house or via a garden gate.

Once your dog can sit and stay for a minute or so, and can remain seated even if visitors come into the room. It  is a good practice to teach him to stay in his basket while you have your evening meal. For a long stay like this, you really need to use the DOWN cue and you can find instructions for that in this article: Teach your dog to lie down and stay Now it is time to go back outdoors and practice the sit stay around strangers.

Teach your dog to stay when people approach him outdoors

When you are training your dog in public it is important to ensure that he stands a high chance of obeying any cues you give him. And that he cannot help himself to rewards if you mess up! You have much less control in situations like this if you are relying on the behavior of strangers.

So practice with a helper first whenever you can. And have your dog wear a harness and long line until he is reliably competent at responding to your cues.

Exercise 14 Sit while people pass by

You know what to do now, so I’ll just give you some ideas for goals. Remember that the closer people are to your dog, the more tempted he will be to move. Make a check list of challenging situations and tick off when you are happy your dog will not break the stay.

IMPORTANT: If you doubt your dog’s ability to obey your cue in any given situation, don’t give the cue.

It is better not to practice at all, than to set your dog up to fail.  Use treat streaming where necessary to get the stay established in new situations. Here are those goal ideas – check that your dog can sit and stay when

  • He can see people moving about in the distance at least 50 yards away
  • The dog can see people moving about at least 30 yards away
  • He can see people approaching and going past him at least 10 yards away
  • Someone walks past him within two yards
  • Someone walks past him almost touching him

Where to train

The kinds of locations you can practice these skills are parks and beaches, especially early morning or on dull days when there are less people about. Parking lots early in the morning can be good early training venues too. Later you’ll be able to practice in busier places, including town centres. Although your dog will be leashed around traffic, it is still important for him to be able to sit and stay while you speak to people, or while people greet and pet him.

Teach your dog to stay while other dogs pass by

You can teach your dog to remain on the stay while other dogs walk past in just the same way as for people. Use the exercises above as a guide. The choice of initial helper is important.  You need someone with a calm dog that is under control on a leash, or at heel. The helper will need to walk past you at decreasing distances, starting far away.

Work your way up to a point where your dog can sit still while the helper dog is walked all around him in a circle. If you don’t know anyone with a suitable dog then it is important to join a well-run modern dog training class to practice these skills.

Coping with real life

Again, once you are out in public relying on strangers, you will have less control. Only use your SIT cue when there is sufficient distance between you and the strange dog to give your dog a great chance of succeeding. Don’t ask your dog to sit if he is being approached at speed by an aggressive or lively off leash dog

You can ask other people to ignore your dog ‘in training’ but not everyone will comply with your request or control their own dogs. It isn’t reasonable to ask your dog to sit while other dogs sniff or poke him. If you think he is going to get up, release him.

Rehearsing potential distractions

You cannot control everything, but you can try and anticipate trouble. People will sometimes run past your Labrador. They will engage you in conversation,  wave, shout,  laugh, eat, or pass food in front of your dog,  and generally behave in ways that might just make your dog decide to break his sit and go up to them.

Get some helpers to ‘act out’ these distractions before they ‘happen’ to you. Always back up a bit,  if the dog starts to struggle. And if in doubt DONT ask him to SIT.  If you think he is going to break the sit then RELEASE him.

Stage 5 – Maintain It!

So, you now have a dog who responds to your SIT cue in all kinds of tempting situations. He can sit in his basket while you have your supper. He can sit while you watch your son play football at the park, and he can sit while other dogs walk on by. Now all you have to do is make sure this happy state of affairs continues for the rest of his life. And that is a good deal easier than anything you have done up to now!

The joy of proofing

What you are doing as you work through these exercises, is  ‘proofing’ your Labrador’s sit. It can be a time consuming process. But it is always worthwhile, and the results will bring you great joy.

Every dog that is obedient in public, is obedient because someone has patiently proofed his responses to their cues. Proofing, or lack of it,  is what lies between a well trained dog and a disobedient one. There is nothing to stop you from succeeding.

All you need to do, is think of all the temptations that may come your dog’s way, and practice helping him respond to your cues in those situations. When you add a new temptation or distraction, make the stay nice and short, and keep those treats coming fast and thick! Don’t fade the treats until he has understood what is required and had practice enough to succeed.

No special equipment is needed, just your time and commitment. Good luck with your training.  Let us know how you get on and join the forum if you need help or support

Readers Also Liked

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Thank you ! Great article. My choc lab is almost four and still needs reinforcement. Just today I was waking hi on leash when a neighbors little dog, off leash came running up to Mo with his frantic owner behind him. Mo was a good boy and stayed calm and in a sitting position until she retrieved him. Again, good article.

  2. Brilliant instructions! If only the dog school we’d attended had known these instructions I’m sure we’d have progressed far better. And if only they hadn’t compared us and let each person and her dog progress at their own pace. Instead, my very immature boy and I (who was very unskilled in dog training) were forced to “keep up” with the rest of the class, resulting in broken stays and his learning that there are many rewards “out there” (interesting smells to sniff, other dogs to play with, etc, etc!).