It’s important to be able to learn how to train a dog sit and stay. It can be useful in many situations such as at the side of a busy road or when you have to go into a shop. You can also use the sit and stay as a method to reduce leash reactivity. Keep on reading to discover more.
This page contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission on anything you decide to buy. I only recommend products that I either have used and/or trust.
Why Should You Learn How To Train Dog Sit and Stay?
As I mentioned when you and your dog master this skill it can be incredibly useful. Some of the instances where having a strong sit and stay are as follows:
- Road sides
- On off-lead walks
- When in town
- When talking to people in the street
- When you need to go in shops
But My Dog Already Knows This Skill…
Great! If you have mastered this already there is no harm in training it up. The same goes with any other obedience training that you have taught your dog. For me and Jasper, every day is a training session. I’ll always have treats to hand when teaching something new or just to reinforce things he knew before that needs brushing up.
With a sit and stay there is always room for improvement. How long can your dog sit? Can they sit for 5 seconds more? What about throwing some distractions in? How much have you “proofed” this?
Discover how you can add distractions to this skill toward the bottom of the post. Learn how to make sure that when in real life scenarios your dog won’t move
An Essential Skill For ANY Dog Owner
I believe in making life easier for me and Jasper and a lot of that comes from safety. For this reason I am a big advocate of mastering this skill for any dog owner. Regardless of whether your dog is reactive or not you will benefit massively learning how to train dog sit and stay.
Great Tool For Reactivity
For those of you who actually are looking for a way to reduce leash reactivity then mastering this skill could be very useful for you.
Giving Your Dog an Alternative
We all know that a reactive dog is more nervous and afraid than aggressive right?
That whatever triggers them (whether that be dogs, cars, other animals, kids etc) frightens them so much that they go into “fight or flight mode”. Now a dog can’t run away because they’re on a leash which leaves one option…fight.
The fight response of trying to get the other dog to go away consists of all your favourite hits – barking, lunging, growling. However it works; either you turn away or the other owner walks away, either way your dog feels that is the only way to get rid of their trigger.
This then constantly occurs and becomes more of a habit than anything.
By learning how to train dog sit and stay you will be able to give them an alternative to this behaviour. You will be able to guide them to show them that there isn’t anything to worry about.
Teaching Jasper this command was a lifesaver, it helps teach patience and self control which I think is big for reactive dogs, the results were small at first but after time they gradually got better.
Be aware this may not be effective for your dog when it comes to getting a control on leash reactivity. Each dog is different and you have to try different methods. Check out the rest of leash aggression training blog for more great methods.
What Equipment You’ll Need
Before you start you’ll need to make sure that you are properly equipped on how to train dog sit and stay. You can’t expect to make progress if you are already losing half the battle. You’ll need the following to help you achieve success:
High Value Treats
You are going to training your dog to stay in a position for a duration of time. There is only going to be a certain time frame where kibble will work before your dog decides it isn’t worth doing.
You will want to invest in high value treats to keep your dogs attention and 9/10 dogs learn better with food. (I mention this in the best products for leash reactive dog training)
You want to bring out the big guns
- Dried liver
Cut these into tiny pieces and put them in a little pouch in your pocket or invest in a treat bag (I highly recommend it if you have a reactive dog as you can quickly access treats at the right time!).
As you progress further with this skill you will come to “proofing” this behaviour. One way to do this is with the use of a long line that you can leave on the floor and move yourself away from the dog. Having a long line is great added safety, it still gives you control from a distance if you spot another dog or need o pull your dog back etc.
I use a 15 meter line with Jasper as we also use it for long walks and also when we are doing some behaviour adjustment training for reactivity. I feel having the extra space does feel silly at times but I like having the safety net – judge me!
Mastering The Behaviour
Sit and Stay vs Down and Stay
As mentioned above all dogs are different so it really comes down to personal preference. Which position is your dog more comfortable staying in for a period of time? Do they have an injury that means they can’t sit too long? There is also no reason you can’t teach them both however, I’d take it slow first.
I started out with the sit and stay because I found that Jasper can be a princess and won’t lie down on certain surfaces especially if they are wet which can be very frustrating. When it comes to a sit there was no problem at all.
You might prefer a down because it’s a solid position for a longer wait, your dog might move to a down once they start to tire so either work on increasing this time or start with the down position.
Releasing the stay position
If you want your dog to stay in a certain position you are also going to have to teach a release cue, one that lets them break and run around again.
I’ve seen people use “free”, “release”, “go”, “ok” and many other examples.
Teaching a “release cue” is vital for your dog as it can let them know the difference between times of play and work. When you put them in a position you’d really want them to hold it until freed (in a perfect world anyway). Teaching a release can also develop self control, throwing a ball and not having your dog chase it until freed!
1 – Master The Sit Position
So the first step is making sure that your dog understands the basic sit command.
When I started teaching the sit and stay command I went over the sit position again as if he didn’t know it so the grasp of that idea was fresh in his head.
It might be a basic command but make sure you are rewarding, just because your dog already knows it might mean they aren’t motivated to sit straight away if you’ve always asked and don’t really treat anymore which can lead to dogs not performing commands that they know first time.
2 – The proof is in the 3 D’s
Once you’ve got the sit perfected it is time to proof this command.
Proofing basically means making the command fool proof, if you dog doesn’t perform a command first time it could just be because you haven’t proofed it.
To proof a stay position you will need to consider the 3 D’s:
By adding one of the elements slowly you make it harder for your dog but if you do it right and reward and praise correctly then they will get better.
You only want to be increasing one factor at a time otherwise you could make things to complicated which could cause your dog to move and even get disheartened if they feel like they can’t get it wrong which can be even more detrimental.
You want to start with your dog right next to you at home with no distractions, you should be able to perform a sit here but the goal is to increase the distance slowly.
- Ask your dog to sit and take a few steps away from him (if he moves with you put him back into a sit position and try again)
- Hold for a few seconds reinforcing the good behaviour “good sit”, “good boy”, “yes”
- Return to your dog, treat and touch and state your release cue
With distance one way I recommend proofing the sit is not only going in front of your dog but move away to the side, backwards, diagonally. I found I could get Jasper to sit and stay for a distance but once I walked a different way he’d get up and turn around.
This might feel like the best way to measure progress but you need to know that you need small expectations.
I find that if you increase duration every few seconds then also increase treat threshold.
You might be able to get a good duration inside but not outside but by coming outside you are also introducing distractions which make things harder for your dog just don’t get frustrated and keep it positive until you proof this through your dog.
Your dog might encounter a few distraction when in a sit such as other people, dogs, a ball, food and other stimuli.
If you want to learn how to train a dog sit and stay you want to teach your dog to ignore all these distractions and focus on the position and you.
This will mean bringing a ball or a treat or a friend with you and trying to distract your dog. Don’t make it too hard and frustrating
- Ask for a sit and stay
- Wait a few seconds, return and reward
- Ask for a sit and stay
- Introduce a ball
- Put dog back in position if they have gotten up….if not return and reward
- Ask for a sit and stay
- Put the ball on the floor in front of the dog
- Step 5
As you can see from the steps above you slowly introduce the distraction because you want to set your dog up for success, the easier you make it the more interested your dog will be to learn.
Prepare your dog for success, not failure!
Believe it or not, this can be a very frustrating command for both owner and dog especially if they already know the basic position, they’ve never had to wait 5 seconds after a sit for a treat let alone a minute.
You want to make sure that you prepare your dog for success, the first thing is first…
Losing your cool is detrimental to the relationship of you and your dog and it also doesn’t help when you are trying to teach a position that will help a reactive dog as it will be hard enough to perform this command in a reactive situation as it is.
Another thing to remember is that especially for these commands you could weaken the bond they have with the sit command which is the last thing you are going to want! Make sure you understand the importance of keeping your cool when training your dog.
Higher quality treats
When learning how to train a dog sit and stay try and use a reward that is actually going to motivate your dog. Chances are they already know this basic command, why would a treat of dry kibble get them any more excited?
Find some treats that have a good smell behind them, something that’ll get your dog going and wanting to impress you! This also helps when it comes to distractions; what are they going to want more? A ball or a bit of chicken?!
Play the easy game
When things get a bit frustrating I like to get Jasper to give me numerous hi5s. I’ll get him to sit, give me his paw and reward. I’ll move away and repeat it again. This helps lessen him feeling disheartened, after a while try the command once again with less distractions or less time
When me and Jasper train we do it after a morning session in the field, I’ll go over a few moves for about 5 minutes and then call ‘break’ which is a release cue in a way that allows us to have a couple of minutes to play before returning. This avoids frustration in dogs and also because more of an incentive for play after.
How a sit and stay works for reactive dogs
To use this for reactive dogs you will need to figure out your “reactivity distance”. This is the distance before your dog reacts to the trigger in an explosive outburst (find out more in the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs).
Start 20ft from your reactivity distance (maybe further if you need, give your dog as much space as they need and work with them from there). You want your dog to be able to spot the trigger but you also want to have their focus; you want to be able to put them in a sit position.
If the sit is achieved then mark and reward with a treat. From there any time your dog looks at you mark and reward as this is a behaviour you want to strengthen as well – their focus on you. This means looking to you for guidance, maybe further down the line when they see a dog approach they will look at you because you’re the one that deals with that issue, not them…anymore.
If you find you can’t get your dog to sit then back up a bit and move further away until you do it. It may seem like your dog needs a lot of distance and they really might do, that could be why you’ve been having problems with them for so long, they need more space to figure things out!
Repeat this in training sessions at the park or in real life scenarios. You might struggle in real life if the other dog is coming round the corner due to your usual reactivity distance. Keep calm and perform some basic leash skills and make a quiet exit.
Practice makes perfect
Now it’s just down to practice, use everywhere as an opportunity to. If you’re in the house get your dog to sit while you literally put the kettle on or at the top of the stairs, before going outside etc. Hold different duration but add rewards and praise.
When you’re outside you can stop at sidewalks on your walks (builds great focus) or you can see how well it goes in a field.
Practice and proofing these commands with the 3 D’s will help how to train dog sit and stay and before you know it you will be able to keep them calm in any situation that arises.