How do I get my dog to sit...and stay?

PUBLISHED: 09:59 20 September 2018

Tim's dog Huxley (right) with his friend Milo  Picture: Tim James

Tim's dog Huxley (right) with his friend Milo Picture: Tim James


Tim James of Blackstar Dog Training offers advice on how to take your dog’s staying power to the next level.

People often comment on how well behaved my own dog is, but the thing that really makes them stop and stare is when I get him to sit and stay while I walk off, often to quite some distance away.

What they notice is how – even when I am more than a 100m away, often out of sight – he will remain utterly still, totally focused and keen but patient to find out what I’m going to ask him to do next.

Huxley will sit and stay like this in one place for as long as he is asked. I haven’t yet tested his resolve beyond 20 minutes, but I’m confident he would still do his best. This isn’t because of any particularly advanced training.Rather, it is because each time I demand a lengthy sit/stay of him I reward him with something he really likes – most usually the chance to carry out a challenging retrieve, often from water.

As your dog’s general obedience improves and his world widens to encompass ever more exciting distractions, you will want to take this key area of his training to the next level.The command to sit and stay is fundamental to raising a dog you can rely on whatever the situation.

A solid sit and stay can be useful – or indeed essential – in a variety of scenarios. Knowing your dog won’t, for example, dart into oncoming traffic because he can be relied upon to wait before crossing a road can be a lifesaver.

It’s easy to think if he’s on a lead it will be OK, but that’s not always the case.It’s true to a point, but having to pull a dog back is unnecessary.It creates tension through the taut leash and the accompanying raised voices can with some breeds become a game resembling tug-of-war.It is also worryingly easy to lose one’s grip when a dog is determined to be somewhere else.

As with many aspects of training, trust is at the heart of sit and stay.Your dog is trusting that if he obeys and shows patience, he will be rewarded. This might simply be the chance to be with you again or – as in the case of highly obedient gundogs – the opportunity to work, to do what they were bred and trained to do.

When your dog is reliably staying in position in the garden or a small open space, the time is right to move things to the next level.Start by steadily increasing both the time he has to wait and the distance between you.If he remains solid, try introducing a few distractions – perhaps throw a ball which he must ignore or ask him to stay in one place while other dogs are playing nearby.

Try commanding him to stay and then walking out of sight for a moment. gain, if he remains steady increase the time you are out of his direct line of sight before returning to him. Also, vary what follows the stay command. Make him wait and then call him to you. Next time, change things by walking back to him.

And introduce regular sit/stays to your routine. Practice by insisting he remain in position while you take a picture for that day’s Instagram post. Make him sit and stay for five minutes or so before he can run free in the park with the other dogs.

Above all else, get to know your dog and work out what motivates him best. With some, it will be exuberant stroking and lots of praise. Some may only accept a treat as adequate reward. And others may want, like Huxley, to be given something challenging to do.

Tim James is the founder of Norwich-based Blackstar Dog Training. For further information, visit or call 01603 442431

Some exercises to try

These exercises can be used to hone your dog’s sit and stay skills, but will also help with recall. In each exercise, the size of the imaginary rectangle can be as large or as small as your dog’s level of obedience dictates. If he is just starting out with his sit/stay, keep things tight, perhaps by walking just 10 paces or so from the start. If your dog is more reliable, you might like to up the ante by increasing the size of the training area and consequently the distance between you and the duration of his stay.

Exercise 1

Begin by commanding your dog to sit on your left-hand side. Now, imagining a large rectangle in front of you. Starting at point A, walk with your dog staying close to you to the first corner of the rectangle (point B). Ask your dog to sit and then to stay and walk to point C. Here, call your dog to you before walking to point D, again keeping your dog at your side. The last stage is to get him to sit and stay before you walk back to the start (point A). Finally, turn and call him to you.

Exercise 2

In this variation of the exercise, begin by having your dog wait at point A while you walk to point B and then on to point C, directly opposite him. From here, call him to you – crucially, the duration of the stay asked of him will be twice as long. He will cut across the imaginary rectangle to point C, where you again ask him to sit and stay. Walk first to point D and then back to point A before repeating the longer recall.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press