Train a Puppy to Sit and Stay

Man training dogs at the park
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Your puppy needs to learn to “sit" and "stay" on command as a form of polite doggy behavior. These commands are useful in order to teach positive obedience in situations where your pup might be too hyper for the occasion. Learning to sit can also be used to request you to open the door or give a toy, or a thank you for serving food. Planting their tails also helps keep high energy pups under control.

Puppies quickly learn how to game the system, though, by planting the tush only briefly before bouncing up like a ping-pong ball. Does your puppy sit politely but only until temptation makes it dash out the door? You can couple that “stay” command with the "sit" command to teach your buddy to hold its position until released.

How to Train a Puppy to Sit-Stay

A "sit-stay" command just asks the dog to sit in place and extends butt-floor-contact time. In an ​obedience trial, the "sit-stay" command is required even at the the novice (beginners’) competition level. To be awarded points for this portion, a dog has to sit in place for one minute while other dogs do the same and you stand across the room from it.

By teaching your dog that it gets better privileges the longer it holds the "sit-stay" pose, the more it will enjoy the exercise. You’ve already taught how to sit, so now you just increase the duration and reward for doggy patience. If your dog already understands the “wait” command, you can use that to transition to the more specific “stay” (don’t move at all) command. Here’s how.

  1. Plan to train in a place that has as few distractions as possible, like the living room. You can add distractions later once your dog understands the new command. Make sure it hasn't just eaten a meal so that it’s eager for treats but not starving.
  2. Cut tiny high-value treats into fingertip-size nibbles. These should be something your dog loves to eat and only gets during training. Also have on hand a secondary reward, something it likes but only if the training treats aren’t around — for instance, a squeaky toy. Show your dog the treats and reward but don’t give them to it. You want your dog to know good stuff is around, but it must pay attention to be rewarded.
  3. Command the puppy to “sit” in an authoritative tone of voice.
  4. Once its tail makes contact with the floor, say “stay” and feed the first tidbit.
  5. Keep offering more—treat-treat-treat-treat—one after another as long as it holds the "sit." A ten-second stay is a reasonable first goal so that success is possible. You want the puppy to win this game, not turn it into a “gotcha” losing proposition. After ten seconds of the "sit-stay," release with a cue word like “okay!” and a “click” if you’re using the clicker to train.
  6. As you give the release word, reward with the lesser value toy and shower your dog with praise so it knows what a smart, lovely dog he is. That teaches that your dog only gets the really WOW-treats while it obeys the “stay” rather than for breaking the "sit."
  7. Puppies that break the "sit-stay" before you’ve given the release word get no treats. Say something like, “whoops, you blew it!” and turn your back, cutting off any hope of treat/rewards for at least ten seconds or so. Your puppy will soon make the connection that holding the "sit-stay" gets it more yummy treats, and the yummies disappear if it moves.
  8. Puppies tend to figure out the rules rather quickly but they’ll need the practice to learn that duration matters, too. Repeat the exercise and say “sit-stay” with unending treats for ten seconds, and release with “OK” and throw a praise party.
  9. Practice this exercise several times, then increase the duration of the stay by two to five seconds, continuing to treat the whole time, followed by the release word and praise.
  10. After your puppy can hold the "sit-stay" for fifteen to twenty seconds at a time while treating constantly, begin to delay treat delivery. Aim for the puppy to hold that "sit-stay" for two to four seconds at a time between treats.
  11. Keep track of your success rate. Once you’ve reached a solid "sit-stay" 80 percent of the time, try increasing the delay between treats by a few more seconds. When your puppy is solid again, increase the time delay once more, and so on.
  12. Eventually, work toward giving a tasty reward less frequently but with unexpected bonus treats—several at once, for example, for a particularly long "sit-stay." Even young pups learn to appreciate the bonus concept of higher value rewards for better performance.
  13. Puppies that understand the concept of "sit-stay" simply need the practice to extend the “stay” duration, as well as distractions. If your puppy is reliable in a sit-stay in the living room, practice the "sit-stay" in the yard, or at Grandma’s house. You could even make the "sit-stay" part of mealtime repertoire with the yummy supper ration a big bonus reward for a great sit-stay.
  14. It’s best to practice and extend the duration of the "sit-stay" before you add distance away from the puppy. Being close to the baby dog during these drills offers better control so you can stop immediately with consequences (turn your back/stop the treats) if it blows it. The pup should be able to maintain a solid "sit-stay" for at least a minute or longer while you’re in touching range before you take a step away and practice at farther distances.
  15. In the end, your pup should sit-stay on command when you ask from across the room, even when no treat is visible. By phasing out the treat-every-time to intermittent rewards, the pup learns that rewards are always possible, and become more likely the longer it performs as you ask.