“Hi Chad, I have watched your Basic Obedience DVD and I think I’m doing everything right but I have a question about teaching him to do a Sit-Stay. I tell my dog to sit and then I say “Stay” with a hand signal and walk away. He is doing good but sometimes he lays down. Is this OK or should he keep sitting?”


I get asked variations of this question a lot. In competition training the dog would definitely be required to hold the sitting position because it is technically a Sit-Stay, not a Down-Stay. However, pet dog owners are usually interested in practicality not technicality so they see the dog going into a down as OK because all they really want is for the dog to chill out. To that end, laying down seems even better than sitting.

That being said, I would still recommend requiring the dog to hold the sit but ultimately it’s a personal choice. Let’s look at this a little deeper so you can make an educated choice for yourself. Fair enough?

Practicality vs Technicality

Technically, a Sit-Stay is both a geographic location as well as a body position. So, technically, if the dog lies down it is no longer a Sit-Stay, it is now a Down-Stay. However, the act of laying down is usually associated with settling or calming, hence sinking deeper into the Stay. From a practical perspective, the dog that lies down is less likely to get up and break location, hence the temptation to allow the behavior.

The dog could also break a Sit-Stay by standing up, which would be a Stand-Stay but no one has ever asked me if that's ok. This is probably because we instinctively know that standing is most likely a precursor to leaving the location.

Essentially, the dog that lies down is saying, “If I'm gonna be here for a while, I might as well get comfortable.” From a practical perspective, this is good because the dog is more committed to the location. BUT, there are a few valuable concepts to consider before deciding whether or not to allow this behavior.

The Value of Clarity

Personally, I would not allow a dog to lie down from a Sit-Stay simply for the sake of clarity. In other words, Sit means Sit and Down means Down and I don’t want the dog to confuse the two.

Think about this: suppose your dog is in a Sit-Stay and then lies down and you feel like that’s ok. Now, after a minute or two of laying down your dog sits up. What do you do? You can’t correct the dog since Sit was the original command, right? However, the dog has probably forgotten about the original Sit command after being in the Down for a while so he is probably on his way to breaking his stay. To me allowing the dog to fidget between positions just leads to a lack of clarity and makes the training more difficult.

I train Stay to be both geographic and positional. Hence, Stay is always preceded with a position command…Sit, Down or Stand. OR, if the dog is already in one of those positions, then Stay means to hold that position. To me that just makes more sense.

The Value of Staying On Point vs Getting Comfortable

If I tell a dog to Sit, it is probably going to be for a very brief duration of time and then we are going to move again or I am going to release the dog. For example: Sitting before crossing the street, before feeding or before putting on the leash. However, this is really just a Sit, not a Sit-Stay. If I am going to have the dog do a Sit-Stay for a longer duration while I walk away it is most likely not for practical purposes but for the sake of doing a mentally and physically challenging exercise. The point would be to develop focus, discipline and impulse control. The purpose of such an exercise is not for the dog to get comfortable but to stay on point and be ready for the next command.

Teach and Use a Down-Stay Instead

So, if we are looking at it from a perspective of practicality, then the question would be, “Why are you using a Sit-Stay in the first place?” If you need to “park your dog” for a significant period of time, let’s say longer than a minute, then I would recommend that you just go directly to a Down-Stay. This way the dog can be comfortable and we avoid any confusion.


What does Stay mean to you? If it only means to remain in a geographic location, regardless of what position the dog's body is in, then it would be inaccurate to call it a Sit-Stay. In that case, just call it a Stay and realize your dog will probably struggle due to the lack of clarity described above.

Otherwise, Sit-Stay means to remain sitting. Hence, laying down would be breaking the command which should be clarified to the dog with a verbal marker such as “Ah-Ah” and then direct the dog back into the sitting position using whatever techniques the dog understands such as a verbal command, hand signal or leash pressure.

I hope that answered your question. You may also be Interested in my article titled, The Difference Between Stay and Wait.

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-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

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