More than 50 000 people die from rabies worldwide every year. Most of the victims live in developing countries in Africa and Asia, and are exposed to the rabies virus through dog bites. Every case of rabies prevented is a life saved, so there is an urgent need to implement rabies prevention diligently and globally. In November 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) convened 21 experts in canine rabies surveillance and prevention at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, to develop a new tool to aid health programme planners and managers. Participants included rabies experts from two rabies-endemic countries (Kenya and China), academic institutions, GARC, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and FAO. Building on successes and lessons learned in the use of the FAO-developed progressive control pathway for Foot-and-Mouth disease, the workshop participants developed the first model for a stepwise approach to rabies prevention and control. The approach comprises six stages, ranging from Stage 0, where no information on rabies is available in a suspected rabies-endemic area, to Stage 5, where valid and timely epidemiological surveillance data confirm the elimination of rabies in humans and canines. The stepwise approach is intended for adoption and adaptation by national rabies control and elimination programmes as a tool for managing rabies surveillance, control and prevention.