In this lesson we try to explore our dog’s mindset, by having a deeper look at what „wait!“ means for your dog while in training.
Even dogs have co-evolved with humans for more than 15.000 years, many still haven’t lost their natural instincts. Even Fluffy, who can only sleep on its super comfortable dog-bed and enjoys watching TV with his pet parents, can still turn from one second to the next into a wild beast, and charges towards the TV screen to hunt that panic-stricken rabbit on Animal Channel.
Every day, the moment you grab the leash, Fluffy knows, now it’s time for a walk, happiest time of the day ahead, and he can’t hide his excitement, jumps up and down your leg, barks incessantly to surely wake up your elderly neighbours from their lunchtime nap and sprints out of the door, the moment you open it.
Impulse control is the ability to resist a temptation, instinctual urge, or an impulse. What for a dog translates to not chase after Kitty, the neighbours cat, not to jump on guests, but wait patiently until dinner is served and sit down calmly before a walk, relates in human terms to topics like how to stay on diet, quit smoking and not get stressed out every time your boss, spouse, children, mother-in-law want something irrational from you.
Unfortunately there are still dog trainers out there who follow an old, outdated and totally wrong way of trying to control their dogs by punishing our canine companions harshly, so that they are afraid of showing any unwanted behaviour. Instilling fear is the total opposite of what a leader should do; it’s our responsibility to take away fear and build up a relationship of understanding, trust and respect with our dogs. Only on this basis, behaviour changes are possible and your dog will happily adapt to a new way of doing things. Using the Integral Dog Evolution Approach I teach dogs that, if they choose to control their own impulses and not automatically react on impulse or instincts, only good things will happen to them!x
„Wait!“ and „Stay!“
For some dog parents „wait!“ and „stay!“ seem to be just interchangeable commands for to tell your best friend to remain in one place, but from a dog’s perspective those two words which couldn’t be further apart.
The difference is often hard to see at first, but in the dog’s head the major difference between „wait!“ and „stay!“ is the degree of difficulty. To understand the difference, let’s compare it to our experience of waiting for the bus. If the bus is only 5 minutes delayed, we wait, knowing it will come around the corner in just a short amount of time. For a dog, telling it to „wait!“ usually means a short pause, in which it needs to be calm and focussed, before getting a great reward like a long walk.
But what if the bus has a mechanical breakdown and will be delayed for 2 hours? Waiting for a long period of time without knowing if and when a replacement bus might arrive, demands a much higher degree of patience for even the calmest humans among us. Telling a dog to „stay!“ compares to the broken down bus. Even the dog doesn’t know when you will be back, it still hopes you will and attunes its mind that it might take a while, but eventually, you will come back home.
In the evolutionary past of dogs, when they roamed around freely in packs, hunting for prey, it was always the alpha dog to command the other dogs to stay behind, while it entered a cave to check it out for potential dangers. Respecting the alpha dog as the leader of their pack, the other dogs obeyed without hesitation, waiting for the release bark of the alpha to follow it. In training a dog to „wait!“ it is important to make your dog understand that waiting means that the leader will call them after they have remained in place for a short while and some great things like a walk or dinner will follow if they keep still for a while.
„Wait!“ is not a command – it’s a mindset!
Telling your dog to „wait!“ is essential to remind your dog about your and its place in the hierarchy of your relationship. It’s the small gestures which allow your dog to understand that you are the leader of the pack, and will keep it safe, so that it can just follow you in a relaxed and balanced state of mind.
Every time you ask your dog to „wait!“ before you open the door to go for a walk, step outside first and then call it to come, you show your dog that you „have claimed the territory“ outside of your house. „I got it Fluffy, stay relaxed and wait for my order to follow me!“, that’s the message you are sending to your dog with this small leadership affirming gesture, which is one way to begin to address and work on your dog’s state of mind.
Many dogs are super hyped up and excited, be it out of pure joy, nervousness or fear, but in this elevated state of mind dogs don’t make very good decisions and almost never just listen to or follow even a calm and assertive leader. Only a dog in a calm and relaxed state of mind, will engage and focus on you, waiting calmly for your command, knowing that it means lots of fun time together.
The „wait!“ command can be defined as holding back temporarily and then releasing the dog upon a follow-up command or a release word like „Okay!“
When I started to get into dog training, I didn’t understand nor value yet the power and importance of „wait!“ and just saw it as pressing the „PAUSE“ button on my dog to prevent it from passing a boundary or allow me to carry a parcel into the house without tripping over my dog.
But thanks to my fantastic canine teachers, I understood that when my dogs entered the „wait!“ mode, all of their attention was focussed on me, and they were waiting calmly for my next command.
While Benny and Julie learned very fast that to „wait!“ also means that in order to receive a reward, they will have to learn to control their impulses and keep their excitement under control, Jimmy was for a long time an almost hopeless case. Too strong was his excitement, be it when going out for a walk or trying to get him to wait calmly for his dinner. He did his best to sit as still as possible, but then out of excitement, he started to slide his ass inch by inch closer to me, thinking I might not notice. I always had difficulties to remain centred and not to laugh out loud over my sweet silly dog!
Over time he managed to get his excitement more under control and impatiently can remain in the wait! position for longer and longer time periods, but his „wait!“ is far from perfect unlike Julie or Benny. That’s just his character and I love him how he is!
As „wait!“ is used in different situations, which often will become the reward for obeying (like going for a walk, or having dinner), there is no general method to teach. Always remember to turn on your „leadership“ mode before starting this exercise, as teaching to „wait!“ is essentially not a bribery, but a leadership approach.
Some of you will say that „sit!“ automatically should imply your dog to wait for the next command, which is true but often it is not necessary to have a dog sit down, if you want it to wait. Benny, who has mastered the „wait!“ perfectly, knows that if I tell him to „wait!“ I just don’t want him to move but expect him to remain still in one place.
„Wait!“ at the Door
It is important for your dog to understand that, if you open a door, it doesn’t mean that it can rush past you like a whirlwind and storm out of your house. Even the most impatient and impulsive dog needs to learn that it needs to wait for your invitation before crossing the border to the outside world. Usually your dog will get impatient the moment you grab the leash, as it knows, that the best part of the day is about to come right now! In that case, take the leash calmly without addressing your dog (no sweet talking, no looking at it, just do it as boring as possible) and
– Start with telling your dog to „sit!“ near the door, about two meters away is just fine, while you stand directly in front of the door, „claiming the territory.“
– Tell your dog to „wait!“ and pair the clear and sharp audio clue with a hand signal. I usually show my dogs my upright stretched out flat hand, like a stop sign.
– Slowly reach with the other hand towards the door knob, while still show the „stop, don’t move!“ hand signal.
– If your dog remains sitting, confirm your appreciation with an enthusiastic „Yes!“ and praise. In the first stages of this training, if your dog is a foodie, you can also reward it with a treat, but eventually, your dog has to understand that the walk outside is the biggest reward of all.
– If your dog jumps up, display your leadership energy of assertive calmness to show your dog that this is not the behaviour you wanted. Ask your impatient canine friend to sit down and start over again, but this time with even a bit less of a reach towards the door than before.
– You are setting up your dog for success, so set your daily goals reasonably. Even its just a few inches that you manage to reach closer to the doorknob, it is already a win. Always remember that you are helping your dog to overcome it’s impulses and that’s not an easy task to achieve.
– If your dog is successful, gradually reach closer and closer to the doorknob, until you eventually touch it. Then open the door just a tiny crack. If Fluffy remains seated, Yes! and reward him. Then open a bigger crack, until you can step outside without Mr. or Mrs. Impatience following you.
– Now its time for the release word! I usually use an enthusiastic „Okay!“, paired with a hand motion to show my dog to move closer, but any word will do. It might take a while for a dog to understand what „Okay!“ means, but as immediately afterwards the dog gets the reward, some usually get it very fast!
„Wait!“ for your dinner!
This is my favourite way to teach „wait!“ as my dogs get fed at least twice a day and also enjoy a lot of treats, so every time I offer them food, it’s a similar procedure.
– Have your dog sit down in front of its usual feeding place. Tell it to „wait!“ and use the hand signal.
– Then take the food bowl (or snack) into your hands and slowly, very slowly, try to move it to the ground.
– If your dog jumps up to grab its meal, lift the bowl up again and calmly let your dog know that this is not the behaviour you wanted. Command it to „sit!“, ask it to „wait!“ and try again.
– Its unlikely you can teach your dog in just one or two sessions to remain in the „wait!“ position before allowing it to eat its dinner. In order not to starve your dog to death, give it a three times a try and if your dog still doesn’t get it, set the bowl to the ground with an „Okay!“ and repeat the same exercise when it’s time for bedtime snacks, treats or use any other opportunity to make it understand this difficult behaviour.
– Always remember that the alpha is the one who usually eats first. By you preparing your dog’s meal, your dog thinks that you have already had the first bite.
– The alpha or leader always decides who eats next, right after him/her. The decision is easy, the calmest dog eats first, all others have to wait in line until their name is called. It took quite a while to get all my dogs in my pack to sit down and wait more or less calmly for their turn, but it helped to eliminate nasty food fights. Me as their leader decides, who, when and where to eat.
„Wait!“ for me during a walk
This is a very useful situation, in which I often ask my dogs to wait for me. If one of them wanders too far ahead of me if we walk off-leash, then I use the „wait!“ command.
Upon hearing the “wait!” cue, my dogs pause for several seconds until I come closer and allow them with an „Okay!“ to continue their hiking fun.
„Wait!“ to Say Hello!
If you are parent to one of those super friendly dogs, who simply can’t wait to welcome your friends and visitors by jumping up on them, then „wait!“ comes in very handy.
The „Wait!“ Game
Why not try to throw in a game while teaching your dog the important „wait!“ behaviour?
– With your leashed dog, run a few steps, then stop moving and say „wait!“, while showing it the hand signal.
– When your dog stops, pause for a few seconds, then communicate to it that this was „well done!“, followed with a quick praise.
– „Let’s go!“ and you take off running again!
– Repeat for a few times in different intervals, with varying amounts of time in which you pause, so your dog never knows when the next „Let’s go!“ will come!
– When your dog has mastered this game, try it off-leash in a secure area and eventually also with your clever and obedient canine friend farther and farther away from you.
Tips & Tricks
– „Wait!“ not an easy behaviour to learn for any dog, but while some are very patient and have a good command over their impulses, others just don’t seem to be able to resist the temptation of whatever joyful thing or event is coming.
– Progress depends very much on the personality and temperament of your dog. You can read up about it here (coming soon).
– The key to success is to never ever give up and use every opportunity during the day to help your dog change its mindset and gradually become a master of impulse control.