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Teaching Your Dog to "Wait"

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Teaching your dog a few simple tricks is fun and entertaining for both you and your pet. It's best if your dog knows and reliably responds to the basic obedience commands of sit, stay and down before teaching him to perform tricks. Most tricks are built on basic obedience work anyway and, in the process of being taught "the basics," your dog will have learned to pay attention to you during training sessions.

If your dog has an orthopedic problem, check with your veterinarian before proceeding with more advanced training. Even relatively simple tricks can place unnecessary stress on bones and joints that are in any way compromised.

Successful training of your dog hinges on rewarding the desired behavioral response in a timely fashion. The most valued rewards differ from dog to dog: For some, food it is the most powerful reward, for others, praise or petting are what they crave. Some dogs will do whatever their owners want them to just to have a little playtime. Find the reward that best motivates your dog to learn and stick with it. Work with your dog daily in 5 to 15 minute sessions. Keep training fun, and end sessions on a high note with reward for a job well done. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or tired, quit and try again later.
The objective when teaching your dog to WAIT is to keep him from charging through doorways, into cars, or across roads before you are fully ready for him. The command is similar to STAY, but is used in relation to doorways, other thresholds, and crossings.

Teaching your dog to WAIT can be challenging. Dogs are curious, animated, and easily distracted. WAIT is a command that requires inaction, a circumstance your dog may have trouble understanding. When we give them the command to WAIT, it doesn't take long for dogs to become fidgety and bored. Work with your dog on the leash first. It will give you better ability to control him when he moves out of the WAIT position.

Begin by walking your dog to a door. A screen door is best at first so you don't lose visual contact with your dog. Give him the command to SIT. A dog will hold still in a sit position a little longer than he would if he were standing. With your fingers pointing upwards, show the dog the palm of your hand and give the command WAIT. Begin to open the door. As soon as your dog moves, close the door. Continue this opening and closing of the door until your dog does not try to walk through the door when you open it. The purpose of the repeated opening and closing is to teach the dog that he cannot anticipate if the door will open completely or not.

Eventually, you should be able to open the door and your dog will remain seated. Make sure to reward your dog every time he does not try to bolt through the door. Once the door is open, give your dog a release command (e.g. Okay!) and allow him to cross the threshold.

Soon, you should be able to walk through the door to the other side while your dog waits. Once your dog has mastered WAIT from the SIT position, try it while he is standing. It's tougher, because he will want to walk around or even go into a SIT. Once he has learned to WAIT while sitting and standing, try the commands off leash. Soon you will no longer have a dog that goes flying out the door every time it is opened or gets under foot when you are entering or leaving.

Continue to train this trick over and over again. Always use a happy singsong voice when praising and lots of positive reinforcement. Eventually, your dog will understand what you want and will wait patiently at doorways or at the roadside until you give him the release word.

The keys to success in teaching your dog tricks are patience, practice, praise, and persistence. When training your dog, every step he takes in the right direction should be rewarded as though he had just won the lottery. Tricks are fun – and learning how to do them should be fun, too.

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