Impulse Control — Wait at an outside doorway

Continuing on from my last post… Now that your dog understands the basics of the wait behavior it’s time to try using it at a door that opens to the outdoors. If you have a fenced yard, use a door that accesses it for added safety.

Set your dog up for success. As you may recall from earlier blogs, I’ve mentioned that dogs do not generalize well. What this means is that while your dog may completely understand “wait” as it relates to the doorway you’ve been practicing at i.e. between the kitchen and the family room, he may not automatically understand that the same behavior applies when the “wait” cue is given at a doorway opening to the outside. As a result a little additional training may be needed.

Set up for success:

  • Exercise — If your dog is young and full of energy, you’ll want to make sure he has been well exercised before you start this new step in his training. (The anticipation of having access to the outdoors can be very stimulating to many dogs.)
  • Practice — Bring your dog to the inside doorway where they’ve been practicing up until now and get one or two successfully cued “waits” before you move to the outside doorway.
  • Leash — Continue to practice with your dog on leash, just in case!
  • Treats — Have some training treats strategically placed near the outside doorway for rewarding good behavior, but not so close that they are a distraction from the exercise.

Wait at an outside doorway (door opens into the room where you are standing)
Walk your dog up to the doorway on leash. Ask your dog to sit just to the side of the threshold. If the door opens from left to right your dog will sit just to the left of the doorway. Cue your dog to wait (and use your hand signal if you have one). Reach for the door handle. If your dog does not move give him some nice gentle praise and re-cue the wait. If he does move, reposition him and repeat.

After you’ve re-cued the wait, open the door about 2 inches; leave it open for about 3 seconds. If your dog successfully holds his sit, shut the door, release your dog from the wait, and go get and give him a treat. If your dog got up re-start the whole exercise.

Assuming your dog was successful, the next time you open the door you will open it about a foot.

Cue the sit/wait and open the door about a foot wide. If your dog starts to get up you will move your body in front of him to block his motion and simultaneously close the door. Re-cue the sit & wait and repeat the exercise.

If your dog successfully holds his wait for 5 – 10 seconds at the open door you can release him and let him go outside — that’s his reward. Don’t let the release/reward be too exciting as this could make your next attempt at wait more challenging for your dog.

Gradually, in 3 to 5 second increments, you will increase the amount of time your dog holds his wait while the door is open in front of him. You will work to getting at least a 30 second wait before you even consider trying the exercise off leash.

Wait at an outside doorway (door opens out away from the room where you are standing)
You will train this the same way as indicated above, however, note that your body will automatically be in a position to help block your dog’s forward movement, should he get up prematurely from his wait sit.

Now that your dog understands “wait” you should be able to bring in groceries or hold the door for entering guests without fear that your dog will make a mad dash for the outdoors.

Good luck 🙂



Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 7

Sorry to have missed yesterday’s post. The flu got the better of me 😦 And it appears I don’t post on Tuesdays because they’ve been just a bit to hectic…

Now back to TDI…


I like to start training a recall as a really “fun” behavior. At the dog club we call it “Happy chase recall”. Here’s how you start training it:

Hold five treats in your hand. Show the treats to your dog. Have someone hold your dog’s leash while you jog away 10 ft. Turn to face your dog, while you’re still moving (now you’re walking backwards, you don’t need to jog backwards), this will help to get your dog’s attention — say his name in an enthusiastic, loud (so he’s sure to hear you), up-beat tone. When he starts to move toward you, clap and encourage him to run to you. As soon as you say your dog’s name have the helper let the leash go. Say “COME” (or whatever your cue) ONLY when the dog is already running toward you. As your dog gets to you use your marker (once), praise, and give him the treats one at a time. As you are giving the treats put your hand in your dog’s collar, so he can’t dart away!

The reason for the 5 treats is that you want your dog to come to you, when he does come you want him to be happy about hanging out with you (not darting away) and once you have him controlled by the leash or collar you still want him to be happy about being with you. Repeat the exercise.

Never call your dog to you to discipline – go to him. Don’t call to give pills or put in crate UNLESS you first reward with treats & praise.

Another helpful exercise for building a good recall is the RANDOM RECALL. Here are two ways to apply this, you will train these both on leash so you can help control your dog’s response if necessary:
• As you are walking long surprise your dog by suddenly calling him and either taking several steps backward or changing direction, as he follows click and treat. Make it fun!
• Toss a treat a foot or so in front of your dog, as your dog is taking the treat, call his name and then the cue word HERE!!! or COME!!! enthusiastically. Immediately and quickly back away from him. (Extend your hands outward to aid as a target) Use your marker as he gets to you and PRAISE. TREAT and PRAISE generously when he sits in front of you. He must sit with you until you release him with your release word (OK).

Once you have a solid recall, you’re ready to polish the exercise for TDI testing. Hopefully you’ve been working on your stay 🙂 since your dog will have to hold his position while you walk out 10 feet. You may want to add a new cue for this stay (that’s associated with this recall) to help your dog understand he’s waiting (holding his position) for further instructions. “Wait” might be a good choice. Start out by going out about 6 feet. Call your dog. He should come briskly. When he gets to you mark the behavior, treat, praise and release. Gradually you will increase the distance, understanding that the more distance you add the more opportunity your dog has to do something else. Remember, your goal is for you dog to be successful, not to over test him too early.

Things to watch out for:

• Anticipation — when your dog comes before you call him. To help prevent this try to wait 5 to 10 seconds upon reaching your destination before you call him.
• Not holding the sit as you walk away. To help prevent this use your random behaviors to help strengthen your dog’s wait. For example, have him sit, tell him “wait” take 3 steps forward, if he’s still sitting return to him & feed! Or walk all the way out to your destination, count to 5 and come back to your dog & feed.

Once your dog is really good at this recall you may want to gradually add distractions. At first they should be at a distance and only once your dog has been repeatedly successful should you add them in closer proximity.

Good luck 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 6, continued


Part 2 how to teach your dog to stay.

One of the first approaches to teach a stay is to just add duration to your sit or down cue. When you first teach a “sit” you mark the behavior the moment your dog’s butt hits the floor, right? Yes or click & treat. Once you have a solid sit (you get it at least 80% of the time) with either a hand signal or verbal cue you can start to add a little duration. You do this by delaying the marker.

Ask your dog to sit (count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand) mark the behavior & treat. If your dog got up before you got a chance to mark the behavior just give him a quick oops (and no treat) and start over. Now you have a 3 second sit. As your dog gets more comfortable you can GRADUALLY increase the delay of the marker to 5 seconds, 10 seconds, even up to 15 seconds. But if your dog starts getting out of position before you can mark the behavior you’ve upped your criteria too quickly. If this happens drop your time to something your dog can easily do, and gradually increase the time, being certain of your dog’s success.

For the TDI test you can leave your dog in a sit or down, all instructions here apply to both behaviors.

Remember there are 3 components to a stay (see post Therapy Dogs International testing TEST 1: ACCEPTING A FRIENDLY STRANGER):
• Duration (how long)
• Distance (how far)
• Distraction (how much other stuff is going on)

You will work up to having a reliable (good 80% of the time) sit (or down) for 30 seconds before you add any distance. When you add distance — pivot in front & take 2 steps back — you will reduce the length of time, back to 10 seconds. Repeat for several days. If your dog is not successful you either need to reduce the amount of time or get closer. Once your dog can comfortably hold his sit for for 30 seconds with you 2 steps away, see how he does when you are 6 feet away, but again cut the duration back to 10 seconds gradually working up to 30 seconds. You will work up to a distance of 10 to 15 feet, for 30 seconds. (The test is a distance of 10 feet and duration is how long it takes you to walk out and back.)

When you add distractions make sure you reduce distance (start off right next to your dog) and reduce the duration, back to 10 seconds.

As your dog gets more proficient you will want to test your dog periodically but remember you want your dog to be successful, so set him up for success through gradually increasing your criteria.

Good luck 🙂

Comfort & Confidence Builds Consistency

I found myself saying this to several people in class today.

It is almost impossible for a dog to perform any behavior consistently if they are not both comfortable & confident when asked to execute the behavior.

Your dog may be uncomfortable, in a class or competitive environment,  for any number of reasons. Maybe the “big” dogs make her nervous. Perhaps she’s been lunged at by one of the breeds in the class. It could even be that the blower on the air conditioner or heater is making too much noise. Whatever the distraction, if your dog is not confident she will be unable to perform at her best.

Personally, I don’t think people give this issue enough consideration.

How to approach/resolve this issue:

Step one — build comfort in doing the behavior. Practice, practice, practice at home in a low distraction environment. Have your training sessions be short, positive and fun. Always try to end on a positive note.

Step two — build confidence by gradually changing the environment where you are asking for the behavior. When you believe your dog’s comfortable doing the behavior in your home try moving your training to the backyard. Once things are going well in the backyard try asking for the behavior down the street or at the park, away from other major activity. Gradually add in more distractions. Remember, your goal is to have your dog be at ease when doing the behavior. Each time you add more distractions lessen all other criteria such as don’t make her hold the stand for as long, or don’t walk away from her so far.

Granted training this way takes a little bit of time, but in the long run you will likely take less time teaching the final behavior, end up with more solid performance and have a happy dog & trainer too!

Let me know if you have any questions.