Impulse Control — Wait at the doorway

This installment in my impulse control training series involves teaching the dog to wait at the doorway — the exercise involves a sit and the dog may self-release after a short duration. As mentioned previously, it is often helpful to train an incompatible behavior in order to eliminate/reduce the occurrence of an undesirable behavior. In this instance by training the dog to wait at a doorway the dog is not then able to:

  • escape from the house
  • jump on approaching guests
  • knock over a child or fragile adult

Wait can also be used effectively to ask your dog to hold position while you:

  • walk down a flight of stairs
  • open his crate door (in the house or in the car)
  • anytime his movement could jeopardize his or your safety

Initial training should be conducted at an inside doorway, so there’s no chance of your dog escaping while he learns this new behavior.

Training — wait at the doorway

Unlike stay, wait simply means pause for a moment. Use it mostly at doorways, stairs, gates, in and out of the house and car. It is easy to teach and takes very little practice, but does require consistent application of the behavior when the stimulus (opening the door) is presented. Do your early training at home and gradually progress to other locations.

  • Start by using an inside doorway
  • Do not have any food in your hands
  • Have your dog on leash. (Note: You won’t be using the leash for anything except to make sure your dog doesn’t leave the training area.)
  • Walk up to the doorway with your dog at your side.
  • Get him to sit.
  • Verbally ask him to “wait” and give a hand-signal (I use the same hand-signal as STAY). The hand-signal I use is a flat hand, palm facing the dog, fingers parallel to the ground, presented at the dog’s eye level.
  • Pivot your body in front of the dog so that you are now facing each other.
  • You take one step backward (now your dog should be in one room and you in another, with the doorway between you). If your dog gets up and moves toward you as you move, just lightly walk into him, using your body as a block (do not use your leash to restrain him). Re-cue the “sit” and “wait” and take 1 step backward.
  • Don’t ask him to hold the wait too long — just a second or two at first.
  • Make sure your dog does not anticipate (get up before you release him). If he does you need to re-cue the behavior again.

When you first start out you may only get a 1 or 2 second “wait”. That’s fine. You are developing the building blocks of the behavior. When your dog is holding his sit you will mark the behavior (reference:
release your dog (before he gets up on his own) and give him a treat or a life reward — like getting a chance to go outside.

Gradually you will work to having duration of 20 – 30 seconds on your wait. You want to have enough time to comfortably get out the door in real life.

In the next installment I’ll review how to train “wait” at an outside doorway.

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 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 6


This test evaluates your dog’s training for sit, down and stay.

I am going to split this blog into two parts. Part one how to teach your dog to sit and down. Part 2 will be how to teach your dog to stay.

In TDI testing you can use more than one signal or cue, so do your dog a favor and make sure you give him as much information as he needs.

I suggest people start training most behaviors using a hand signal (vs. verbal cue) first because dogs are masters at reading body language. Once your dog understands that the hand signal means do a certain behavior you can then add the verbal cue by saying it just before you use your hand signal.

Let’s start at the beginning with teaching sit. You’ll start by taking a tasty treat and holding it just at your dog’s nose. As he starts to sniff the treat very gradually raise your hand, just enough to elevate your dog’s muzzle 90 degrees. As your dog’s nose rises in the air his butt should head to the floor (it’s physics). The moment his butt hits the floor use your marker and give him a treat and release him from the exercise. Repeat 5 times. Practice this a couple times a day for several days. At this point your dog should be pretty good at sitting this way. This is when you’ll add your verbal cue “sit” just before you bring the food to your dog’s nose. Practice this for a couple days. Your dog should be sitting very well by now, as long as you have food in your hand.

Now for the transition to having no food in your hand. NOTE: You MUST stop using food in your signal hand after the 1st week or two or your dog will become dependent on it! Here’s how you go about making this transition — initially put the food in your non-signal hand, pretend as if you have food in your signal hand use your hand signal and say the verbal “sit”. Your dog should sit. When he does give him a treat and release him from the exercise. Repeat 5x.

Up until this point you should be reinforcing (feeding) your dog for every sit you ask for. Once your dog can reliably give you a sit 80% of the time that you ask him to sit i.e. if you ask for 10 sits you’ll get at least 8 on the 1st request, you can start to randomize when you will reinforce the behavior. You will reinforce the 2nd sit, the 5th sit, the 6th sit, the 8th sit, etc. The key is to be RANDOM. This is how you work to remove food from the immediate training picture.

You will teach the down using the same principals that you just used for the sit:  food in your hand signal, followed by adding the verbal cue, and then transitioning to no food in your signal hand, and finally randomizing your rewards.

To get the down it is usually easiest to ask for it when your dog is sitting. You will NOT mark that sit (or you’ll never get beyond that point) you can feed it if you want to but don’t mark it. Once your dog is sitting you will take a piece of food from his nose and bring it straight down (as if on a string) to the floor. Your dog’s nose should be following the treat in your hand. Once your hand’s at the floor you may want to move the treat either in toward your dog’s body or out away from your dog’s body, along the floor. This sounds contradictory but it really depends on the dog — I think it may have something to do with their individual structure. Anyway, at first you will mark any behavior even approximating a down, such as a leg extension, even the bowing of the head. hopefully you will get a full down within the first 5 tries. Once your dog is giving you a nice down you will progress in the same manner you did with the sit outlined above.

Small dogs seem to have more difficulty with the down. If you run into this problem see if you can sit on the floor with your dog. Extend one of your legs, so it”s laying flat on the floor. Your dog should be sitting or standing on one side. You will slightly bend your knee, adding a little elevation and provide a little gingerbread trail under your leg for your dog to follow. As they are crawling under your leg hold a treat at their nose so they stop their forward movement for a moment. Lightly & slowly lower your leg — your dog should now be in a down! Mark the behavior, give them the treat and release.

Next time we’ll work on teaching your dog to stay!

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 3

Today’s segment:


In this test the evaluator will gently examine your dog — lightly touching the body, looking in ears and picking up front paws as well as passing a grooming tool over your dog’s coat.

If you regularly groom your dog the above sounds like it should be easy… not so fast! I can’t tell you how many dogs are really uncomfortable with people touching their front feet! If you have one of those dogs you need to take some time to desensitize your dog to having their feet touched & picked up. Desensitization is basically the process of changing one’s perception of something, in this case from bad to good.

I would suggest starting this when your dog’s just had some good exercise, so he’s a little tired not wired. If you can sit on the floor with him with a few tasty treats in your hand touch a paw and give a treat. Repeat. If your dog’s relaxed you can try to pick up the paw in your hand, while feeding a treat with the other. If your dog starts to squirm take it a bit slower. You don’t want your dog to have any reaction at all, except maybe a little anticipation for the treat. Practice this daily until you can pick up each front foot (alternately) with no fussing, ultimately delaying the treat until you’re done with the examination. This may take a week or two, but it’s well worth it.

Unless your dog has had ear infections you will probably not have as much of a problem with the ear inspections, but make sure you practice and make it rewarding and enjoyable for your dog.

Regarding the grooming — make sure you bring your own grooming equipment! Something your dog has experience with and willingly accepts. I’ve seen dogs freak when approached with a tool they’ve never seen before!

Good luck with your grooming 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 2

Today’s installment:


This exercise is a natural progression from Test 1 Accepting the Friendly Stranger. Now that your dog can handle the approach of a new person without jumping up we will move to having the stranger pat your dog. The friendlier the dog, the more difficult this can be.

I suggest one of two approaches, perhaps starting with the 1st and phasing into the second.

Phase 1 — the handler will hold a bit of food at the dog’s mouth which he can nibble on while the stranger starts to pat the side of his face and lightly touch his back. Note: most dogs do not like it when someone puts their hand over the dog’s head in preparation for petting them on the head. So start with petting the side of the dog’s face instead, gradually working toward the top of the head pat.
The distraction created by the food is often enough to keep the dog from jumping on the stranger.

Phase 2 — if the dog’s been taught to target your hand (touch) then the handler can ask the dog to “touch” his hand as the stranger ever so briefly pets him. Gradually increasing the duration of the touch & petting. Again, the touching gives the dog something else to focus on other than the approaching stranger. Gradually phase out the hand target.

Let me k now if you need me to review the targeting and touch exercises.

Good luck 🙂


Bear in the woods

Again, I digress to wildlife instead of dog training.

We went on a hike at a local park and to our complete amazement we came across this bear in the woods.

Had to share 🙂

We were surprised to come across this bear while on our hike!