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 🙂



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 🙂

Matchmaking follow-up

Well my shy little PBGV is coming out of his shell very slowly. I do not believe that the sweet Corgi has won him over, yet. I think he may be thinking she has too much enthusiasm. However, the PBGV did seem to work better in class this week, so I’m not giving up hope.

Here are my suggestions for working with a fearful dog in class:

When I have a less than confident dog in class I like to have the fearful dog work in a designated area (perhaps but not necessarily gated off) so that they can get comfortable (start to feel some security) with the space they are in. I start the class out working on some stationary exercises like name recognition, sits, downs, attention/watch, even some meet and greets (people only). This gives the dog a chance to scope out his classmates and determine that they are not a threat (assuming that’s the case). Once the dogs are performing these tasks with some fluidity then I will start the moving exercises like loose leash walking.

While working on loose leash walking, especially as a group, I will distribute cones equally spaced around the room, one for each dog. That way each handler knows they have a cone to “go to”, which helps keep the dogs separated. (Note; you may need to reinforce the importance of this spacing, people have a tendency to group together.) This is very important if you have an anxious dog(s). The movement of multiple dogs can be very stimulating/threatening to a fearful dog so everyone needs to be paying attention.

The handler of the anxious dog should give their dog full attention when they are walking. Perhaps offering a hand target from time to time and reinforcing (treating) good behavior VERY frequently. They should also take periodic breaks if their dog’s been working well in the group. Perhaps even leaving the room or going outside so the dog can have a few moments to really relax.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t rush the process of instilling confidence. The dog needs to develop confidence in himself as well as in his handler.

Hope this is helpful 🙂

Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash

When put on leash many dogs pull, right? Some people mistakenly think it has to do with dominance, that’s highly unlikely. It is far more likely due to one or more of the following factors:
• It works (doggie pulls, handler follows, dog is reinforced for pulling — he gets to go where he wanted to go in the first place!)
• Dogs walk faster than we do (even little dogs often walk faster than their handlers)
• Dog gets distracted by something and reacts (he goes toward it or away from it)

So what’s an owner to do? Apply a few basic guidelines to leash walking:
• Make sure your dog is well exercised BEFORE you ask for loose leash walking (LLW) — a highly energized puppy doesn’t have a hope or prayer of walking calmly on leash.
• Start training the behavior with a food lure. Often called the “magnet method” place a few tasty treats in the hand on the same side as your dog (leash is in your opposite hand). Hold the tasty treat at your dog’s nose (not above — or your dog will jump) and say something like “let’s go”. Take a few steps, if your dog’s sniffing the treat & walking with you mark the behavior with your “Yes”, stop & feed. Repeat every few steps. Practice in a low distraction area for the first week. If your dog starts to pull, just STOP all forward movement until he turns back to you. (If he doesn’t turn back after 10 seconds or so you can say his name, to help prompt the turn.) When he turns toward you mark the behavior, lure him back to your side, feed and say “let’s go” and try again.
• Set realistic goals. If (after the 1st week) you’re out on a walk don’t assume your dog can do LLW for the whole distance of the walk, that will be too much. Instead make sure he’s had a little exercise before you even go out the door and then set up a “goal” i.e. we’re going to LLW 100 feet to the tree over there. You can feel free to use a food lure if it will help (gradually working away from using the lure over time). If your dog starts to pull — you’ll just stop & wait him out. If he doesn’t pull you can mark “Yes” release him “OK” when you get to the tree where he can either sniff (a life reward) and/or get a treat.

See my earlier post for more tips:

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 4

Enjoy your walks 🙂

Importance of Early Socialization

Recently I’ve had a couple of 15 or 16 week old pups come to my Puppy Kindergarten classes — the class is open to pups from 10 wks to 16 wks. In both instances the owners had “kept them home” until they received their second round of shots.

Unfortunately puppies have a developmental window that is just about closed at 16 weeks and what I’m finding is that these puppies are scared of EVERYTHING! While there may be a genetic factor, and it’s possible they are going through a fear period, there is no doubt in my mind that the lack of exposure to a variety of stimuli has severely retarded their social and emotional development.

So what do you do when you have a 35 lb. lab or doberman puppy that’s scared of the 6 lb. cockapoo, not to mention the other puppies? Here’s what I’ve done, that has brought some success:

First of all do NOT over face the puppy. Don’t let the owner coddle them either. Instead the owner should be encouraged to engage the puppy with treats or toys while observing the rest of the class from a little bit of a distance. After the class has been in session for about 10 minutes I do a first round of introductions. I have 2 puppies meet at a cone in the middle of the room (handlers using a food lure at the puppy’s nose to get them to walk to the cone). Once at the cone I say “let them meet” at which time the puppies (on leash – which must be kept loose) get to sniff one another for 3 seconds. Then I ask the owners to return to their chairs, again with food at their puppy’s nose. I select the quietest puppy to meet the shy one. Often the first meeting with the shy puppy is a non-meeting, but we try.

Then we continue on with class. All the while all the puppies are scoping out their neighbors. For the next round of puppy play I divide the group by size & play style, if needed. As I do this I gate off the scared puppy and let him be “off leash” in his safe haven, so he can watch the others play. Based on how that scared puppy is acting I will determine whether it’s appropriate to introduce him to one of his classmates. I find limiting the exposure to a single, quiet puppy is helpful. I will have the scared puppy off leash & the classmate on leash, so that I can collect the classmate up quickly if needed.

The socialization process at this point is slow, but once the scared puppy gains confidence with his classmates the changes in class behavior for that puppy can be significant. However, I’m not at all certain that the now more confident puppy will ever have the level of confidence or resilience in new situations that he might have, had he been exposed to more things (in a positive way) earlier in his life.

The lesson to be learned — get young puppies (by 10 weeks) out into puppy safe environments where they can begin to experience the world.

Have fun 🙂

“I have an idea”

I just love it when my dog has an idea. I don’t know why I still find it so novel but I do.

For instance, when Casey’s really bored he may come into my office while I’m working at my computer and go right over to the closet where I keep my hiking boots. He’ll lay down looking at the closet and very quietly start to “talk” to me. As if he’s saying “Please, please, please can we go for a walk?” It doesn’t usually work (if it did he’d be at the door all the time!) but I have to love his initiative.

I’d love it if you’d share with me some of your own dogs’ favorite ideas 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 14

TEST 14: SAY HELLO (This is not part of the Canine Good Citizen Test)

The TDI Certified Evaluator will test the willingness of each dog to visit a person and that the dog can be made readily accessible for petting (i.e., small dogs can be placed on a person’s lap or can be held; medium and larger dogs can sit on a chair or stand close to the patient to be easily reached.)

For a lot of dogs the biggest challenge is remaining calm when in such close proximity to new people. When practicing, if as you approach a new person, seated in a chair or lying in a bed, your dog starts getting excited for the greeting, immediately use your penalty yards (move backwards a good 10 to 15 feet and get your dog’s attention again, repeat as needed). Your dog’s excitement causes him to lose yardage toward the object of his attentions! This is an extremely effective technique for developing some self-control.

Once your dog has arrived at his destination remember that you can keep talking to him to encourage him to hold his sit and remain calm. If you have a small dog and your dog will be placed on a bed, work on a solid “down” stay in that type of setting. Your dog will not need to keep a down stay during the test, but having this as a default exercise will help your dog realize he has another option rather than excitement.

If your dog will be asked to get up on a chair for petting, make sure you practice this as many dogs aren’t used to getting up onto anything except sofas and comfy chairs. A straight backed chair may present a new set of challenges depending on the footing your dog has to jump from as well as his balance on the chair.

Good luck 🙂