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 🙂



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 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 13


This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain its training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.

This test is very easy for some dogs and VERY difficult for others. You will definitely have to practice this to make sure it’s something your dog can handle, as a lot of dogs worry when their handlers go out of sight. One thing you don’t want to do is over stress a dog with this exercise by asking for too much duration too early.

First of all, it’s kind of like leaving your kids with a babysitter in that you don’t want to make a big deal about your departure, nor a big deal about your return. Both should be non-events. I suggest that the handler say something like “I’ll be back” to the dog, so he knows you’re leaving. I think it’s better than just disappearing.

Step one — start in a room with a doorway to another room. Have a friend take a seat where they can see the doorway, but they’re to one side of it, so it’s not too easy to see you when you exit or return through the doorway. Give your dog to your seated friend and tell your dog “I’ll be back”. Head for the doorway, go about 2/3 of the way out of the door (but your dog can still see you). Assuming your dog is calm you will use your marker just as you take one step back toward your dog (you are now returning to your dog). You are the reward! You can also praise & give your dog a treat when you reach him, but don’t make a big deal about it. If that went well, repeat. If your dog started getting a little nervous give your friend a few treats to help occupy your dog when you leave the next time.

Step two — Once you have successfully completed step one a couple of times you’re ready to completely disappear from sight when you go into the next room. You will only be out of sight for a count of 5 and then return, using your marker just before your dog can see you come back into the room he’s waiting in. Again, if your dog starts to get excited upon your leaving ask your friend to quietly offer a few tasty treats and see if that helps calm him down.

Step three — You will gradually add duration, in 15 second increments, making certain your dog remains calm as you add to the length of separation. You also will need to gradually have your friend stop feeding treats while you are out of sight, since there are NO treats allowed during any portion of the TDI testing.

Once your dog’s pretty solid on this exercise consider practicing with separations lasting 4 to 4-1/2 minutes, so that when you are in the testing your dog will easily be able to handle the 3 minute requirement. Once your dog is handling the separation well in familiar environments see if you can meet up with some friends in some different places and see how your dog accepts you leaving him in those circumstances. Remember, you don’t want to stress your dog, so start out slowly, and give your friends a few tasty treats to feed, just in case. If your dog does well with your friends you might try taking your dog to a local pet friendly pet store, at an off hour and see if one of the employees would be willing to hold your dog while you do a little “shopping”.

I think it’s also helpful to point out that there are practical applications for this test. I had a student (a nurse) who was walking her dog in the park when someone had a medical emergency.  She had to ask someone to hold her dog while she tended to the other person and waited for an ambulance. Fortunately her dog had undergone this training prior to that day!

Good luck 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 12

TEST 12: ACCLIMATION TO INFIRMITIES (this is NOT part of the Canine Good Citizen test)

This test demonstrates the dog’s confidence when exposed to people walking with an uneven gait, shuffling, breathing heavily, coughing, wheezing, or other distractions which may be encountered in a facility.

Dogs pay a great deal of attention to body language, whether it’s a person’s or another dog’s. It is the one of the primary ways they learn about their world (in addition to their other senses of course). So, you will want to expose your dog to a wide variety of people introducing people of all ages and stages of health in preparation for this TDI test. From puppyhood you should  expose your dog (in a positive way) to people wearing costumes, walking with walkers, carrying strange things and more.

In the puppy classes I teach we have 2 out of 6 sessions where people are asked to wear a costume or bring something to class that they expect may be “different” for the puppies to experience. I think the best example I’ve seen recently was a gentleman who wore his rollerblades while carrying a battery operated hand drill! Some puppies were unfazed while others needed to see him stop moving and be at a distance in order to not be disturbed by him. In this case you would work on your counterconditioning and desensitization again.

If your older dog doesn’t like seeing people that look or act a little different you will use the same counterconditioning and desensitization methods that I’ve discussed previously. Making sure you very gradually expose your dog, at a distance, to the things he finds disturbing, providing him with lots of tasty treats in the presence of the scary things and removing the food the moment the scary things are out of sight.

Hopefully you can recruit some of your friends to help you, just make sure they don’t actually scare your dog or that will set you back some!

Good luck 🙂

There are only 3 more TDI tests for me to describe. If you have suggestions for my next series of blogs let me know 🙂

So you want a puppy?

It is unfortunate but every so often a person, or family, comes to class with a very mismatched dog or puppy. Perhaps they saw a cute pup at a weekend event, or they used to own big dogs when they were younger  — but now they’re in their 70s. The reasons vary but the outcome is frequently the same — they need to re-home the new canine.

I encourage people to do a little homework before they take the big step of adding a new family member. A few things to consider include:

• Consider what the dog was bred to do — a dog who was bred to herd cattle all day won’t likely do well waiting in an apartment for you to get home from work.

• How big will the dog get? Do you have the strength and where-with-all to give him proper training and exercise?

• Most puppies like to jump up on people and things. Consider if this could seriously hurt a family member and perhaps consider adopting an older dog who’s had some training.

These are just a few of the things to think about before you let your heart get stolen away 🙂