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 🙂



Petite pooches graduate

Last night I had the pleasure of graduating my Petite Pooches from their Basic Manners class. They made me proud!

On the last night of class I like to set up a little obstacle course (for the lack of a better term) where there are various stations for them to perform the skills they’ve learned over the prior weeks. Each handler/dog team always adds their own flair to the exercise. The course was as follows:

• Start with a sit
• Loose leash walking is required as the team travels between stations
• Walk over a bar on the ground (you’d be surprised, it’s not always as easy as you might think)
• Sit in a hula hoop
• Recall through a jump shoot of cavalletties
• Wait at the gate
• Touch
• Meet & greet without jumping

Everyone did a remarkable job all while smiling & laughing and cheering each other on. When I asked if they thought they could have done this 6 weeks earlier, they all said a resounding NO.

Many expect to continue on with their training — some looking toward agility while others perhaps more suited for therapy work. As long as the teams are having fun and enjoying each others company my mission has been accomplished 🙂

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!