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: https://tailsfromthetrainingcenter.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/positive-reinforcement-training-and-using-a-marker/)
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 🙂


Impulse Control

Also known as self-control, impulse control is a key element in training a puppy or dog to have basic manners.

Almost every dog has some issue with self-control. Your dog may jump, barge through doorways, or try to get food off the counter (or right out of your hand) — it’s natural, however, at best these behaviors can be a nuisance and at worst dangerous if they are allowed to continue.

Remember first and foremost — dogs do what works for them — and if something (a behavior) works for them it means the behavior is reinforcing and reinforced behaviors get stronger!

I was encouraged to write a blog on this subject because over the past week I have had two first-hand experiences with young dogs that lacked impulse control.

Situation number one — My dog Casey and I were just leaving the dog club with a friend and her dog when someone arrived in a car for an upcoming class. At first glance my gut instinct said, “TROUBLE”. I turned to my friend and said I’m going to get my dog into the car NOW. As I was unlocking my car door I saw the rear window go down of the car that had just pulled in (the car was still moving). The dog jumped out of the window onto the driveway! Fortunately the dog went over to my friend’s dog (the nicest little dog you’d ever want to meet) and my friend grabbed the escapee by the collar. The owner quickly parked the car and came to claim his large adolescent canine. Apparently the dog pushed the window control and then leaped out of the car.

Why did I sense trouble when I first saw the dog in the car? I saw his body language — he was very aroused.

Situation number two — It can often be hectic at the dog club when classes change over (one class exiting while another arrives). In order to help manage traffic I often hold the door for those leaving while suggesting placement for those who are arriving. As I was holding the door a Golden Retriever mix was preparing to exit. Looking at the dog’s demeanor, I asked the handler “Are you okay?” She said, “Yes, we’re fine.” Why did I ask? I saw the same expression on this dog’s face as I’d seen on the dog described above.

As the handler & dog walked across the threshold to exit the dog lunged at another dog that was approaching from the parking lot. The handler was pulled to the ground. I quickly ran to grab the dog’s leash and help the handler back to her feet. The handler was not hurt and her dog did not get away from her, but as you can imagine things could have quickly gotten worse.

It’s important to teach your dog that they have choices and that a choice of calm behavior can be VERY rewarding. In my upcoming blogs I will address teaching behaviors that help build a dog’s self-control. I will review:

  • Watch
  • Wait at the doorway
  • Leave it
  • No jump
  • Sit for supper
  • Penalty yards

I hope you will find these helpful 🙂