Speaking of Dogs: Wait at the Door, Part 2

Click here for part one.

Teaching your dog to “wait” at the door is a lot easier than you might think. Here’s a step-by-step process that has served me well, whether training a new puppy or transforming the seasoned door-dasher.

Step one: Play the Hors d’oeuvre Game. Teach Zip in a gentle, logical way to hang out and wait for the “hostess” to come along with his reward. To play, start with Zip (or Zipette) on leash, positioned behind a real or imaginary line on the floor. Place five treats approximately six feet in front of Zip, on the other side of the line. Do whatever it takes to protect the prize…even if it means throwing your body on the “hors d’oeuvres tray.” Your task is to block the dog from the treats using only your body. Perfecting the art of the body block is the key to a successful wait. So, for the super-determined food hound, I suggest starting the hors d’oeuvre game in a hallway to narrow the playing field in your favor, reducing the odds that he’ll dart around you.

Put yourself between your dog and the treats, standing slightly to one side. Step in front of him whenever he makes a move toward the treats. Don’t give a command at this point but DO praise the second he pauses, takes a step back or looks into your eyes. The instant he stops trying to get past you, reach down and with your eyes on the dog, select one treat, and deliver it directly to his mouth. Do this swiftly. A slow, hovering hand will lure him forward, across the imaginary line, and put him in position to grab the rest of the treats off the floor. Repeat until every morsel is gone. Release him with “OK” and allow him to inspect the area, now devoid of all food. He’ll wonder why it was so darn important to get past you in the first place.

In round two of the game, introduce your command. Say “wait” and block him with your body. Make sure you give the command before you block him. The language of the dog is body language so if you move while saying “wait,” he’ll never hear the word, taking all information from your block. Keep the two separate and it won’t be long before he’ll hold himself back on a verbal “wait.” If you’re consistent, you’ll quickly be able to phase out the block entirely.

NOTE: I never ask the dog to sit during wait…it’s just too much fuss. I want Zip to remain on one side of the door when I open it. That’s it. Why go to all the trouble to ask for a sit, reward the sit, make sure he remains sitting, correct him if he gets up… It’s enough to make a busy dog owner say, “Forget it, run the mean streets if you must.”

Step two: Wait at the Door. If Zip is thrilled beyond reason by the prospect of going out the front door, start with a less appealing exit to accustom him to holding himself back at thresholds. Here, you will employ your new body-blocking skills to keep the dog on the safe side of the door.  Start with a closed door and Zip on leash for safety. Don’t use the leash to hold him back. Zip will never learn to wait at the door if he is simply straining against the leash. A tight leash will only serve to make him more determined to muscle his way to freedom.

It’s likely that Zip will be pasted right against the door, aquiver with anticipation, so move him with your body and march him several steps backward, into the room. With your eyes on him and ready to reclaim the space, open the door a few inches. If he moves toward the door, quickly shut it and use your body-block. Repeat this several times until he no longer attempts to step forward. Now you can say “wait,” open the door, and quickly toss a treat just behind him so he has to turn to look for it. Ta da! Zip discovers that waiting on the safe side of the door is very rewarding…possibly even more so than door dashing.

Step three: Incorporate “Wait” into your daily routine. I’m willing to bet the number of times the average dog owner opens a door for their pet each day rivals that of a doorman in New York City. The car door, the back door, the crate door, the front door, the laundry room door… there are dozens of opportunities to practice “wait.” You’re opening the door anyway, so why not add 10 seconds at the threshold to perfect the fine art of polite arrivals and departures? Practicing in the real world keeps training strong and eventually, Zip and Zipette will start offering what we call, “automatic waits.” It’s a beautiful thing when you realize you’ve absent-mindedly left the car door open on a busy street and look back to see your faithful friend, waiting patiently for the signal that it’s safe to exit.

Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the website, or call (530)365-3800.

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Carla Jackson
Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the Jackson Ranch website, or call (530)365-3800.
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3 Responses

  1. Avatar Robb says:

    Good advice. So, how long does it take the average dog to "get it?"

    Is much touch-up retraining needed over time? I mean, once you see an improvement, what's the best reinforcement schedule?

    Good article. May save a four-footed friend's life.

    • Hi Robb,

      Results may vary, but I’ve found most dogs catch on quickly.

      A lot is riding on consistency. If you become lax and allow a dashing success during training, you will actually STRENGTHEN the door-dashing behavior. It’s that ol', seductive random reinforcement. The strongest rate of reinforcement on the planet. Gambling is one example of an addiction rooted in random reinforcement, and let me tell you, some of the best gamblers I know are dogs.

      The good news is that a random reinforcement schedule is a powerful training tool and can easily be used to your advantage. As soon as the dog understands the wait command, switch to RR and reward only fabulous “waits.” My definition of a fabulous wait is when the dog actually takes a step backward or maintains eye contact while waiting for my release signal.

      Another component of RR is a variety of rewards, including "life rewards." Often, the best reward is the very thing the dog wanted to do in the first place, which is…go through the door!

  2. Even your replies to comments are interesting!