Teaching your puppy to wait
Do we really need to teach this to our dogs? This is by far the most important command to teach a dog, in my opinion. It is the lesson I want my puppy to learn as soon as possible, but it is pretty tricky to teach! Again, this is something I started from day one with Quin, but it takes ages to teach, so I’m focusing on it now.
Why wait? What do I use it for?
- Stopping my dog from heading into danger
- Stopping my dog from approaching another dog
- Waiting to cross a road
- Stopping them from rushing at their food
- Stopping them pushing past me through a door (rude)
- Making them wait when I open the door to the garden, or to go into the van
- Enabling me to take nice pictures of my dog(s)
- Waiting on the start line in agility
I’m sure you will find other uses for a good solid wait. It is absolutely invaluable. It is useful but also keeps them safe.
How do you start?
Call your dog to you. Have them sitting at your feet. Give them a treat for coming. Then get eye contact with them. Say ‘wait’. I usually put up my hand, or my finger to reinforce. Wait a few seconds. Say ‘yes!’ and reward.
Do this a few (hundred) times. The amount of times you need to do each stage and the speed with which you can move forward depends on:
- Your dog
- Your consistency
- Your patience
Not all dogs are as quick to learn and keen to please as Border Collies. So this can be challenging. But it is worth the effort.
Once you have your dog able to sit and focus on you for a few seconds, you can start to move away. Take a step back. Stand sideways and wait. Then step back in and reward. From there you can gradually (very gradually) increase the distance and time.
It will go wrong! When you move off, your puppy will probably follow you. That’s fine. Step back and put your puppy back into a sit. Say ‘wait’ again. Step away and wait. If you can move away and then step back in without movement from the puppy, you are succeeding. It might take a while!
You might find it easier to put the dog into a down to teach the wait. Get them into a down and reward. Then say wait and step away. I have found Quin is less fidgety and more relaxed in a down. He can be a bit watchful and anxious in a sit.
Once you have a bit of distance and you feel that your dog understands the basic concept, you can start to make it more challenging. There are all sorts of ways you can do this. Here are some options:
- Increasing distance
- Turning your back
- Moving around
- Going round the back of the dog
- Moving quickly
- Waving your arms around
- Making a noise
- Having a toy
There is a lot you can do to challenge the wait! You can mix it up, sometimes just standing beside your dog, at other times moving around. It’s a great idea to call your dog to you, from the wait. This is known as a ‘formal recall’, as the dog remains calm and still, then comes neatly to you and sits at your feet. It looks impressive! The hardest part of this is that your puppy will anticipate what you want and set off before you call it. So you need to go back to your dog for some of the time and reward the waiting, before you reward the recall.
If it goes wrong, that’s fine. Put the dog back and start again. If you can’t get the distance or movement, go back a step. Move away and be still. Or just stay by your dog until they are happy with the wait.
Don’t push your luck. If you try to make your dog wait in a busy, distracting environment, you will find it hard. Try and practice where it is quiet. Or go somewhere busy, but wait beside your dog, building their confidence.
As I’ve said, there is a great deal you can do to challenge the wait. I will talk about that in a few months’ time. There is also a difference between ‘wait’ and ‘stop’, although you might use the same command for both.
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.