Your dog will learn to enter a holding pattern until you give him permission to go forward again. This cue is used a whole lot more than “Stay”. You will use “wait” at any sort of boundary e.g. a doorway, a gate threshold, a crate, or a car door. The “wait” cue is always combined with a release cue such as “okay”. Unlike “stay”, “wait” does not involve asking your dog to sit or down at the boundary. The position your dog is in does not matter; he simply has to stop all forward movement.
Why is it an important skill?
It’s a safety issue. Wait is a piece of the self control puzzle that all dogs need to know. It keeps our dogs safe, and also keeps other people safe on the other side of these thresholds.
Introduce waiting at a boundary
- Set up a visual boundary by stretching a rope in a straight line or taping a line on the floor (at home you can use an actual internal doorway).
- With your dog on leash, walk up to the boundary. Stop on the inside of the boundary, mark (click or say ”yes”) and place a treat on the ground on the inside of the boundary. Whilst your dog is eating that treat, you (not your dog) step across the boundary, immediately mark and place the treat on the ground on the inside of the boundary. Take another tiny step whilst your dog is eating the second treat, mark and again toss the treat on the floor inside the boundary. Three marks, three treats.
- Repeat Step 2 five more times, or until your dog is hesitating on the inside of the boundary.
- Introduce the cue “wait”, and when your dog hesitates, mark and reward. Repeat another 5 times.
- Now say, “wait”, and drop the leash as you cross the boundary. Mark and reward as your dog stays on the inside of the boundary.
- Instead of doing the third click, replace it with a release word such as “okay” or “let’s go” that will cause the dog to cross the boundary to join you. Reinforce the release with a treat. If needed, you can also wave your arm in a “come and join me” fashion.
Introduce distractions to the wait
- Begin with a quick warm-up from Level 1.
- Repeat, but do not click (or say “yes”) when your dog waits at the boundary, but rather release him with your release word “okay”. Deliver a treat to your dog’s mouth when he crosses the boundary with you.
- Finally, introduce some distractions, such as a tossed toy or a person standing on the other side of the boundary. Cue “wait” and when the dog hesitates for a few seconds, release and reinforce with a treat or access to the distraction.
- Keep reinforcing the wait too: Sometimes in those seconds of hesitation, go back and hand-deliver a treat to his mouth to tell him what a good boy he is for waiting.
Introduce real-life distractions: practice at outside doorways, at shops, at the vet, at friend’s homes
- Stand next to the dog on the inside of a doorway that leads to the outside. The door should be closed. Cue “wait” and open the door a crack (one or two inches). When the dog hesitates and/or looks at you, release with an “okay” and cross the boundary with your dog. Reinforce with a treat and/or play or a walk.
- Continue practicing, opening the door an inch or two more, until the dog will respond to the “wait” cue when the door is wide open. Release with “okay” and reinforce.