Nothing like having a new puppy in the house to remind you how many things a dog needs to know to live happily in our human world. Oh the things that Gibson knew that I had trained and eventually took for granted and the things Willow does not yet know. There’s a big gap. The good news is that dogs (and especially puppies) can learn quickly and easily if you spend a bit of time each day working with them. Operative words: spend time.
Learning is happening 24/7, so you might as well use it to your advantage. Though we have 7 fenced acres so that our dogs can be safe off leash, I still don’t want my dogs charging out the door the minute I crack open the door. I also like them to Wait outside the kitchen while our four furry felines eat their meals and I like Willow to Wait when we’re walking off leash and she’s running ahead of me, lest she get too far ahead. It’s an easy exercise to teach, providing you’re consistent and make it worth the “Wait.” Pun intended!
I started teaching this exercise at the door. The finished behavior is having my dog sit calmly until I reach for and open the door and give a release cue. I had already taught Willow to sit, so with Willow sitting beside me, I said the word “wait” then merely reached partway for the doorknob. If she stayed seated, I would mark the sit with the sound of a Click! or a verbal Yes!, then give her a yummy pea-sized piece of food. I repeated this step several times. My goal is to reinforce her for staying seated vs. getting up and moving toward the door, so I moved in very small, incremental steps. I want to set her up for success (not failure). Next, I touched the doorknob. She stayed seated, so another Click! or Yes!, followed by yummy food. Then I jiggled the doorknob, again she stayed seated, so another Click! and treat. If she tried to get up and go through the door, I quickly closed the door (be careful not to slam it on a paw or nose), thereby taking the good stuff…the out of doors…away; then I’d go back to where she was last successful (jiggling the door knob) and Click and treat when she remained sitting.
You want to gradually open the door farther and farther, but only an inch at a time and each time she’s successful at remaining seated, Click and treat. If your dog gets up from the sit 3 times in a row, you’re going too fast. Merely go back to where the dog was last successful and begin again. Once your dog is sitting when the door is fully open, walk through the door and face her. If she doesn’t move, it’s time for another Click and treat. Then move back in by her side and give her a release cue (this could be Release, Free Dog, or other word of your choice). The ability to go out of doors for most dogs is a “life reward” so if your dog loves the out of doors, you don’t have to Click and treat this final step.
Here’s a video of Willow, 4 days after we brought her home already Waiting nicely at the door http://tinyurl.com/ctexay4 and here’s how I used it off leash on the trail http://tinyurl.com/d37ncft . Happy Training!
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2 and a dog*tec Certified Dog Walker. She’s the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com