Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Importance of Training: Wait

Part of owning a dog is training your dog. Dogs are not born knowing what is expected of them or how you want them to act - it all must be taught.

Training your dog is easy. So easy, you can begin the first day you bring home your new dog.

It does not need to be stressful on you or the dog, and you can spend as little as five minutes a day teaching your dog to be a wonderful canine citizen.

I'm not joking!

This post features specifically, the 'wait' command.

What it is: The command 'Wait' is given any time you want your dog to pause and wait for a signal to go.

How it is useful: 'Wait' can be used in a variety of ways. You can use it to tell your dog to wait while you put his food in the bowl, so he isn't clobbering you or trying to shove his face in the bowl while you fill it. Maybe you dropped something dangerous on the floor and you need your dog to wait while you pick it up.

It can be used for the dogs safety. You put a leash on your dog, tell him to wait, and then safely open a door without the dog bolting through, then ask him to follow you.

Maybe you need to have the dog wait while you open a car door, or lower the seat for them to get in or out.

How to teach it: 'Wait', in my experience, has been the easiest command to teach a dog so far.

Start with your dog's food. All dogs eat. All dogs want to eat. They are programmed to want food, so let's start there.

If you free-freed your dog (allowing access to food all day), that has to stop. Free-feeding allows your dog the opportunity to over-eat, it prevents you from having a handle on his elimination schedule, and lowers the their drive to perform for food.

If you have a large dog, it's best to break it into several small meals (I give three small meals a day to my dogs) rather than one large one. This can help prevent bloat by not letting the dog gorge himself all at once, and helps you get them more interested in food overall.

When you are ready to feed your dog, have him in the feeding area with you. Pick the bowl up off the floor, and fill it. It is your choice to have your dog sitting or standing when you ask them to wait, I ask mine to sit first.

When the dog is in position (either sitting or standing), slowly lower the bowl to the floor. The dog is likely going to immedieatly break position and go for the food. Do not let him have the food. Just stand back up and pull the bowl out of each, and don't say anything to the dog.

Start again, put the dog in the position you want, and lower the bowl again. In the begining, the criteria must be kept low, so I suggest only asking the dog to wait long enough for you to put the bowl on the floor.

Repeat as many times as it takes for the dog to let you put the bowl on the floor. When you've got the bowl on the floor, the reward is the food. No treat needed!

If it takes a long time, don't be discouraged! The dog needs time to think about what it is doing, and figure out what you want from him. You don't want to punish any incorrect behavior at this stage because it can make the dog afraid to fail. You want the dog to figure it out on his own, and encourage him to think.

The next few feeding sessions repeat this, with no command. When the dog waits for the bowl to be on the floor about 80% of the time, then add the command to this.

While you are lowering the bowl to the floor, tell the dog 'Wait', in a calm, firm voice. Lower the bowl. When the bowl hits the floor, tell the dog a release word (I use 'Ok') and allow him to eat.

Repeat this as many times as it takes, until again the dog is doing the action correctly about 80% of the time.

Then we increase the criteria. Lower the bowl, telling the dog to wait - but do not give the release word right away. Wait two seconds, then release. If the dog is successful, great! Chow time!

If he is not successful, take up the food and begin again. When success is achieved about 80% of the time again, increase time.

Slowly, the dog will begin to understand that when you say 'wait', you mean 'wait until she says ok!', no matter how long it takes.

When you are able to reach an increment of about 10 seconds with the dog successfully waiting, you can begin to add distance.

Ask the dog to wait, lower the bowl, and take a step back. Wait 2 seconds, then release.

Any time you add criteria, make sure you set the dog up for success. You are adding distance but decreasing time so the dog can understand that no matter where you are standing the command means the same thing.

Here is a video of one of my dogs, Thunder, learning the 'Wait' command.

If you are feeding your dog three times a day - you're getting three daily training sessions with your dog. Training improves the bond between you and your dog, and helps keep your dog mentally stimulated. Mental stimulation is every bit as important as exercise in keeping dogs happy and healthy - it's bored dogs with pent up energy who turn destructive.

Remember in every training session to keep it short and positive. If you begin to get frustrated, stop. If your dog is frequently giving an incorrect behavior, back up a step and start over. Don't forget he is a dog, and english is not his first language.

Happy training!

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