ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Teaching Your Dog to Wait at Doorways

First, close the door of choice and walk the dog to the door. Have him beside you, on leash. (You can do it off leash, too, but it's easier for those just beginning to do it on leash, I think).

With very gentle restraint (this is not a punisher!), stop the dog from moving forward by putting very slight pressure on the leash. The moment the dog stops, click and treat, or say "YES!" and treat.

Circle away and approach the door again. This time, the dog will probably stop on his own, so be ready. The moment he stops completely, Click or "Yes" and treat. Be sure the dog is standing still when you do this. You don't want to reinforce when the dog is moving, only standing perfectly still.

Repeat this, and ease up on the tension on the leash just BEFORE you click. After a few more repetitions, if needed, the dog will be hesitating at the door without requiring any tension on the lead. By tension, I mean any forward movement against the leash. With the door closed, they can't go through it so you will only need the lightest touch, and "tension" is very subjective here.

Fingertip tension.

Again, circle back to the door and this time, while the dog is pausing for just a few moments, reach out and jiggle the door handle. Watch your dog carefully from your peripheral vision to be sure you can "catch" the dog standing still, and reinforce it. Click and treat or verbally mark and treat the moment you have jiggled the door handle and the dog has not rushed to try to get out of the door. Repeat this a couple of times, each time jiggling the door handle a bit longer, turning it.

Circle back again and this time open the door just a crack. Click and treat for not moving. Repeat a few times.

By now you can easily add the cue signal for "Wait". Either use a verbal "WAIT" or a hand signal, of an open palm just BEFORE you click.

Next, open the door a few more inches. Repeat the procedure, each time opening the door a few more inches.

If at any point here the dog starts to move forward, through the door, just quickly close the door. This tells you that the dog has not quite understood what you are asking of him. Go back to opening the door only a crack, or just jiggling the door handle. The object here is to "catch" the dog doing it right, so that you can reinforce that in his mind.

Once the dog is waiting when the door is completely open, start to walk through the doorway. You might have to do this one foot at a time. When you're all the way through, give a release signal to the dog. Some folks use "OK" or "Let's go". Use whatever the dog already understands.

This should all take about 15 minutes, that's all. Once you have the dog successfully waiting at the door, move the whole act to another door. Don't assume that because the dog understands the cue at the front door, that he'll also understand it at the back door. Dogs in general don't generalize these things quickly, and you will need to retrain the behavior at each new door in the beginning.

It won't take as long, of course, but you may have to click and treat for first pausing, then open the door a few inches, etc. Just a "refresher" to set the dog up for success. You don't want to have to correct for what the dog really doesn't understand, you just need to show the dog that at every doorway, the same behavior applies.

Then, take the dog outside and do the same thing going IN. Once the dog is doing it reliably, take the show on the road! Put the dog in your car and do the same thing, having the dog wait until you give the release signal so he doesn't bolt out of the car.

This is also great for busy streets you must cross. You can also go to shopping centers and practice going in and out. But remember, each time you add a distracter--something the dog finds interesting, you have changed the criteria and may have to back up a few steps. For instance, the dog can be doing it perfectly in the house, in the car, on street crossings, when there are no other people around.

But throw a child giggling and skipping by the dog into this scene, and this is a whole new behavior for the dog to learn. Each distraction must be introduced slowly, and the dog learns that this behavior has to be done even when a cat runs by, when people are present, when a car backfires.

This is so helpful to know, and a week of diligent practice could save your dog's life one day.

Debi Davis & the Service Papillons, Tucson, AZ
copyright 1999 Debi Davis


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