Hurry Up and Wait! Teach A Safety Skill

Teach wait to your dogs, a useful safety behavior

Hurry! Yes, dogs are always in a hurry to get out the door, and explore the world awaiting. However, especially with multiple large dogs, you run the risk of being mowed over in the melee. More importantly, bolting out the door is a huge safety concern, one that could end the life of your pal. Sadly, my mother had a little dog whose short life ended under the wheels of a car, after bolting out the front door. In my opinion, WAIT is one of the most important skills a dog can learn.

 Many clients ask me the difference between Wait and Stay. Quite simply, with Wait, action to follow  is implied. Wait, and then……go outside or get out of the car, or, follow me up the stairs, upon being released. Stay means remain in that spot for X amount of time, until I come back to you, and release you from your place.  I often cue the herd (as I call them) to Wait until I have reached the top (or bottom) of the stairs. Three labs jockeying for position around you on the stairs can be a safety hazard! At one time, I taught a very pregnant client to have her dog wait politely on the stairs. It really is a very useful cue.  Following are specific directions on teaching Wait, so your dog (and yourself)  can be safer in the  environment.

 Teaching Wait Tips


  •       You will be using either a marker word Yes, or clicking.      
  •       The behavior being marked is Rover remaining in sit while you cue wait.
  •      You will be reinforcing the desired behavior (above) with a treat.       
  •       Later, the reinforcement will be going outside, exiting the car etc.
  •       The behavior is broken down incrementally     
  •       You will want to rehearse at an interior closed door, where there is much less excitement.


Getting the Behavior

  •       Position yourself between Rover (on leash) and the door.      
  •       I find it easiest to hold both the clicker, and some tiny treats, in my left hand, along with the leash.
  •       This leaves your right hand free to reach for the door.
  •        Cue Rover to sit. Simultaneously say Wait and reach for the doorknob. Mark/treat immediately if Rover remains in sit.
  •        Anytime Rover gets up, simply return to sit, and begin over.     
  •        Continue until Rover is remaining in place as you reach for the doorknob. You may only need to do this five times. (often you can get the dog waiting until cued to go through door in one session)




  •         Cue wait and twist the doorknob
  •         Cue wait and open the door a crack.
  •        Cue wait and open door progressively, with Rover not moving, until you are ready to release. You will mark/treat each successful behavior. For each unsuccessful behavior, simply replace in sit and start over. You will want to block Rover with your body if he moves for the door when it is open. Close the door and start over.
  •         Release with a chosen cue, that is the same each time. (all done, let’s go etc)
  •         You will step forward, give release cue, and go through door with Rover.
  •         Practice Practice Practice


If Behavior Deteriorates


  •        Consider the environment. Is it too distracting?
  •        Does your puppy have potty needs?
  •        Break behavior down into very short more frequent sessions.
  •         Progress with very minute increments. Some dogs get in a major state of over arousal, just knowing they are going outside. Make sure with this type especially to practice first on an interior door eliciting less excitement.
  •        Some dogs progress very quickly, others need several sessions before they understand the behavior. 
  •         If Rover is consistently getting up, time for a break and return later.


Advanced Wait


  •        Do you have multiple dogs? It is very useful to release individually by name.
  •         Say the name of first dog, and gesture/give release cue.
  •         Be ready to block other dogs thinking they are going.
  •        Is easier to practice first with only two dogs, then add dogs.


This is a skill you can use multiple times per day in travels around the house, dogs out to yard, getting out of cars on trips. My labs are released individually from the car, with each dog exiting cued sit/stay, while others exit. They are exceptionally eager, knowing that a swim is in the works; this is a great impulse control exercise for hyped up critters. Of course they would much rather all bolt from the car to the water. Can you even imagine that chaos?


This would not be complete without the story of Bridget doing just that, bolting from the car, to the raging current of the Susquehanna River, when she was about a year old. We were at a river rest stop, on the way to Canada. My friend had already gone down the steps to admire the river. I was at the car with Bridget, and opened the front door to get something. In that instant, she was gone, sailing from the back door open window, racing to the swift currents. I remember being frozen for what seemed like an eternity, thinking “my dog just bailed out of the car.” Water crazy Bridget wanted the river, not my friend. Fortunately he finally heard me yelling “GET THE DOG” and turned to grab the end of her leash, just before she got swept up in the current. Just one of many adventures with Bridget.


Be safe, and good luck teaching your dogs to Wait, if they do not already know. This is a skill I teach in class.  We can all do without the heart stopping adventures, such as the one I described above. Certainly we can all do without the tragedy of a dog bolting from a front door, and under the wheels of a car. As you might imagine, my Mother was grief stricken by this event. Go forth, have fun and hurry up and wait!


Until next time, Leslie and the Labbies, Bridget, Doobie and Talley.