Teaching “Wait” at the Door

I’m sure you can picture it: trying to get out the front door to go on a walk, fumbling with your keys with one hand and holding the leash in the other, when your dog decides that it’s time to go and barges past you at full speed. Typically the poor person at the end of the leash (you) ends up being dragged out the door, trying to catch up. (Or, if you live in Wisconsin, you may get dragged out the door and end up slipping on ice while trying to catch up to your dog and get him under control!)

This bad habit isn’t just annoying, but is also a hazard to your dog- just think what could happen if you lost hold of the leash and your dog ran into the road. Luckily, there is a very simple solution, which is teaching the command “wait”.

There are two very important components to this command. First comes the actual verbal cue, which is when you say “(insert dog’s name here), wait.” When your dog hears this word, they understand that there is a threshold that should not be crossed. In many cases this is a literal threshold, such as when leaving a door, but in other cases it may be an invisible line that they cannot cross.  They can do anything they want on the side of the threshold where they are, as long as they don’t cross the line.

The second essential component is the release word, which for many people is a simple “okay!”, but can be anything that you choose. When your dog hears this, they understand that they are free to cross the threshold. There is no treat required for this command, since going through the door is a reward in itself.

Now that you know the two most crucial parts of the cue, teaching it to your dog is simple. Practice at a physical door, either between rooms in your house or using the front door going outside. The order to teach the command is as follows:

  1. Stand with your back to the door, between the door and your dog. Clearly say “(dog’s name), wait!” Then, open the door behind you while still blocking it with your body.
  2. Now comes the tricky part of body blocking your dog if/when he tries to go through the door. This consists of stepping into your dog’s space if he tries to crowd you and go through the door. (Quick tip: if possible, practice this in your house without a leash. That way you will become skilled at blocking your dog with your body rather than depending on pulling the leash.)
  3. Eventually, your dog will stop trying to go through the door. When this happens, step to the side, giving him the choice to either be polite or to try to go through again. Be ready to body block if he’s not ready to be polite!
  4. Once your dog is standing in front of the open door without trying to go through it, clearly give your release word and step through with your dog. (Once your dog knows what “wait” means, start releasing your dog after you walk through the door. That way, he will learn that you walking through the door is not a visual signal for him to be released.)

Most dogs catch onto this very quickly. You will soon be able to use this command at all doors and gates. One place I always use “wait” is when letting Sasha out of the car. I open the car door, tell her to wait, and then I have time to check behind me to make sure that there aren’t any cars before she gets out.

Dogs are smart: they learn which tactics work, and will see that being patient gets them through the door more quickly. After teaching “wait”, I hope you have a pup that is a little more polite because of it!

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Begin with your back to the door, between the door and your dog.
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Body block when your dog tries to go through the door. Don’t be afraid to step into their space if they crowd you.
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When your dog is waiting politely, say “okay!” and let them through! You don’t need a treat because going through the door is the reward.

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