How to train my dog to wait

Train my dog to wait until I give another command

As a professional dog trainer working in the Wimborne areas of Dorset, I am asked how to train my dog to wait weekly. It doesn’t matter if you have one of the toy breeds or a fully working gun dog. The dog should be able to wait or be steady and do nothing until you command otherwise. This is one of the key obedience skills a dog must-have if you move forward with your training. In my pet gun dog training classes, this is a well-practised skill.

Pet gundog training in Poole
Pet gundog training and the wait

What is the wait command?

The wait command is when we ask the dog to stop what it is doing and wait in a position we have asked for until we command to move. In gun dog training the position, we ask the dog to wait is usually the sit. However, the wait command can be used in the sit, down and standing positions. The key concept is the dog remains and does nothing.

What is the difference between a wait and a stay command?

Both the wait and the stay command mean the same thing; however, there is a difference!! Both commands tell the dog not to move until we have instructed otherwise. From the owner’s perspective, the wait command tells the dog not to do anything until the owner gives another command, which is usually a recall command. However, it could be a directional change or another command which needs the dog to act away from the owner. The stay command tells the dog, don’t do anything as I will be coming back to you.

Many in the gun dog world only use a wait command, which tells the dog not to do anything until I decide otherwise, which could be away from you or at your side. I only teach the wait command. It is your choice.

Gun dog breeds being steady and doing nothing

I work with a lot of gun dog breeds where the owner does not want to work them. These dogs need to be busy; this is what they were bred and trained for. A well-trained gun dog will have taken hundreds of hours of focused training to achieve that majestic level of obedience some aim to achieve.

I was once told a story of a man who, on a Saturday morning, would sit his two springer spaniels outside a cafe in a park. He would then go inside and have breakfast and a cup of coffee. Those dogs would not move, and people would be looking around for the owner. The dogs were not distracted by people looking at them and even taking photographs. When the man finished his breakfast, he would walk outside and whistle, and his dogs would follow. They may have sat there for 45 minutes!!

We can only dream of having such obedient dogs. My own dog would have tried to join me before I started to put the sauce on the breakfast!! This story got me thinking. What is one of the most difficult tasks we can ask a dog to do?

Recently, I have asked my regular clients this question, and no one gets it right. In my opinion, the most difficult task we can ask a dog to do is nothing. It may sound a little bizarre, but try and get your dog to sit and do nothing. They might manage 30 seconds or even a minute. Some may even manage longer before they start to fidget and decide it’s time to be doing something.

How to train my dog to wait?

My dog does some form of training most days. If we have had a really busy weekend, then I may rest him on a Monday. Otherwise, he will do two or three sessions per day, depending on what we’re practising. I’ve now modified his training regime to ensure that we focus on doing nothing.

That means I will put him in a sit or down and expect him to stay in that position until I command otherwise. Sometimes I will stand with him, and other times, I will walk away. I vary the distance and the direction, and if there is a park bench, I will go and sit on it. It is important to always return to him, stand at the side, count to 5 and then reward. I do the counting, so he does not anticipate a reward when I get back to him.

My dog’s training to do nothing has gone so well that I now make it a key feature in the puppy and dog training I do with my clients. They are asked to take their dog out in varying distraction environments and practice doing nothing for homework.

The right size lead is important

I have modified this post to add that when working with clients, I have found it better for the owner to have a lead long enough for them to be able to stand on it and still hold the end. I instruct that when you adopt this position, you do not give a command to the dog.  They are free to sit, stand or lay down. The fact is you ignore the dog, and you both do nothing. Because you are standing on the lead, you don’t have to battle with a fidgety dog.  

Making waiting fun

We have to make this realistic and fun for the dog, so quick wins are the name of the game. It is better to be successful at one minute than keep failing at two minutes, as this will be frustrating for you and not much fun for the dog. When the dog competently does nothing for some time, you can extend the time you expect the dog to do nothing. In most aspects of dog training, we want the dog to be doing something, and this is what they expect to do. We also want a dog who can sit or be in a down for a period of time. We may want to talk to somebody on the street, and we don’t want a dog who is demanding we move on or is tangling you up in the lead. 

Next time you are practising, try to start doing nothing. It is a challenge for both the dog and us.