“Wait” is one of what I consider the trio of “super-commands” – come, down (or sit) and wait – that all dogs should know in some form. In fact, they are not so much obedience commands, but cornerstones of communication with your dog, making both your lives so much easier and safer. Communicating with your dog is as important as communicating with anyone else you share your house with. You can't expect your dog to know what you want them to do, if you don't tell them. These easy commands are a versatile way to let your dog know what you expect of them in a range of situations.
I use wait many times every day, at home and out and about. Wait is a different command to stay for my dogs. Wait means stop where you are and stay put, don’t move from that spot you’re in, until I tell you to. During wait I may move around, but I do not disappear from my dogs’ view, or only very briefly (to the next room). Stay, on the other hand, means stay there, while I go away, out of your sight, but don’t worry, I will be back soon. During stay they can move about, of course. I tell my dogs to stay when I leave them at home, in the car, or outside a shop. What is important about wait (which is the tricky bit, too) is that they do not move. This makes it incredibly useful, however.
I have described elsewhere how wait is a part of the feeding routine in my house, when the dogs are made to wait in the down position before they go to their bowls. I often practice wait in the down position, but it is not necessary for the dog to be down to wait. The most useful waits are usually standing. I ask my dogs to wait as I open the door to go out with them, so that they don’t rush out before me. Due to the setup of my front door, it is easier for them to exit before me, but wait allows me to retain control, as they only go out when given the go. Very importantly, I ask my dogs to wait before we cross a road. We all stop, and they stand next to me, until I say go, and we all go. I also, and this is invaluable in the wet London winter, tell my dogs to wait in the hallway just when we have entered the house after a walk. They stand in their places allowing me to take my wet shoes and coat off and then dry their paws, so that the don’t they walk all over the floor with muddy feet!
There are many impromptu waits during the day. If my shoelaces come undone on a walk, I say wait, and Eddie and Cassie patiently wait while I tie them up again. You can imagine other such moments. I also use wait as a way to calm my dogs down if they are getting too excited when on the lead. If they pull, whether it is because they are in a hurry to get to the park in the morning or because they have seen a cat, I tell them to wait – that is, stand still, with the leash slack, until I say go. This allows them to calm down somewhat, before continuing walking. I have to admit, however, it often has to be repeated a few times.
Wait is not a difficult thing to teach a dog when there are no distractions around and / or you have the leash as a tool. If they are leashed, and walking next to me, I say wait as I stop, for example at the curbside. If the dogs do not stop, I correct them with a sharp “ah-ah” and a gentle, short, but firm, tug on the leash. I do not keep the leash tightened, as I don’t want them to stop because they are physically restrained, but because they listen to my command.
If they are not leashed, usually indoors (although I also practice this outdoors where there are more distractions, to reinforce) I stand in front of the dogs, and say wait, as well as hold my hand up, palm facing the dogs. I then move away. Inevitably, to start with the dogs will try to follow. I correct with a sharp “ah-ah” as well as moving my body towards the dogs until they stop, and if necessary, gently but firmly pushing the dogs back to the original position. Again, I don’t restrain the dogs in any way.
These simple waits are repeated again and again each day, so the dogs quickly get the hang of it, but my dogs are as excitable and impatient as any others, and every day they also have to be reminded. Nowadays, usually my sharp “ah-ah” is enough to stop them in their tracks.
Then there are the “higher level” waits, where I want my dogs to stop and wait while off leash, outside, usually ahead of me. These I train in conjunction with recall, starting with asking them to wait at the end of an extended normal length leash, moving on to a longer training lead. I use the same technique as at the roadside. I also practice down and wait in the park, where I move away from the dog and then recall them, using the method I use indoors. Again, I must admit, these more difficult waits, especially the wait when they are off somewhere into the distance, are a work in progress. Eddie is fairly good at them now, but Cassie needs more work. She, a more energetic dog, seems to be in either coming or going mode, and struggles to appreciate the wait at a distance so far.
Nevertheless, the wait is one of my very basic commands, which is entirely indispensible to my life with my dogs. As with all commands repetition is key, as is a consistent method, but you are never finished teaching a command, really, just as you can't ever stop communicating with you dogs. I notice very soon that if I don’t tell my dogs to wait by the roadside or by the door, they simply don’t. Well, why should they, if I don’t ask them to?