How To Train Your Dog – The WAIT Cue

the wait cue
the wait cue
My dog Victor, learning to WAIT before getting out of the car

There’s a well-known saying in the dog training world: ‘Training is simple, but it’s not easy.’ If that sounds a little mixed up, the truth is that training your dog to perform a WAIT cue is pretty simple. But training in a way that makes it easy for your dog or puppy to understand and end up with reliable behavior is not always straightforward.

However, help is at hand!  In this step-by-step guide, we will help you teach the WAIT cue with your dog. Once you’ve got it cracked, you’ll be surprised at just how helpful having a WAIT cue can be.

Note from Mel: Victor and I have been working on this over the last few days and I am so happy to report that Victor is progressing well. A big challenge for him was getting out of the car to start his walk, he would be so excited. He would race and rush to get out of the car first.

Well, today he was the last one out of the car and as you can see he did very well with the WAIT cue. His leash was loose and I used both hands to take the photo.

My verbal cues were WAIT and then RIGHT to come out of the car, his REWARD was lots of positive reinforcement.

We are also working on his impulse control at the front door when leaving, he likes to barge out first. At the moment he loves to take part in front door dashing if he can to go and sniff the lamp post.

How To Train My Dog – Teach the WAIT Cue

What do we mean by WAIT?

One of the most important parts of dog training is having absolute clarity over what you’re teaching your dog. In fact, my definition of a WAIT might be different from yours, which will cause all kinds of confusion.

So, let’s start with defining the WAIT as we’re going to teach it here. When you ask your dog to WAIT, it means that they need to stay in position until you tell them that they can then move. That means your dog could wait in a sit, a down, or a stand.

What’s the difference between WAIT cue and STAY cue?

Now WAIT sounds pretty similar to a STAY, and you’re right because it is! Generally, we’d define WAIT as being a behavior that we call our dog out of. That means that your dog is waiting in a sit and then you call them to come to you when you’re ready to move on.

When we ask a dog to STAY, they remain in position until you return to your dog. Then you give a release word such as ‘okay,’ which tells the dog that they can move.

WAIT –  your dog comes to you when it’s finished

STAY – you go to your dog when it’s finished.

release cue

Why teach the WAIT cue?

So, first up, why even bother to teach WAIT? This is one of those behaviors that you’ll wonder how you managed without it! These are my top times when a wait is a great behavior to have.

Your dog waiting while you tie up your shoelace

Preventing your dog from leaping out of the car when the door opens

Enabling your dog to be patient when their food bowl is placed on the floor

To stop your dog from bolting out of the front door, so you don’t have to use a gate to keep them inside.

To prevent your dog from racing up the stairs in front of you

All of those situations are ones where having a dog pulling on a leash, jumping up, or barging in front of you ends up with them being told off. How much nicer would it be to have a dog on a leash who patiently waits until you ask them to move?

Getting Organized For Successful WAIT Cue Training

The key to great dog training is getting organized before you begin. So, here’s what needs to be in place.

Lots of small treats

You want a small treat that’s smelly and quick to eat. We’re going to be using lots of treats, so they need to be small. That means no bigger than your little fingernail for a medium-sized dog. Here’s why they need to be small:

·  We don’t want to delay the training while we wait for your dog to chew a biscuit.

·  We need your dog to want more of those yummy treats.

·  We want to reduce the potential for your dog putting on weight

A quiet place to train

Next on our list for getting organized is having a quiet place to train. Our dogs tend to get distracted very easily by the noises, smells, and movement happening around them.  So, focusing on learning can be difficult when we’re trying to teach them a new behavior in a busy environment.

We want to learn WAIT to be easy for our dogs, so a quiet, distraction-free set-up is essential.

front door dashing

Decide on your cue and release word

The new cue is the word that tells your dog what to do. For the WAIT behavior, you might simply use ‘WAIT’. 

Avoid tagging in your dog’s name so that it becomes ‘Fido, wait.’ That could be an old cue for them. 

When we say our dog’s name, that usually causes them to come to us, and that’s not what we want with the wait.

Your release cue is a verbal command that will tell your dog that they can now move, for example, I use the release cue ‘RIGHT’ to release my dog.

Training the WAIT cue

You know what the verbal cue ‘WAIT’ is, you’re all organized, now it’s time to start training! A short session each day usually gets the best results. So, we recommend spreading out the five steps across several days.

Step One

  • Ask your dog to sit
  • Move one foot backward one pace
  • Use your release word and at the same tempt your dog’s nose with a treat towards your moving foot
  • Repeat ten times 

Step Two

  • Ask your dog to sit
  • Move both feet backward one pace
  • Use your release word and at the same tempt your dog’s nose with a treat towards you
  • Repeat ten times
dog training

Step Three

Now slowly extend the distance between you and your dog, step by step.  However, don’t increase the difficulty too quickly. If your dog is unsuccessful twice in a row, then you need to reduce the distance so that they have success before, once again, increasing the difficulty.

Step Four

Now that your dog is beginning to understand what’s required, we can add in the cue to WAIT. If we add it too early while your dog is still learning what’s needed, there’s the risk that the cue becomes associated with an incorrect behavior rather than the one we want.

So, you’ll ask your dog to sit, then give your WAIT cue and finally take a step back. Then, as before, say your release word and reward as your dog comes towards you.

Step Five

Generalization is the final step to teaching the wait. This means that your dog understands that the verbal cue to WAIT applies no matter where they are and what’s happening around them.

Most dogs associate a behavior with the environment in which it was taught. As a result, if you ask your dog to WAIT in the yard when all the previous training was inside the house, then they might look at you confused as to what’s required. 

When you move the WAIT cue to a new setting such as the dog park, all those distractions can be tough to resist. It may be very hard to keep your dog’s attention. That means that you may need to go back a few steps in the training until your dog has an ‘aha’ moment of realizing that this is exactly the same as what they learned at home.