I see it all the time from young puppies and dogs who are early in their training. If they see something they want, they simply go for it. They see a piece of food on a table and they grab it. They see a dog on a walk as an opportunity to play and they leap toward it. They see an open door and they run through it.
Let’s face it. Dogs were not born with the concept of waiting patiently for something they want, or even asking permission to interact with it. That is a concept that is important to us; and so, it is up to us to teach it to our pets.
To do that, remember, you need to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run. Teaching your dog to wait or ask permission or leave something should be taught from a very basic foundation level first. Then you can begin to apply it to other situations to generalize that concept.
This self-control/zen game is a fun way to start.
What you will need:
- a clicker if you use one
a place with minimal to no distractions
no longer than 3 minutes
Hold treats in your closed fist and allow your puppy or dog to investigate. Most will lick, paw at, or sniff your fist. Keep your fist closed and do not give any verbal instructions. Simply hold your fist closed while your puppy or dog is doing anything to try to get the treats.
There are times when it is helpful to have your dog in a stationary position like a sit or down while doing this—if your puppy is pawing and scratching you, for example. You may also want to hold the treat farther away from your puppy to make it easier.
If all of his unacceptable behaviors are continued to be met by a non-response from you, eventually he will move away. At the instant he does this, mark that behavior with a verbal word or click and open your fist (or you can just open your fist). Then, with your other hand, take a treat and give it to your puppy. Congratulations, you have just reinforced the first step or approximation!
It is important to note that just the sight of the treats is a reinforcer to your dog and will keep your dog in the game if your treats are of value to him.
What is your dog’s next decision?
If he tries to reach for the food, guess what happens? That will cause you to close your fist again. Drat! He can no longer see the food. Again, the second he backs up, mark that behavior. Then with your other hand, give him a treat.
If I am playing this with a very persistent dog, I will look for the tiniest movement away from the food to immediately mark to get the game moving forward.
After your dog is successfully backing away from or able to remain in a behavior like a sit or down position while the open fist is presented, THEN you can add a verbal cue if you’d like.
The time to add the cue is just before your fist opens. THEN when your dog stays back, mark that behavior and feed your dog a treat.
At this point you can also incorporate a criteria of having your dog look at you. To do this, while your treat fist is open, make a noise to get your dog’s attention. The second he looks at you, mark that and give him a treat. If you want this to be a part of the game, after you give your dog the verbal cue, then wait and mark/reinforce your dog after he looks at you.
When your dog or puppy is succeeding at waiting for the food, you can increase the difficulty.
Do this by placing the treats on the floor and covering it with your hand. Expect your dog to try to go for the food. Again, when he backs up, that is when you will mark/reinforce him. When he is understanding this concept, you can begin to practice asking your dog to give you eye contact again. Then you can add the verbal cue just before raising your hand from the treats.
Ways to begin advancing this
- If your dog was practicing this from a stationary position, practice it with your dog standing up.
- Practicing dropping a treat from just above the ground, then dropping the treat from higher and higher.
- Practice with you standing up and putting the treats on the ground. Be prepared to put your foot over the food in an instant if your dog goes for it.
- Practice this with your dog’s toy. If he goes for the toy, he does not get to play. If he waits, then he gets to tug or pick it up.