Wait a Minute
When teaching the jumps (WTM June 2010) I mentioned that the Golden Wonder knows what ‘wait’ means. What I mean when I tell a dog to wait is to remain in the position in which you are left and pay attention for the next command. Unlike the ‘Stay’ which means relax in that position – I will return to you.
Thinking about it the wait is incorporated into many exercises, sit wait for a recall, wait whilst the dumbbell is thrown, wait at the end of the sendaway, wait after the hurdle, long jump and on the far side of the scale... and it goes on, in the gun test, the speak and repeatedly in the patrol round. Wow that’s a lot of marks to lose if the dog does not have a reliable wait, why is it then that many handlers seem to nag their dogs and chastise their dogs over the wait only to reward the recall or the jump or what ever exercise the wait is part of. Surely from a training point of view, with that many marks up for grabs the wait should be taught as an exercise in its own right – even if it does not appear to be tested as such.
The most common position to leave the dog in a wait is the sit and this is the one I teach my dogs first. The Golden Wonder knows the word ‘sit’ and will sit on one command without any help from a hand signal (well, usually). He learnt this exercise when he was very young, I lured him with a piece of food just above and behind his nose, not too high that he would jump, but just enough to make him stretch his head back and find it more comfortable to sit to reach the food. I clicked and fed as soon as his bottom hit the floor and repeated the exercise frequently adding the word ‘sit’ before the lure when I knew he would sit to reach his reward. The Golden Wonder found learning to sit following a lure very easy. Then I progressed to using the same hand signal but without food in the hand. I clicked when he sat and got the reward from my pocket. He learnt that quickly too, but it seemed to take for ever for him to learn the word and sit on the command without help from the hand signal. Of course body language is the dog’s first language and they do seem to learn this easily but often struggle with English – not surprising really when you think about it. Often we think the dog is responding to the word only to find we are unwittingly giving a body signal, an upward nod of the head is common when we are training the sit and a downward swoop when we teach the down. We don’t know we are doing it but the dogs take it as the command when we think they have learnt the word. I check for this by fixing my eyes on a spot on the ceiling and saying the word. Until the dog can succeed without any eye contact or other body signal from me I would not assume he knows the word. As I say Golden Wonder took ages to learn the word, but we finally got there and he is pretty reliable now. Ha – famous last words!
Time to teach the wait. I tell him to sit and verbally reward him, "Good, sit." Then I produce a piece of food about a foot in front of his nose (not up high where he was lured into the sit in his early training) and predictably the Golden Wonder moves forward to get the food. I mark his error saying, "oops!" and withdraw the food. Poor boy thinks, "that went wrong somehow." We started again. "Sit, Good, sit." Food tease in front, he breaks, "Oops!" No reward. After three errors the Golden Wonder, who is very food motivated, hesitated to move towards the food tease to work out what kept going wrong and I quickly rewarded him for waiting. Yes, ok it was only a nano-second but it was a start. We repeated this game. If he waited the food came to him, if he tried to go towards the food, it disappeared, his error marked with a "Oops!"
He got better at this game as he learnt that trying to snatch the food did not work, but waiting did. Now we had a chance of getting it right, I introduced the command, "Sit – wait." Teased with the food and then I clicked the wait and rewarded him.
Remember the click ends the exercise, so he can move after the click. As we repeated this exercise Golden Wonder quickly learnt to sit and wait, listening for the click to release him to the food he so desperately wanted, sometimes I increased the time he had to wait before the click, sometimes I increased the distance I moved away. Whenever he broke before the click, ‘Oops!’ - he did not get the food. Separating the wait from any other exercise in this way gives a very clear message without the confusion that can be caused by practising the wait in conjunction with another exercise such as the jumps, recall or retrieve. Using the clicker to mark a good response to the wait, and end the exercise, teaches the dog to listen whilst waiting. This of course is essential later on when using the wait combined with other exercises, as the dog is primed and listening for the next command be it "over", "come", or whatever.
All I needed to do after that was to repeat the wait training in different places with different distractions around, always ensuring Golden Wonder wanted the reward I had on offer more than he wanted to go to the other distractions. I trained it in front of the jumps, I trained it when other dogs were playing around, I trained it when I dropped the dumbbell on the floor. Each time clicking the wait and rewarding the wait – with no intention of doing the jumps, or the retrieve or anything else. I simply trained the wait.
Now I can safely say that the Golden Wonder knows what ‘wait’ means. Note I said knows what it means, not that he will always wait on command no matter what. A few weeks ago he was in a sit wait in the field when a low flying pheasant came in to land. The Golden Wonder thought it was his birthday, he forgot all about the wait and took off after the bird. The pheasant quickly realised its mistake and squawking for effect (why do they do that it just makes the dog even more keen to chase) flapped desperately trying to regain altitude with the Golden Wonder in hot pursuit. Oh well back to the drawing board. In case you are interested the pheasant did escape intact and probably made a mental note not to land near a dog again no matter how pretty it looks!