The Difference Between “Wait” Command and “No”

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

Joyce Meyer

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

I hate the “wait” command that some people teach their dogs.  In a world full of useless commands, this has to be the most useless.  I see it play out all the time while I’m training.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps some background is necessary. Let’s set this story up properly, perhaps using the typical training session as an example.  So I present to you, Wait For It, an original play written by Kerry Stack.

Cast:

Kerry Stack:  Dog Trainer  Beautiful, graceful, always well-dressed with a witty comment on the tip of her tongue (hey, it’s my  play….I can be whomever I want to in it).

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play.  Our resemblance is uncanny.

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play. Our resemblance is uncanny.

SophieDog Owner.  Super-wonderful owner, but having some issues with her dog knocking people over at the door, as well as some mild dog reactivity.

Ajax: Handsome mix roughly a year old.  Big boy, weighing in at roughly 100 lbs. Typical No No Bad Dog.

ACT I, Scene I
Sophie’s House

Kerry has been called to meet with and work with Ajax.  Upon meeting Ajax, he immediately rushes up to Kerry, jumping on her before she’s even through the entranceway.  Kerry, knowing full well she can’t Pilot a dog who doesn’t know her yet, simply pushes him off of her, stands up straight, and allows the dog to smell her until he’s a bit more comfortable with her presence.  Now they are ready to begin the training session. 

Kerry begins to describe the things a dog needs:  Piloting, Activity and Work, stressing the importance of each. They discuss Activity, and various ways to make sure Ajax is getting enough (hint: it doesn’t have to be walking non-stop), Kerry also addresses issues with Ajax being bored, meaning he needs more Work.  Now they are ready to tackle the big problem:  Piloting.  

Kerry:  Piloting is the big issue you are having here.  The reason I refer to it as Piloting is this – imagine you are on an airplane, and there’s only one Pilot.  Mid-flight the Pilot dies.  What are you going to do?

Sophie:  Panic?  I don’t know…try to fly the plane!

Kerry:  Exactly.  And how do you feel flying that plane?  Nervous, excited, desperate, overwhelmed and overstimulated.  All because you’ve been put in charge of a crisis situation that you don’t understand and you can’t control.  Who does that sound like?  Ajax.  Each and every time someone rings your doorbell, that’s a potential crisis situation for Ajax.  Is it a threat?  Is it a friend?  By the time he gets to the door, he’s so worked up over the situation he literally can’t control himself, nor the situation.

Sophie:  So how do I handle it, and let him know it’s not a threat?  That I can answer the door without his help?

Kerry:  By answering his questions.  Dogs have a lot of questions.  Most of them are pretty stupid…”Can I eat this?”  ”Can I eat this after the cat ate it?”  Regardless of how stupid you think the questions are, you still have to answer them.  And some of his questions are pretty important.  ”Is the person at the door a threat?”  ”Do you need help?”  Those questions need to be answered, and in a way that Ajax understands.  Dogs are not based upon vocality or language.  Dog’s first language is body language. They have no second language.  Sure, you can spoon-feed them a few words in English….sit, come, etc., but the most precise way to communicate with your dog is with their native language.  So we’re going to respect them enough to use their language in their presence: body language.

Dogs happen to be binary creatures, though. This means that every question they ever ask you will be a “yes” “no” question, and every answer you give them will be a “yes” or “no”.  It’s like a giant game of “Hot or Cold”.  The questions Ajax asks (“Do you need me to answer the door?”) are answered with a “no”.  Just remember, Ajax isn’t bad, he’s merely asking a question, and the answer happens to be “no”.   So let’s practice the body language involved first.

I’m going to take these treats in my hand, put them on the floor, and tell Ajax (using body language) that he’s not allowed to have them.  What do you think Ajax is going to do?

Sophie:  Well, we have been working on the “wait” command.  He’s not allowed to have his food, any treats, etc., until we release him from that command.

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Kerry:  But remember, I’m not telling him “wait”, I’m telling him “no”.  There’s a huge difference.

(Kerry puts the food on the floor, and answers Ajax’s question, “Can I have the treat?” by using body language.  Ajax sits on the floor and looks to Kerry to see what to do next)

Kerry:  So he’s no longer engaged with the food.  Here’s my question: when does he get the treat?

Sophie: When he’s good?

Kerry:  My answer is “never”.  This isn’t a trick. I’m not teaching him “wait” and you can have what you want.  The problem is that you’re teaching him “wait”, which then ends with his getting whatever it is he wants.  Yes, he has to be a little patient, but he always gets what he wants in the end.  So when you’re trying to tell him “wait” at the door, what you really mean is “no”.  As in never.  You never need his help at the door.  Unfortunately, up until now, he’s never been taught to understand that some things are “no”…he’s been learning to wait to get what he wants.  But what if that was a baby wrapped in bacon on the floor?  If he’s polite and patiently waited for a few moments, does he then get the baby?   Or even better, have you ever tipped a waitress for not stealing your purse?  No, because that’s yours.  You don’t reward someone for not taking what’s yours.  The same concept applies to Ajax. The door is yours.  Whomever is behind the door is yours.  

(Kerry works a little bit with Sophie to make sure she understands the body language involved. Within a few minutes, Sophie is able to answer the door without drama, a first for her and Ajax.  For a more detailed description on how to answer “no” for you dog, check out this blog post)

***

As you can see, “wait” means nothing to a dog, because it’s difficult for a dog to understand that concept appropriately.  In dog world, either they can have something (human, food, door, etc.) or they can’t.

When feeding my dogs, I don’t use the “wait” command.  I get their food ready, and they “ask” if they can have it yet.  My answer is “no”.

Boot and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boot and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

When I’m ready, I call them to their enrichment toys so they can eat.

When someone rings the doorbell, they ask if I need help at the door.  My answer is no.

Sometimes I put food on the ground, and they ask if they can have it.  Sometimes my answer is no, and they never get it.  Sometimes my answer is yes.

“Wait” involves a mindset that I think we need to change as humans.  We use that word as a place filler, for when we don’t want to come across as “mean”.  But since when is claiming what is yours “mean”?  My job as a Pilot/dog owner isn’t to make sure my dogs get everything they want, it’s to make sure they get what the need.  In some instances, that’s a definite “no”.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Difference Between Dogs and Kids

Raising children is a creative endeavor, an art rather than a science.
- Bruno Bettelheim

I had a parent a few weeks ago ask me if I knew how to train kids.  I find the question funny both because I hear that a lot, and because there really isn’t much difference between raising kids and raising dogs.  Neither are (fully) domesticated, both emit strange odors, and each are a joy to come home to, regardless of what kind of mischief they’ve gotten into in the past few hours.  To answer the parent’s question, I sent her this article from a few years back.  Eric and River are currently 12 & 10, but still amazing, wonderful kids.

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I dragged my kids (Eric, 9 and River, 7) yesterday to Jo-Ann’s.  That’s right up there on the “fun-o-meter” as getting vaccinations for them.  I spent about 20 minutes trying to find what it was that I needed.  They stuck right by me.  As they passed in front of someone standing in an aisle, they politely said, “Excuse me”.  As we left, the cashier wished me a happy holiday.  I wished her the same thing.  My children chimed in with “Have a great day!”.  They followed me out to the car, with Eric automatically taking River’s hand to help her across the parking lot.  I put on their favorite song in the car, to which the both said, “Thank you” as soon as the first few notes became recognizable.

Magic?  DNA jackpot?  Nope.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.  My children know what good manners are and are able to execute them because of a couple of factors.

  • I set them up for success.  River has problems behaving if she hasn’t had enough protein.  Eric can become overwhelmed in crowds.  Both are very hyper and need outlets for their energy.  If I take River to the store right before lunch after she’s been on the computer all morning, well, then, it’s my fault if she “misbehaves”, isn’t it?  I know the parameters within which she’s capable of behaving.  If I drag her outside that area, how is she supposed to behave?  It’s like taking a car off the road and into a lake, and then wondering why it isn’t working properly.
  • I give a negative when necessary.  I don’t like people being treated in a dismissive fashion, be it a waitress, cashier or any other individual, for that matter.  I want my children to have the same mind-set.  That person behind the counter isn’t a robot, they are a human, and worthy of good manners.  Sometimes when I’d be completing a transaction, my children’s minds would float off.  The clerk would wish me a good day, and I’d thank them and wish them a pleasant day as well.  My children would sometimes forget to reply in kind.  ”Excuse me?”, I would say to them, giving them an opportunity to fix their omission. They usually give the appropriate response at that point. Sometimes a bit more negative is necessary.  The other day, both kids were being little wretches in the car.  They had been set up for success, as I described above, but they started bickering in the car.  I reminded them twice that this behavior was unacceptable.  They started again.  They each lost use of their computers for two days as a result.  No, I don’t like doing that to them, but my job as a parent isn’t to always like what I do: my job is to parent. Just as I don’t enjoy taking my kids to the doctor for vaccinations and causing them (temporary) discomfort, it’s for the greater good, so I yuck it up and do it anyway.
  • I praise/reward behavior that I want.  How much does a word of praise cost you?  Nothing.  When my children passed in front of the person in the aisle at Jo-Ann’s and used good manners, I complimented them on their manners.  When we got to the car, I put on their favorite song as a tiny reward for their behavior in purgatory Jo-Ann’s.  I do expect good manners from them, but manners can become linked with a positive.  In their minds, being well-behaved can get them anything from a word of praise (often) to a trip for ice-cream (less often, but still feasible).  Manners are good because when used, something good usually happens.
River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

Pretty soon my kids were on auto-pilot.  They can fly through most situations without prompts from me, navigating the complexities of manners quite nicely.  Until the day I die, I will still compliment them on their manners whenever presented the opportunity to do so.  Again, what does a kind word cost you?  Nothing.

So you’re probably wondering, When does this article start to talk about dogs?  Isn’t that why I’m here?  Who’s to say I haven’t been talking about our canine companions the whole time?  Raising dogs and kids, to some degree, isn’t much different.

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  • I set them up for success.  Cody is a 9-month old Labradoodle.Labradoodle (n.) – Latin for perpetual motion.  See also: Hyperactivity.  Frivolity.

    Cody is an exceptionally sweet, kind, and loving animal. But at this young age, he has a very distinct set of circumstances that need to be adhered to to attain good behavior. For example, right now Cody is contentedly sleeping on the floor by my feet as I work on my computer.  This didn’t just happen.  I knew I needed to get some work done today, so Cody got an extra does of the PAW Method.  I gave him his Activity when we went for an extra long walk while wearing his backpack.  We then handled his Work needs by working on some new tricks with him and then feeding him through his enrichment feeder.  He is set up for success now.

  • I give a negative when necessary.  I’m ready to work, but Cody starts asking me a lot of questions:

    Can I play with the cat?  No.  Can I throw my ball around? No.  Can I play with the cat?  No.

I will continue to answer his questions as he asks them.  The first time he asks me about the cat, I use gentle negative body language from my seated position.  The next time he asks, I get up and “claim” the cat with my body, using much stronger body language.  Cody’s response?  Okay! Got it…so that’s a “no” on the cat then, right?

  • I praise/reward behavior that I want. Cody grabs a chew toy and plops down by my feet.  That’s a couple different positives I need to address there: he’s calmed himself down, and he’s redirected himself in an appropriate manner (the chew toy).  I give him a few seconds to “settle in” to this behavior, and then I gently start scratching his head.  He doubles down on the chew toy, so I up my ante and start to give him some very gentle very softly-spoken praise (I want him calm, so riling him up would be my bad).  He continues along the righteous path.  I stop petting him so I can start working, but every few minutes give him a word of gentle praise.  Pretty soon he drops his chew toy and puts his head down.  He’s ready to sleep.  I whip out the big guns:  a single Cheerio.  Cody is in the process of learning what’s acceptable behavior.  He needs to have his positive behaviors marked with a pretty strong positive.  That’s how he learns what we want from him.  Catching the moment.  I try to catch as many of his moments as I can, which means a lot of Touch, Talk, Treat.  He’d get sick on so many larger treats, so I use Cheerios.  Eventually, I’ll start to wean off the treats and focus on touch and talk.  But for now, he’s still learning.

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It’s a process.  I expect mistakes (mostly from me).  It’s difficult, but oh so rewarding.  I don’t expect perfection; that’s only at the end of the rainbow.  What you’re working for is much more precious than perfection:  you’re working towards being a family.  That’s even better than perfection.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio