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.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-1537-1377621562-19

 

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

“Mine” Craft – Working with Food Aggressive Dogs

“People aren’t against you; they are for themselves.” – Anon

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test.  Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test. Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A few days ago I had a very difficult situation to work with.  The dog in question, a Shar Pei mix, I’ll call Lisbon, was food aggressive (had actually bitten people and other dogs in the house) as well as resource guarding (resource guarding is the same as food aggression, only in place of the food, she was aggressively guarding areas in the house she deemed as her own).

If a dog is reacting with aggression over anything other than their safety (i,e., they’re scared of you), or the safety of their pack, that’s trouble.  That’s the sign of a dog who is in the Pilot position, and who is frequently more than happy to try to take money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.  Remember, whomever has the most money wins, so frequently these dogs are indeed the Pilot in the house simply because snapping and growing over a resource works.  Essentially, they tell you “no”, and it works because, well, teeth can be scary!  The more often they tell you “no”, and the more often you accept that as an answer, the more money the dog has taken out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.

Most other things aren’t quite so dangerous to work with because we are working with questions that the dog actually hopes end in a “no”.

Will that other dog kill me?

No, Fido.

Have any dogs ever died in a thunderstorm before?

No Fido, and I doubt you’ll be the first.

Resource guarding is different.  A dog has decided that something is theirs, and no matter what, they are keeping it.  Sometimes when I come into a house a dog is resource guarding, but their heart really isn’t into it.  They’ve accidentally become Pilot in the house because the owner has never properly communicated with the dog, letting them know that they don’t have to be Pilot.  Hint:  most dogs don’t even want the job!

These dogs aren’t resource guarding so much as taking all the perks that come with the Piloting position.  For a dog, being Pilot can be scary, terrifying, and generally sucks.  Just like not every human feels comfortable leading, the same is true for dogs.  If they’re going to be Pilot, there had better be some perks that come along with it!  These include the right to eat first, the right to sleep where they want to…basically, the right of first refusal for anything.  For the dogs who aren’t even really into the Pilot position, and didn’t want the damn job to begin with, merely Piloting them and taking the money out of their bank is sufficient.  They aren’t true resource guarders.

As Danika mentioned in her blog post On Food Reactivity….Nothing Personal.  Really.,   they aren’t doing it because they hate you.  Or because they want to hurt you.  In their minds, you are asking a question:  Can I have that back? They are answering your question (No), but you aren’t listening, apparently, so they have to answer it with more force, until you finally back down.

Dogs and wolves are a pack. They are a single entity driven towards one thing, survival and continuation of the pack.  In the pack, only alpha male and alpha female breed.  They are the Pilots.  They have (for the moment) the best shot of perpetuating the pack because they are the best dogs/wolves in the pack.  Obviously this can change.  Dogs and wolves don’t vote in who they think is the best for Pilot.  There’s no bribes.  Either you are or you aren’t and accepting another dog’s “no” to a question you asked can take enough money out of your Piloting bank to no longer make you Pilot.

Wolves deciding who's eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical "back off, it's mine" body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

Wolves deciding who’s eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical “back off, it’s mine” body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

So back to resource guarding.  It isn’t a bad behavior.  Remember, nothing a dog does is bad; it’s always perfectly correct.  For a dog.  However, as humans, we can not safely tolerate resource guarding.  It’s dangerous, and for kids, it’s the second biggest reason I see them get bit, (first is teasing or torturing the dog).  The difference is, a bite because a child is manhandling a dog is usually a sudden nip.  Yes, it may cause blood even (remember, you’re supposed to be covered in hair and loose skin, like a dog, not soft vulnerable flesh), but it’s typically not that bad unless the dog hit a lucky spot.  With resource guarding, it can be a lot, lot worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  resource guarding is one of the few things (the only?) that I will tell a client to put a dog down for.  Yes, they can be worked with, and you can indeed take the Piloting position back, but you will have to defend it the rest of your dog’s life.  They may challenge you at any moment.  You may absent-mindedly drop food on the floor, lean over to pick it up, and the dog decides at that moment to claim it, meaning a bite.

These dogs can be the sweetest, kindest dogs on the planet, as Lisbon is.  Wonderful, loving family pets.  But once the food comes out, they are like a vampire who hasn’t fed being led through a blood bank.  Yucky, ugly things ensue.

So back to Lisbon:  how did things end?  Well, they haven’t yet.  They never will.  Some dogs you can slack with on the Piloting and still be fine.  Lisbon’s owner will always be on alert for any sign Lisbon is trying to take money out of his bank.  Lisbon’s owner is single with no kids, so he doesn’t have to worry about a child being bit.  He also understood the severity of the issue.  He is dedicated to the training regime, which includes:

- Feeding Lisbon after a successfully Piloted walk.  A walk done correctly (read: you are leading, not your dog) takes money out of their Piloting Piggy Bank.  We want to empty Lisbon’s account out as much as possible before feeding.

- Lisbon will always be on a leash during feeding times, just like you always wear a seat belt in the car.  You may never truly need it, but there’s nothing like feeling safe to help bring out the Pilot inside of you.

- Hand feeding Lisbon.  Food only comes from him, and no other source.  We want to remove everything as a possible option for Lisbon to acquire food.  She need to be dependent upon her owner for all food. Food is placed on the counter, and Lisbon will be seated and fed one handful at a time, and only if she is calmly waiting.

- Removing signals that may increase energy during feeding time.  For example, when Lisbon sees her owner grab her food dish on the counter, she knows her owner is about to feed her.  Her energy level goes way up, and she can be difficult to manage.  Lisbon will never be fed out of a bowl again.  Even the vessel used to contain the food while she is being hand fed will be switched out frequently so she never knows if food is coming or if her owner is merely grabbing a cup for some coffee.

- Dropping food on the ground doesn’t mean it’s yours!!!  Lisbon’s owner, while hand feeding Lisbon, will occasionally gently place food on the ground behind him, moving very slowly.  If she lunges for the food, he can redirect her with the leash, wait until she’s calm, and then slowly pick the food up and throw it away.  Lisbon will never have the right to food on the floor.  Ever.  If she remains calm during that little exercise, she will get another handful of food.

- Never toss food at Lisbon.  The very act of snatching food in the air is aggressive.  In some dogs it’s not a big deal, and is even amusing (Darwin could catch food out of a dead sleep!), but those dogs aren’t really jockeying for Pilot position.  We are driving the point home that calm is the only thing that gets Lisbon food, and lunging towards food won’t be accepted any more.

- Getting her used to disappointment.  A lot of resource guarding dogs get upset and retaliate if they think they were about to get food but don’t.  For example, the now-defunct food bowl.  If Lisbon’s owner simply picked up the food bowl to move it without feeding her, Lisbon might retaliate.  You were supposed to feed me, remember?  Touching the food bowl is a visual marker that is supposed to end a certain way, and if it doesn’t…bad things happen.  So he’s going to get her used to disappointment.  Dropping the food on the floor is a good start, but sometimes putting food in a cup on the counter, creating calm with Lisbon, and then dumping the food back into the bin, all in a controlled manner.  Calm doesn’t always get Lisbon food.  It’s merely the only way she might get food.  It’s like the lottery:  you don’t always win, but unless you play, you aren’t going to win.

Hand feeding... in the good way

Hand feeding… in the good way

I have great hopes for Lisbon and her owner.  Lisbon is a great dog, and they made wonderful strides in the two hours I was with them.  Lisbon’s owner is dedicated, and he understood the severity of the problem.  If anyone has a chance at a safe, wonderful bond with a resource guarding dog, it’s him.

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