I choose to use ‘wait’ instead of ‘stay’ because I think as a word it is easier for the dog to hear and distinguish, from other commands and words. It’s also quite a strong sounding word.
To be successful in achieving ‘wait’ you need to have established a good understanding with the dog, as he needs a certain level of trust in the command giver. The dog needs to be willing to give you their attention for an extended period, even when you are not paying any attention to them. The dog is always free to get distracted at any time, to become unwilling or disengaged, and wander off…
‘Wait’ is a command you want to work up to. Work towards greater distances, greater lengths of time and around greater distractions. You can even work towards being out of sight and the dog still holding the wait.
You and the dog can’t learn the ‘wait’ command until the dog has achieved a certain level of impulse control. ‘Wait’ is a great tool for gauging and improving the level of self-control a dog has, but it needs to have a bit before you even start. However, the ‘wait’ command is much more about the handler than it is about the dog. This is a command where a huge bunch of things come in to play.
I use the ‘wait’ command in sessions with kids to explore their perceptions of respect. I’ve noticed that people have a bunch of different ideas about respect. If you ask them, most people will describe respect in terms of what the other person in the equation does / should do. For example, “respect is when others listen to me” “respect is when people have due regard for my feelings or rights”
Most people, kids and adults, can parrot the commonly held belief that respect needs to be given before it is received. But most of us rarely integrate that thought into our wider belief about what respect is. We say that respect needs to come from us first but we believe that respect is more about the other person than it is about ourselves.
So why the ‘wait’ command? Because it demonstrates just how much the onus is on you to adapt yourself and accommodate the other, to get them to believe in your leadership. The responsibility is with the person seeking respect, not the giver of that respect.
Practicing the ‘wait’ command with a variety of different dogs demonstrates this better than most things you could spend your time doing. An outgoing confident dog like Dotty might challenge the wait command because she fundamentally believes that she can do what she likes. A hyperaware, sensitive dog like Kelly might challenge the command because she just doesn’t know if she can stand to be on her own out there. An easily distracted dog like Lulu will challenge it because it offers the perfect opportunity to go and have a sniff about. And so on through the pack.
One response to all of these challenges is not going to get you the same result with each dog. Get tough with Dotty and make her understand you mean business and she will sit tight quite happily. Get tough on Kelly and you’ll be trying to catch a run-away dog for the next 20 minutes.
You need to adjust your approach to each personality to get the same result. The one who does the adjusting has to be the one who wants the respect and the lead role. I could try to deny this, but I might just be yelling my head off at dogs all day and not achieving a damn thing. It would in fact just be me believing that I can force the dog into giving me what I want.
So I gather a group of kids and a group of dogs and get them to master the ‘wait’ command. These kids love those dogs and really believe that the dog is going to do exactly what they want just because they do love them. Of course that almost never happens.
The first response from most kids is to try to aggressively force the dog to do what they say. People that use aggression to "get what they want" are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviours, which will only increase if they are faced with verbal and/or physical threats.
Getting aggressive with a dog is about as productive as using a spoon to pick up a grape on a flat plate. It just doesn’t work. They’re slippery little suckers and as soon as you step away from them, they are going to do what they want to do.
The next step is usually pleading. At this point the handler has worked out that they can’t force the dog, so they are going to try to beg it instead. The body posture goes from big and threatening to small and defensive. In this phase you see people holding out a hand in the stop position while backing quietly away. They tend to get quiet and move slowly.
And depending on how tired the dog is of the game by now, this approach will work roughly half the time. It will, by Murphy’s law, fail if you really need it though. The dog can recognise that it has control in the situation and they will usually take advantage. At least in this phase, when the dog breaks it’s usually because they are coming to you to give you a lick so at least you feel special while being ineffectual…
This is the point at which most adults doing the task will have a tantrum and the kids will start to doubt themselves. It’s the point at which the learning occurs.
Dominance can only apply to a relationship between individuals. It’s not achieved through force or coercion but through one member of the relationship deferring to the other peacefully. While an individual may have strong leadership capabilities, it is the yielding of followers that creates a leader.
What makes an individual want to defer peacefully or yield?
In many ways, what people perceive as dominance and respect are the same thing. They both relate more to the behaviour of the one seeking respect or dominance, than to the one offering to follow.
How do you gain the respect of or dominance over another individual? You find a way to make them want to defer peacefully or yield happily. How you do that will differ from personality to personality, but it will always involve you making adjustments to your own actions and perceptions, the dog is not going to make that adjustment for you.
And isn’t it amazing how like people dogs are? Isn’t it so cool that you can practice good leadership skills on a dog that will help you become more comfortable socially and a better leader of people?
So a happy day is spent with me giving kids an opportunity to practice those skills over and over again on every different dog. It’s amazing how fast they get at it in the end. And they never even twig that they are learning how to get along and socialise harmoniously!