Teaching your dog to wait for permission before eating is an important behavior to train for several reasons. First, it helps establish you as the leader and your dog as the follower. In the wild, lower members of the pack wait for the alpha's permission before approaching food. This respect of hierarchy and self-control translates well to a domestic setting.
Second, having a dog that waits for permission prevents them from stealing food or scavenging. Dogs that have free access to food whenever they want are more likely to develop possessiveness and aggression around resources like food bowls, treats, and even stolen human food. Waiting for permission keeps dogs focused on you and less likely to rehearse unwanted behaviors.
Third, a dog that has impulse control around food is safer. They are less likely to get into the trash, steal dinner off the counter, or gobble down something harmful they find on the street. Good impulse control skills translate to other areas as well, like greeting guests at the door without jumping, heeling properly on walks, and listening to commands around distractions.
Overall, this training taps into respect, self-control, and bonding between owner and dog. It provides structure while allowing the dog to earn rewards through good behavior. Don't underestimate how empowering it is for dogs to learn they have some control over getting things they want! The waiting process itself builds confidence and patience.
How to Teach Wait at Mealtimes
Begin training this skill at mealtimes. Withhold your dog's food bowl and ask them to sit. Say "wait" and walk to where you will set the food down. If they get up, ask them to sit again and repeat "wait." Reward by placing the bowl down while praising "good wait."
At first, only take one or two steps away before returning. Gradually increase distance and duration before your release word "okay!" Avoid repeating release words, as dogs learn to wait until they hear it multiple times. Mix up the number of steps and length of time, so they learn to listen for the release instead of predicting it.
If your dog breaks the wait, say "ah ah" to mark the mistake. Pick up the bowl and walk away to reset. After a few seconds, return and retry the sequence from the beginning. Don't punish or scold, just neutrally reset the exercise. Your dog will quickly learn that waiting earns the reward, while breaking waits ends it!
Once your dog has mastered this at mealtimes, practice in other contexts throughout the day. Before opening doors, throwing a ball, getting out of the car, or crossing streets, ask for a sit and "wait." Avoid saying it when you have no intention of releasing, or it will lose meaning. Wait means, "This is yours, but not yet." Be patient, and your dog will learn good things come to those who wait!
How to Teach Leave It
While wait teaches dogs not to take something until given permission, leave it teaches them not to take something at all. This skill is extremely useful for redirecting dogs from temptations like food garbage on walks, dropped pills or toxins at home, and even enticing food given by strangers.
Start by placing a treat on the floor and covering it with your hand. Say "leave it" and wait for your dog to stop sniffing andFocus on you. The second they look away or lose interest in the hidden treat, mark the behavior with "yes!" then use another treat to reward.
Gradually build to letting your dog sniff treats in your open palm, then on the floor or in a bowl without covering them. Say "leave it," wait for them to look at you, then reward from the other hand. Increase the value of treats on the floor to high-value foods. Eventually phase out the reward treat so leaving it becomes its own reward through praise.
Be sure to practice in many contexts, like food dropped from the counter, trash on the sidewalk, and toys or forbidden objects. The more situations you train it, the better your dog's understanding will be! Leave it teaches incredible impulse control and creates opportunities to redirect to appropriate items.
Use Leashes, Gates and Tethers to Prevent Rehearsal
While you teach these concepts, prevent your dog from self-rewarding by rehearsing unwanted behaviors. For example, keep them on a leash with you while cooking so they can't steal food from counters. Use baby gates to block access to the kitchen trash can. Tie long leashes to sturdy objects to keep them out of forbidden areas.
Restrict access to food and temptations until your training has developed the self-control not to take advantage. The more they rehearse stealing food without permission, the harder the training will become. Always set your dog up for success by preventing behaviors you don't want!
At some point you can give your dog limited freedom in the house again as proof of their training. But continue to reinforce leave it and wait commands around new tempting situations, like holiday dinners and outdoor barbecues. Good behavior must be practiced frequently to remain strong.
Be Consistent and Use Positive Reinforcement
As with any training, consistency is key. Everyone in the household should use the same cues, procedures, and reinforcement so the dog has a clear understanding. Stick with short 1-3 word cues like "leave it" and "wait" that can be said quickly in urgent situations.
Negative punishment like scolding or physical corrections should be avoided. This risks damaging your bond with your dog and leading to fear-based behaviors. Positive reinforcement has been scientifically shown to be the safest and most effective.
Reward generously with treats, praise, toys and anything else your dog loves when they demonstrate self-control. Good behavior should always be followed with something pleasant. Be patient, and remember you're asking your dog to go against their natural instincts. With time, they will learn to look to you for permission and direction.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Despite your best efforts, training doesn't always go smoothly. Here are some common challenges and how to address them:
Dog breaks wait frequently: Return to rewarding shorter durations. 1-2 seconds of waiting is as hard as 1 minute for dogs initially. Build gradually and don't move forward until each level is mastered.
Dog gets up as soon as food is set down: Reward with the food bowl for remaining in a sit first. Then begin taking steps away again. Slow down your pace and use treats to keep their focus on you.
Dog ignores leave it command: Make it easier by covering treats, then gradually uncover. Be sure to reward looking at you, not just walking away, so they learn what you DO want them to do.
Dog listens at home but not on walks: Use high-value rewards like chicken for outdoor training. Practice in low distraction areas first, then work up to more difficult environments. Always reward outdoor successes generously.
Dog is obsessed with getting human food: Manage access to food by gating the kitchen and feeding dog separately. Work on "place" commands sending them to a mat or bed while you eat. Increase exercise and enrichment to decrease food obsession.
Don't get discouraged! Problem-solve issues as they arise, increase motivation with better rewards, and celebrate the small successes along the way. With patience and consistency, you'll have a dog who demonstrates impulse control as a way of life.
When to Get Professional Help
If despite your best efforts your dog is not making progress, don't be afraid to seek professional guidance. Some causes may require interventions beyond standard training.
Talk to your veterinarian to rule out potential medical issues causing your dog to be obsessive about food or unable to control themselves, like thyroid problems, gut disorders, or neurological issues. Medication combined with training may be warranted in some cases.
Seek advice from a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods. They can observe your dog's behavior and help troubleshoot what's tripping them up. Another set of eyes often picks up on things owners miss.
In extreme cases like resource guarding aggression or destructive scavenging, specialists like veterinary behaviorists may be needed. They can help uncover root causes of the behavior and customize treatment plans. Don't feel like you've failed if your dog needs extra help learning. Some problems benefit from a professional team approach.
The key is not to delay if standard techniques aren't working. The sooner behavior issues are addressed, the more successful interventions tend to be. Your vet and an experienced trainer can help determine if your situation warrants outside assistance.
Maintaining Good Impulse Control Habits
Once your dog reliably demonstrates behaviors like wait and leave it, your training job isn't done! Dogs thrive on routine and predictability. Maintaining structure and rules prevents bad habits from creeping in.
Continue to practice obedience skills using rewards-based methods. Check in periodically with trainers for tune-ups addressing any areas of decline. For example, your dog should still sit and wait before stepping through doorways or receiving meals.
Be aware of situations where your dog may be more prone to revert to poor impulse control, like high stress events. New people, places, animals and noises can all reduce even well-trained dogs' ability to focus. Prevent setbacks by proactively managing challenging situations.
Make time for daily exercise, mental stimulation, and bonding. Bored dogs are more prone to push boundaries and act out. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog! Engage their energy and intelligence in productive activities.
Most importantly, view training as an ongoing process across your dog's lifetime. There is always room for reinforcing desired behaviors and practicing new skills. A lifelong learner mindset will ensure your dog continuously thrives!
The Benefits of an Impulse Controlled Dog
In today's fast-paced and highly stimulating world, impulse control is one of the most valuable skills any animal can master. The benefits of training your dog to wait and leave food extend far beyond the dinner table.
You'll enjoy increased bonding, respect, and communication with a dog who looks to you for direction. A well-behaved dog is better equipped to handle change and challenges. They can accompany you safely in more environments like patios, elderly homes, and other public spaces.
Dogs with good impulse control are less stressful to live with and require less intensive management. Simple baby gates and doors aren't prison walls; they provide just enough structure to prevent rehearsal of unwanted behaviors. Your home can remain relaxing for both human and canine residents.
Overall, an obedient dog skilled at waiting for direction has greater freedom for positive experiences and less risk of negative ones. Their world expands as they prove themselves capable of handling tempting situations without incident. Good impulse control unlocks life's endless, exciting possibilities!
Teaching your dog to wait for your okay before eating is well worth the effort. Not only does it establish house rules and respect, it enables your dog to be safer and less stressed in all situations. Use positive reinforcement, troubleshoot common issues, and always seek professional help sooner rather than later if needed.
With a lifelong learner's mindset of consistent training and rewards for desired behaviors, you and your dog will enjoy an incredible bond built on communication, trust, and impulse control. The skills mastered around your kitchen table generalize into the whole world, making your relationship and adventures together unlimited. So start today, and happy training!