Impulse Control Dog Training: Teach your dog to “Wait” and “Leave it”

Impulse Control Dog Training

Leave it and wait dog training is very important for a well trained dog with impulse control. Impulse dog training is important for safety and harmony. Teaching impulse control to a puppy is challenging!

One of Calvin’s most reliable commands is “Wait” – wait at doors, wait before entering the elevator, wait before eating, wait before taking a treat.  Building up the wait command takes a very long time.  It wasn’t until about a year that Calvin could reliably hold 10 slices of bacon on his face without moving a muscle.  We can now leave his food bowl in front of him, leave the room for 5 minutes and he will still be waiting patiently (ok…impatiently) when we get back.  This command is great for impulse control, and one of our most used commands.

Training your dog to Leave It vs Wait

Teaching a dog to leave it similar to teaching a dog to wait, but not exactly the same. There is a small but important distinction between the way we taught the “wait” and “leave it” commands. “Wait” means don’t touch it or move until told.  “Leave it” means don’t touch it or look at it. Ever. With “leave it” the dog learns that the command is final and they should just forget about whatever it is they are focused on.  With “wait” they will eventually be released and given an ok.  This is an important distinction to make because if your pup thinks that “leave it” means they will eventually be allowed to grab….a chicken bone off the ground….they will remain fixated on it and will be more likely to grab it when you turn around.

Start Small

We started teaching wait the day we brought Calvin home – he has always been expected to wait before eating his food.  This is a very common command, but needs to be generalized if you want your pup to be able to hold treats on their nose.  You’ll have to start with one second..and then build up to more time.  With the food bowl, we covered the bowl with our hands until he moved away from it.  If we released our hand and he would go for the food, we would cover the bowl again and say “wait”. It is common for the dog to paw your hands here and we had many scratches to prove it. We repeated this until he could wait a few seconds before digging in.

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Build Up

After a few weeks of waiting to dig into food, we started introducing “wait” with treats and waiting longer before starting to eat meals (Calvin was about 3 months old).  We started with just one treat on the ground in front of him (not on his paws yet!). We covered the treat with our hands and said “wait.”  Again, It is common for the dog to paw your hands here but don’t let them think that they can paw their way to what they want. Once the dog is done pawing and has calmed down, you can lift your hands and let them have the treat.  Once they learn to stop pawing at your hand as a first instinct, you can slowly lift your hands up a little bit off the ground and say “wait.” They will be able to see the treats but won’t be allowed to have them yet.  Let them have the treat with an “ok” and repeat the process – as the dog gets more comfortable you can lift your hand up higher above the treats.  Eventually you will be able to use the word “wait” and “ok” as the command and release while the treats aren’t covered by your hands.  For the first few months, you will have to be ready to cover up the food or treats to reinforce that “wait” means no yummies until told.  Another tip is to wait until the dog looks at you to release them – that way you know your dog is looking to you for direction instead of just focusing on the treat.  Once the dog understands the general concept, don’t let them have the treat until they check in with you and make eye contact.

Next up: when you dog has mastered waiting while the treat is in front of them, you can try putting the treat on their paws.  Be prepared to swoop in and cover the treat if they try to go for it.  Repeat the process on their nose or any other place you want to have them hold a treat.  If the treat drops on the ground, grab it before they can so they do not think that they can break the “wait.”  Eventually, you will be able to command your dog to wait no matter how close the food is to their face.  This process takes time to master so be patient.


dog sitting with a pile of cheeseburgers from inn and out

Have a release word for your dog

We use the word “ok” as the release word.  Other words we’ve heard used are “release”, “free”, “go.” To make sure your dog understands the release word and isn’t just responding to random words, you can test out words and make sure your pup only digs in when they hear the “ok.” We like to say a string of words that are similar to “ok” so that Calvin knows that the only word that releases him is “ok,” no matter how similar other words may sound.

Reward your dog during training sessions

Luckily, “wait” is easy to reward.  The reward is being released! For “leave it”, we personally do not use rewards.  We consider “leave it” to be a non-negotiable command (our other non-negotiables are loose leash walking and “stay”).  Our decision not to use treats for “leave it” is a personal choice that works best for Calvin.  Sometimes, Calvin is too clever for his own good – “leave it” for a treat is cool most of the time, but when there’s a yummy bird, or something more exciting than a treat, he prefers the distraction to the treat. When we realized this, we turned “leave it” into a non-negotiable command and used the gentle leader to pull his head away from the distraction (and towards us) when he was too fixated on something.  Over time, “leave it” came to mean, “look at me. No ifs or buts.” This took time but we have found him to be a lot more consistent in the long run than when we used treats.

Patience is a virtue,
-Your Pal Cal