Indirect "Whoa" Breaking

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Introducing "whoa" the way we describe in this article teaches a dog that hearing this command is a very good reason to stand still. But it's not a reason to let down, fearing a possible correction.

A dog with this start on the "whoa" command won't lose style automatically whenever he hears the command in the field. So you'll be a big step ahead of the game.

Begin with the Pup's Crate

Crate training is often the first thing a person does with a new pup. A pup's introduction to the crate is an ideal time to teach it to accept waiting until you release it. This understanding is the foundation of "whoa".

When a pup's been in a crate and you open the door, the first thing he wants to do is charge out and join the party. Teach him that, in this situation, you'll shut the crate door right in his face if he tries to leave before you tell him, "All right".

Don't give him a command to wait. It's best if he learns that being in the crate and seeing the door opens means "wait for permission to leave". Once he has this figured out, you can make the task a little harder. Teach him to wait in the crate with the door open while you put his food dish down in front of the crate. He doesn't get to go until you tell him, "All right".

Now he's ready to transfer his understanding to a similar situation in a different location-a gate he wants to go through. Make him wait until you go through the gate first. Then tell him, "All right", and let him come through.

Why Dogs learn easiest with "Pictures"

Dogs learn a command most easily if it's taught as a "picture" that means something to the dog. The picture makes the command relevant to the dog. It gives the dog a reason to learn the command.

The picture also provides consistency for the dog. Consistency is very important to successful dog training. A crate door opening and waiting at a gate are similar pictures to the dog. These pictures make it easy for him to learn the idea of "first wait", then "okay to go".

Training Pups with a Treat on a Pole

When the pup has mastered waiting in the crate or at the gate until he hears "all right," he's ready to learn the word "whoa" also means to wait. And "waiting," of course, means wait until you hear the familiar "all right" command.

Rig up a food treat so you can decide when the pup gets it, and when he doesn't. Slide a hot dog slice onto the end of a string, and fasten the other end of the string to a pole.

You may note that this gadget looks something like the old fishing pole and bird wing, but this new training technique has nothing to do with sight pointing. Instead, it's a convenient way for you to raise and lower the food according to the pup's actions. And it keeps the pup focused forward instead of looking at the trainer for the food.

Introducing the "Whoa" Command

Tell the pup, "Whoa". Lower the piece of hot dog on its string, aiming for a position about one foot in front of his nose. The moment he tries to grab it (regardless of whether you've lowered it all the way into final position), raise it out of his reach.

He'll soon learn that by staying still, he can cause the food treat to approach, which is something he wants to happen. But if he tries to "break" after he hears the "whoa" command, his action just chases the food away.

Once he'll let you dangle the treat in position about a foot from his nose without breaking, you can release him to go get it on the familiar "all right" command.

Take your pole with you whenever you take the pup somewhere. Practice in many new places. Work up to longer periods of staying on "whoa," but always release the pup to get the treat before he loses interest in it.

The Advantage of Attention on the Treat

You don't want to introduce your "whoa" training with a method that inadvertently teaches a pup to look at you when he hears the command. Dogs naturally tend to look toward where they hear a sound come from. They're even more inclined to look at the handler if they expect a correction to come from him.

When the pup's looking at a dangling hot dog slice, one thing's sure: he isn't looking at you; he's looking forward, at the food. The habit of looking forward and ignoring handler motion carries over into a dog's adult training. He won't tend to look back to you when you approach to flush or style him up.

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Marysville, CA 95901
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