The Emergency Word Every Dog Needs To Learn

There are two kinds of people in this world: people who think nothing bad will ever happen and people like me.

You know, waiting for a disaster to occur any minute.

Luckily, I’ve taught my dog Honey the emergency word every dog needs to learn. Just in case.

Honey the golden retriever knows the most important emergency cue you can teach a dog. And it isn't smile.

Would that emergency word be “smile?”

A Cue For An Emergency

If Honey were a collie, I might have taught her the cue: “Go to the sheriff’s office and tell them we have a fire.”

Or perhaps, “Someone has fallen overboard. Go below and bark for help on the radio.”

But since Honey is not Lassie, I taught her a one word emergency cue: “Wait.”

I’ve never had to use the cue in an actual emergency. But I have used it in less desperate situations. And I feel confident Honey will listen to it if I really need her to.

Teaching a dog the most important emergency word at the open Beaufort bridge.

Wait, Honey, the bridge is open.

Teaching A Dog To Wait

I’m a stinky trainer.

I just make stuff up as I go along. And thank the universe that I have a smart dog who can learn despite having a rotten teacher.

Honey the golden retriever knows the emergency wait cue.

Now I have to wait while you take off your glasses for a picture? You really expect a lot from a dog.

But here’s how I taught Honey the cue, “wait.”

We walked Honey in a small city with sidewalks every day. Honey never had to walk beside me unless I asked her to. So she’d arrive at the curb ahead of me.

If I sensed from her body language that she was going to continue walking into the street, I’d make the turn instead.

It didn’t take long before Honey started slowing down and looking at me when we approached a curb.

When she looked at me, I said “wait” and put my hand flat in front of her nose. When I was ready to move forward, I used the release word “okay.”

Now that we travel by boat and walk Honey in many different places, “wait” has become even more important.

It’s the cue I rely on when we’re trying to cross a multi-lane highway and have to pause briefly in the center suicide lane while we’re waiting for a break in the traffic.

What Does “Wait” Mean

You might be asking yourself how telling Honey to wait is different from asking her to sit or lie down and stay. After all, Honey knows those cues as well, right?

Well, yes. For me, “wait” means don’t move forward until I give you another cue.

I don’t expect her to sit (although she often does) or lie down. I just expect her to wait until I give her more directions.

I also don’t expect Honey to wait for long.

If I need her to sit for a long time until I can do something else, I ask her to sit and stay.

“Wait” is a cue that says I need her to pause for just a moment.

Wait At The Dog Park

Dog parks are not a good fit for every dog. But Honey plays well with other dogs and likes time to run safely off leash.

At the dog park, “wait” is a great cue to have.

Honey the golden retriever knows to wait before greeting new dogs.

I guess that your people didn’t teach YOU how to wait.

I tell Honey to wait while I’m taking off her harness. I don’t want her dashing off with it dangling so it can tangle her up with another dog.

I also ask Honey to wait when I see new dogs entering a dog park.

Nothing will lead to disaster faster than a bunch of dogs rushing a new dog in the tight area around a gate.

Telling Honey to wait while a new dog gets inside keeps her (and other dogs) more safe.

Teaching Your Dog To Wait

My method for teaching Honey to wait worked because of her nature, which is to look to me when she is uncertain.

It would not have worked with my dog Shadow who led with her nose.

So I went looking for videos and instructions about teaching a dog to wait. I didn’t like what I saw.

If you taught your dog to wait by another method, please share in the comments.

Because “wait” is an important cue. And every dog should know it. Because you never know when you’ll need it in an emergency.

Honey the golden retriever waits.

I have an emergency. My stomach clock went off and I’m tired of waiting for dinner.

Don’t Wait To Vote For Charleston

It’s the final round of the Best City For Pet Travelers brackets at Go Pet Friendly.

Lovely, pet friendly Charleston, South Carolina is competing against Colorado City, Colorado for the title of 2016 Best City For Pet Travelers.

Why should you vote for Charleston over Colorado City?

Well, what kind of place do you want to vacation with your pet?

A mellow Southern town with friendly people and warm weather?

Charleston battery from the water.

This is what Charleston looks like in March. Don’t try this in Colorado Springs. You’d die of exposure.

Or a hard-driving city filled with Type-A Olympic competitors? A city that is below freezing several months of the year. And a city that refuses to allow marijuana to be sold in its borders despite the state legalizing it for recreational use (now we know where the uptight Coloradans live).

Yeah, I thought so.

Give me a sunny spot to dig my toes in my sand, toss a toy to Honey, and a nice restaurant to end the day and I’m happy.

Give me Charleston, any time.

So join me and our new Charleston friends, the Groovy Goldendoodles, in supporting our new favorite town.

Vote Charleston for the Best City For Pet Travelers. 


Positive Pet Training Hop

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads,Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. This month’s theme is training for safety/emergencies for National Pet First Aid Awareness Month. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week – please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!

Your Turn: What emergency cue have you taught your dogs?






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  1. Oh, this is a good one! We do “wait” which like you means to pause – I use it when leashing/unleashing, wiping down dirty dog paws, asking them to let me put things in the car before they jump in, etc… “Stay” means exactly that, and it’s much longer.
    Our emergency word though is ” STOP!” I use it when we’re playing in the front yard and a toy goes into the street. Ziva used to be good at it, but we need to practice some more.
    I guess “leave it” is also kind of an emergency word for us too. We use it for leaving nasty smelt things that ought not be eaten, and for nor chasing things like ducks or cats.

    • All good emergency cues.

      I also think STOP is a good “don’t-go-any-further-no-matter-what” word. The sound communicates a lot to dogs that wait doesn’t.

  2. Torrey has a stop command. Kinda the same. I voted for Charleston already today. I didn’t know that about Colorado city not allowing pot sales. That would have decided my vote too.

    • Anyone who ever takes their dog off leash needs to have some way to communicate with them when it’s important. I’d imagine that with some of the outside dangers you see in remote areas that STOP is much more effective than Wait.

  3. Wait is one of the most powerful words from the lexicon of dog commands. With Honey’s life on the sea and new areas to visit, it’s even more important than for most dogs. Kudos to you and her for keeping it all real and safe. ღ

    • I didn’t mention it because it was less relatable. But Honey most often hears “wait” when we pull up to a dock and I need to keep her from jumping off the boat to kiss the dock hands. 🙂

  4. Two comments
    First, it seems you use Wait when you are with Honey or close to her. As a trainer, my scenario is you two are separated by a street and you don’t want her to cross. Would Honey wait in that case?
    Secondly, different trainers use Wait differently and it is complex. I think generally that Wait means to remain in location but in any position and the dog can change body positions – you can give another cue from a distance. Stay, on the other hand, requires you to return to your dog to give another cue. Some trainers say that Wait means they can only give the All Done for a release. (I think the hand signal for Stay is an upheld hand. If you turn your hand 90 degrees, it means Wait. But if your dog is next to you, the Wait is horizontal while the Stay is vertical.)
    I wish we could all get together on this one! I do so look forward to reading what others do!

    • OMD, if I also had to learn a standard hand signal for every cue, I’d never make it. Luckily Honey meets me more than half way. 🙂

      For the scenario you mentioned with Honey being at a distance, I use the cue STOP. I find that the short syllable communicates the seriousness to her. Wait is a softer tone.

      You could probably do an entire class on stop, wait, and stay. I’m sure there are lots of nuances to learn.

  5. This is something we have not worked on, we’ve only used “stay” in some of those situations. But I can see how this is different, and how useful it could be. Since our beagle has zero patience for waiting for anything, I think I’d better start with her!

    • I’d say anything you teach a beagle is a true blessing. Breaking through those scent molecules takes one boffo relationship. 🙂

  6. Edie Chase says:

    Stay is for impressing the people in your dog training classes. Wait is my go to for the real world. I learned wait in dog training classes, but perfected it on our walks. We would place the dog in a sit and make the stop hand signal in front of the dog’s face then back away a step or two then release the dog with our cue word and called the dog to us.

  7. Edie Chase says:

    You could try this video from Kikopup/Emily Larham, it’s under 3 minutes. Training the wait.

  8. I also train “leave it” with all our dogs. Just in case we are out walking and they spot/smell something they want to eat. Since you never know where that food item came from, “leave it” is great tool.

    • Oops, my blog link was incorrect, this is the right one.

      • BJ Pup (Lynda) says:

        All things Collie, there was no link in your Oops comment.

      • BJ Pup (Lynda) says:

        I just always used Stay for BJ. I didn’t really need the Wait command because I live in NYC and besides it being illegal, I would never let BJ off leash because of the danger.

        When I’m ready and adopt another dog, try using it in the park.

        • I use both stay and wait. For Honey, stay means I may be expecting her to be still for some time. Wait lets her know we’ll be getting on our way soon.

          I suspect that when a new puppy comes into your life, you’ll figure out all kinds of ways he or she will listen to you best.

    • Yep, we have to use Leave it a lot too. It’s the best cue when you live in places where people toss chicken bones on the ground.

  9. I agree that Wait is an important command and it’s one that I use often too – sure saves a lot of aggravation sometimes.

  10. Great post! Wait is one of my most used cues! My wait is sort of a “stop and freeze” sort of cue. It’s great for all sorts of things and Phoenix in particular understands it pretty well! I hope I never have to use it in an emergency but we work on it all the time just in case!

  11. Yes, I love the “wait” command….. I taught them wait by repeating it in everyday circumstances…. they wait for dinner after i put down their puzzle feeders… they wait in the car before getting out…. they wait on the boat before jumping to the dock. I use one finger up in the air like I’m saying “no. 1”. Stay, which we also use is a flat hand. My wait means a short time and i just want you to hang tight right there…. Stay is a lot longer and more formal.

    There is probably a better way to teach it, but it worked for my two.

    • When you have a good relationship with your dogs, and if your dogs are motivated to learn, you can teach lots of things informally.

      It sounds like Tack and Clewie are so in tune with you that they understand what you’re asking for intuitively.

      And yes, we use “wait” most frequently when we’re coming into a dock. If we didn’t, Honey would be giving kisses to the nearest dockhand before we even got a line on a cleat. 🙂

  12. I tend to use stop, with hand flat in front of nose. The dogs respond most of the time. Sometimes they become a little deaf when I say it. lol But they are always on a leash. I love leave it too. I use this for everything, including other dogs we run into.

    It must be fun to have Honey off leash and be so free with her. Such contrast between your other dogs. Hope you are having fun in the sunny weather. 🙂 We got 10 inches of snow yesterday. Happy Spring! lol

    • Dogs really do tend to respond well to hand signals–most of the time, better than to verbal ones. I’m curious, do you find it works as well with strange dogs you meet on a walk?

      I do enjoy taking Honey off leash and having her stay close. But I wouldn’t trade a single one of my crazy dogs either. I know you understand.

      Bet the dogs loved the snow. Honey would have been in her happy place with ten inches of the stuff.

      • I’ll have to get to you that question. lol we have ran into dogs in their yard or driveway barking, coming towards us and I have found leave gets a better response than others I’ve tried. It also depends on the dog. Fiona is nonreactive around dogs, whereas Blaze is pyscho. I’ve been trying to get the dogs to ignore the strange dog, but keeping their head forward and with leave it I get better results. (Less lunging, barking, going crazy) So something is working. I actually walked two dogs by another with little to no response, it was great!

  13. “Wait” is an excellent word for all the reasons you’ve described. Harley is way more obedient than Jaxsn. I do like the thought of incorporating it into our commands, so I thank you You never know when a horse drawn carriage could cross out paths in downtown Charleston, And you know how Jax is around horses. Thanks again for the plug about the tournament, this has been some journey, and we’ve enjoyed every single moment of it – well almost every moment HA!

    • Harley is so much older than Jax. It will be interesting to see if Jaxson is as good a listener in a few years.

      And yep, you won’t know what to do with yourself once the Best City For Pet Travelers contest is over. 🙂

  14. “Wait” has saved Mr. N from a car accident before! I was getting out of the car and Mr. N jumped out too… right as a car was going by. I screamed wait at him and thankfully, he paused and looked at me. Thanks for joining the hop!

    • Wow, that’s the best demonstration of the importance of a good emergency cue I’ve ever heard.

      I think it’s also a good demonstration of how having a good relationship with our dogs means they really pay attention to us when it counts.

  15. I so agree! “Wait” is used just for leaving food alone for a bit, and “stop” or “pause” is used for everything else. It’s so handy!

  16. I taught Barley “wait” on the huge stair case down to the creek at our arboretum. I didn’t have a very clear plan of how to do it, but Barley almost always walks beside me and usually as soon as she feels tension on the leash, she’ll stop–on stairs, I just don’t keep up with her as well as on flat land, so when she’d reach the end of her leash I’d just start adding in the word wait–then I’d give her a treat, repeat the word, and I’d start walking until I got to the end of the leash and then release her and we’d repeat until we got to the end of the stair case. Now, we also use wait as our word to get her to stop and give me a chance to catch up when she’s gets to the end of the dogwalk or other contacts in agility class or like you, if she makes it to a curb before me when she’s more into exploring than heeling. It’s definitely a helpful word for us!

    • Up in the comments, Edie Chase referred me to this video teaching “wait.”

      The trainer used a step down in the yard in the first steps, like you started with Barley at the top of the steps. I would not have thought of that. But the use of a change in level was very smart.

      Sounds like you found the same thing.

  17. “Wait” is one of those cues I automatically taught Laika without even realizing it now that I think of it. And since she has the horrible habit of running full speed down the stairs at the same moment I do I’ve taught her to wait at the top. It’s definitely a great word for us.

    • I found a trainer teaching wait from a link in one of the comments so it can be formally taught. But I suspect, for many of us, it’s something our dogs pick up because they’re so in tune with our tone and body language.

      And yes, “wait” is far better than being dragged down the stairs. 🙂

  18. We have a very informal “wait” cue but I don’t think it’s very consistent and could definitely use some work – thanks for the reminder! In the horse world, dressage riders have a cue called the half-halt, which is an almost imperceptible pause, just asking for a moment of attention from the horse before asking for the next thing. I think the way you use ‘wait’ is similar and I love it!

    • If you ever feel up to it, I’d love to read a post comparing a human’s relationship with a dog to a human’s relationship to a horse.

      Horses and dogs have the closest collaborative relationships to humans. And yet dogs are, like humans, predators. While horses are more likely to be prey animals. I wonder how that changes the relationship?

      • I’ve been brainstorming a post of that nature for a while now! Perhaps the reason I am sensitive to fearful dogs is that horses are such fearful creatures (extraordinarily brave, too…but then, without fear I suppose there is no bravery…)

  19. Richie, being a terrier, has a tendency to decide whether he’s going to obey a “sit” or “down” command, and has a really hard time with “stay,” but for some reason he’s very good with “wait.” I’ve had him over four years now, so I don’t really remember how I taught him, but it is my go-to command. He likes to run out the door, so I have him wait before we go out (and learned to ask him for a wait before we came back in the door when I was fostering a scared little Yorkie a couple of years ago). We practice a wait before crossing a street when we’re on a walk, or when we come to an intersection in the hallway when we do therapy visits at the hospital. We also practice each morning when we go out for the first itme, and he waits (not very patiently because breakfast is inside the house) while I pick up the newspaper out of the driveway. It’s come in very handy in a couple of emergencies, when I have dropped his leash accidentally and once when his cute little Velcro coat somehow came undone as he was running down the front steps, leaving him completely off leash. It also comes in really handy if I’m standing talking to someone. I don’t care what position he’s in, just that he stays calmly by my side without wandering off.

    Oh and by the way, it’s Colorado Springs, not Colorado City. You can’t properly talk trash if you don’t even get the city’s name right. Check out Richie the Love Bug on Facebook to see that we have beaches AND snow, and you can often take advantage of them in the same day. Go Colorado Springs!

    • I can see it being tough to teach a go-go terrier to stop and stay for long. But wait seems to convey to our dogs that we just need them to pause for a moment. They’re very clever about reading us and knowing what we’re asking for.

      And ooops, sorry about the bad city name. I must have had a brain fart. I’ll leave my error of shame instead of fixing it. 🙂

      And for a little more trash talking–those things you call beaches in Colorado Springs? They’re shorelines, not beaches. 🙂

      BTW, think it’s awesome that you’re using the competition to bring attention to puppy mill rescue. That’s awesome. Cathy B of Charleston raised money for their local rescue too.

      It’s great that this bit of silliness is being used for a higher cause.

  20. I beg to differ.

    There are 10 kinds of people in this world: people who understand binary and people who don’t.

  21. My previous dog was a golden retriever and I used “stay” to mean “stay until I return and release you.” I used “wait” to mean “wait for my next command/cue.” So sounds similar to what you are doing. I don’t know that she truly understood the difference between the two, though. What do you think?

  22. Erin Jacobson says:

    We use wait as well, and we trained it in a similar way – on street corners!

  23. It’s been so long since we taught ‘wait’ that I can’t really remember how we taught it. Sampson of course was when he was a puppy. The way our trainer explained it was that wait didn’t mean stay, it simply meant you cannot move beyond this point until I tell you. The however was free to move in the place we were leaving, just not cross the boundary. Sampson has this down pat. I really can set him in the driveway, tell him to wait and run back inside the house and he will still be where I left him.

    Delilah is a crapshoot, sometimes she waits but mostly she doesn’t.

    One of the best commands I ever taught Sampson was “STOP.” He puts the brakes on when I yell that one.