ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Freeze in Position

Have any of our listmembers found a need for a cue word/phrase that signals "freeze in whatever position you are now in"?

I have found this to be one of the most helpful safety behaviors I've taught my dogs. My cue word is "wait" and it literally means "stop moving and hold that position you are in when you heard the cue." The dog may be walking along next to me, or doing a directed "go out" or chasing after a lizard. But when they hear, "WAIT!" they stop instantly and wait for the next cue.

This has helped me immeasurably as a power wheelchair user. I exercise my dogs daily from my very fast powerchair, and have had a few near-tragedies. Once, an off-leash dog surprised my dog-in-training, and my dog quickly darted to the rear of my chair, instantly tangling the lead line on the tire tread, which pulled it through the belt drive on the rear wheel. The Papillon was flipped end over end a couple times and began to struggle to regain footing, which was impossible, since the cord was far too short, and holding his head near the ground. I quickly cued "WAIT" and the dog froze in position on his side, legs spayed outward and waited for me to get to him.

I credit that "freeze in position" cue for helping keep him from strangling and overly-stressing. Though stunned, he had such a strong default response to that cue that he responded immediately, even with the rush of adrenaline.

Another time one of my adolescent dogs slipped a collar, and headed for the busy city street, chasing after a rabbit. I was able to holler out the "WAIT" cue and he stopped immediately, froze in that standing position, head turned back to see what I'd ask for next. He had not yet generalized non-reactivity to fast moving rodents, but he had generalized that "wait" cue, which I teach at 8 weeks and reinforce daily, through to adulthood.

When I move through a doorway, I often drop my leash and allow the dog to move behind me, so that the leash is not strained and doesn't get caught on my chair tires. As soon as the dog moves through the door, I cue a "wait" and this gives me time to turn around, face the dog, change the wheelchair gears, and cue the dog to fetch his leash and take up a sitting position at the side of my chair.

If I have to send my dog through the metal detector without me at an airport, I can cue the dog to move forward off leash as many steps as needed, then offer the "wait" cue for him to remain motionless until I get to him and put his service dog uniform and equipment back on.

Or, I can send my dog forward through any store door and cue a "wait" then catch up to the dog, cue the dog to fetch his leash and resume a sitting position next to my chair.

I also use this as MY "default" word when I can't remember other cues, such as "leave it." Sometimes, in a bit of brain fog, I see an environmental hazard coming, such as a Kentucky Fried Chicken bone on the sidewalk, and I can't seem to remember the "leave it" cue quickly enough. But because I have reinforced the "wait" cue so many times daily, I can use it much the same way: cue the behavior so the dog doesn't move in toward the food I don't want him to eat.

The "wait" cue has become my default safety signal, and one I can readily retrieve from my memory when I'm stressed, and seem to forget other cues.

I first taught the "freeze" behavior by walking the dog next to me on a loose leash, and going up to a door. Then stopping, c/t for dog stopping with me. Then hand on doorknob, door open an inch, two, three, four. Each time I upped the criteria opening the door a bit further until it was wide open and we'd both stop at the door each time.

Then I began moving through it an inch at a time, reinforcing quickly and heavily for the dog not moving when I began to move again. Once I could get all the way through the door, I upped the criteria again by turning around, doing circles, going away a few feet, a few more, a few more, while the dog stood there in the doorway not moving.

Then, when the behavior was generalized in that place, I attached the hand signal first--the downward hand with palm facing dog's face. When that was generalized, I added the verbal "wait" cue.

I didn't fade the hand signal, becuase there are lots of times I can't do a verbal (in movies, for instance) and must rely on a quiet hand signal. But I used them alternately so that it didn't become a cue to have BOTH hand and verbal combined to trigger the behavior.

Then, when we had it nailed in the open doorway, we just started doing it all over the house in every doorway, then out in the open rooms, where we'd just stop anywhere and do it without the doorway being a cue.

Then I began to get the dog to generalize it in other positions---when he took a few steps forward, turned around, etc. so he would learn that the cue word was relevant in every position---next to me, in back of me, moving away from me forward, right, left.

Then when that was generalized, we did further and further go-outs (working on a Flexi leash, starting close to us, then incrementally further and further away)

Then we did the exercises all over again when the dog was sitting, lying down, whatever. It was hilarious when I'd catch the puppy stealing tissue from the trashcan in the bathroom, cue "wait" and he'd freeze in place, one paw on the trashcan, and a wad of used tissue hanging from his chops, eyes locked to mine waiting for the next cue!

I also taught the puppy to wait at every street corner doing the same thing. It's now generalized so that he automatically does it without a cue. But he still responds to the cue when I give it in other situations.

I've found it works so well that I rarely use "leave it" anymore---I just cue "WAIT' and the dog freezes in position.

Is this clear as mud?<G>

Debi Davis
copyright 2002 Debi Davis


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