The impact of patience in dog training and rehabilitation

The impact of patience in dog training and rehabilitation should not be underestimated. You can have the very best advice, and perfectly suited training techniques, but if you don’t have enough patience to follow through you’ll not get the results you deserve.

I wish I could bottle patience and sell it as it’s not something most of us have unlimited access to. It’s taken me years to achieve my own high levels of patience, but there are things you can do to improve yours.

“To accept and tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without being annoyed or anxious.”

Dictionary Definition

For you

Learning patience is one of the most important tools you have in your dog training tool box. Research shows that patient people are more likely to achieve their goals, and enjoy the process, far more than impatient people!

  • When you’re patient you’ll not rush the training process, you’ll see each session through to the end. Most of the learning happens at the beginning and end of a training. If you quit halfway through you’re missing a trick. For example, if you are trying to pass another dog, it’ll usually start well. He’ll be calmer when the other dog is far away – learning is happening at this stage. Then as the other dog gets closer your dog will become more and more reactive, until he loses the plot and switches his brain off. The other dog will pass and your dog will eventually come back to earth and realise nothing bad happened! If you quit halfway, your dog won’t realise that nothing bad happened until he is away down the street, which might actually make things worse!
  • Just like your dog, when you have patience, you’ll be less reactive. Reactivity is infectious, so if you are buzzing about the place so will your dog be. And if you are working on attention seeking behaviour, it’s even more vital to be less reactive. Attention seeking behaviour is only successful when it gets a reaction.
  • Mastering patience will keep you and your dog firmly rooted in the comfort zone and the learning zone. Once a situation has escalated outside of these zones, the brain is switched off and learning is very limited.
  • Finally, patience helps you keep your thoughts in order so you can make better decisions. This will keep you better focused on the end goal. Without it, rehabilitating a dog can feel a little chaotic as you’ll bounce from one thing to another.
This bernese mountain dog is jumping up on the garden wall in anticipation of making a new friend. Learning patience can help when it comes to calmly meeting visitors with all four feet firmly on the ground!
Learning patience can help when it comes to calmly meeting visitors with all four feet firmly on the ground!

For your dog

Patience is important for your dog too. So many behaviour problems can be improved or even solved by learning a little patience. Here are just a few of the benefits…

  • Teaching patience can be used to combat excitable and reactive behaviour, which can quickly get out of control if left unchecked.
  • He’ll be generally even-tempered, less naughty, and more content all round.
  • Learning patience will make him a better playmate at the park. He’ll be more tolerant of the other dogs and more gentle with them when they interact with each other – if that’s what they want!!
  • He’ll make better decisions as he’ll be using his brain more to consider his behaviour, rather than simply randomly reacting to triggers.
  • Dogs that aren’t patient tend to be impulsive, they bark more, and exhibit behaviours like jumping up, spinning, snapping, nipping, snatching, and crying. If this sounds like your dog then keep reading, there is plenty of hope for him!

Finding patience in yourself

If you don’t have a lot of patience, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this 24 hour world we live in we are all getting out the habit of waiting for stuff. But, there are a few things you can do to find it, and make the most of it when you do.

First, take a moment to figure out what is actually causing your impatience and make a plan to get around it. It could be lack of time, other people, high expectations, or something else. You know yourself best, what is your weakness?

What’s your weakness?

For me, time is my weakness. But, this can be fairly easy to overcome, if you can set aside enough time to do what you need to do with plenty to spare. Deadlines will quickly undo any patience you might have started out with, so leave extra time or avoid training altogether when time is tight. It’s better to do nothing, than to rush it!

Planning your training so you can take enough time is a game changer. So, warn visitors that it could take a long while to answer the door while you work on calming your dog. Don’t try to stop your dog barking out the window during a work zoom, and definitely don’t try loose lead training on the school run.

For some it helps to adjust your expectations. When you learn a new skill you don’t expect to master the advanced level straight away. No guitar teacher ever said let’s start with “Cliffs of Dover” and work backwards! The same goes for dog training. Find ways to simplify what you are doing, go slower, make it quieter, remove distractions, or move further away from a trigger. Once you’ve mastered it at it’s simplest level you can work on making it harder so you can eventually achieve the big, level 20, goal!

“Slow and steady wins the race”

Maybe it’s other people! Yep, “other people” can be a huge drain of patience, until you accept that you can’t control their behaviour. Maybe that other dog walker continues to throw their ball while they walk past you, or maybe you’re trying to calm your dog and their dog comes over anyway, or maybe you’re practising answering the door and they keep ringing the bell, or maybe you are trying to walk round someone and they keep changing direction.

It’s frustrating when other people don’t consider you and your dogs needs, but they are oblivious and getting on with their life. You’re stuck with the frustration. Instead, try to accept that people are what they are and find a way to work with, or around it. Don’t fight it, write it off and make a different plan. You’ll be much happier when you realise that you have your agenda and they have theirs. You can’t change theirs to suit you, but they can’t change yours to suit them either!

Or maybe it’s something else? What makes you impatient? Is it tiredness, hunger, loud noises, social media, caffeine, the kids? If you know you’re at your best in the afternoon, train then. If you know you’re distracted when the kids are supposed to be doing their homework, avoid that time. You can’t avoid everything in life, but when you can, you might as well give yourself the best chance of success!

Teaching your dog patience as part of your training and rehabilitation

There are a number of ways you can encourage patience in your dog. Here are my favourite patience inducing techniques…

First, use your clicker in their training. Clicker training introduces a pause between the preferred behaviour and the reward. Patiently waiting for a reward is a great way to stimulate dopamine (the happy hormone) and promote patience. If you haven’t heard of it before, you can learn more about what it is and how to use the clicker in your training here. Once your dog is used to the clicker, use it in combination with slow walking and sit/stay to maximise the benefits of those techniques.

Second, slow everything down. A slow walk triggers patience in you and him – just make sure you leave enough time for it! Definitely don’t do it when you have a deadline. Instead make the goal to just take it easy and enjoy a slow “dander” together!

this dog is waiting by an empty bowl while he learns patience in dog training and rehabilitation
Training your dog to wait for their dinner can really help encourage patience as part of their dog training and rehabilitation plan

Turn sit into stay

Then, teach a sit/stay. This might be the most versatile trick to teach your dog. You can use it in so many different ways. Most dogs know how to sit already, it’s usually the first trick we teach them, so this is an easy thing to expand on. If yours hasn’t learned it yet though, take a few days to brush up on it before moving on to the sit/stay.

To turn a sit into a stay, simply hold your treat in your hand and wait for him to sit. Pause for a second, then, if he is still sitting, offer the treat. If he’s not, wait for him to sit again (say nothing) and when he does offer the treat. Repeat this until he has got the hang of it and waits in a sit for that second.

From here, it is just a case of stretching the amount of time he will wait. Try two seconds next and repeat this a couple of times. If he finds two seconds easy, go to five seconds, then ten seconds and so on. If you think he’s struggling at any time just go back a step and practise, practise, practise until it is easy for him! When he’s mastered it in the house, try it in the garden, by the car, in the park – anywhere and everywhere. Every time you add a new location, or distraction, it’ll get harder, so take your time with this stage!

Use it throughout the day

You are now ready to integrate patience into your dog training and rehabilitation plan. Walk slowly whenever you can, it’s not just for your walks. Take your time answering the door, getting the lead on, going out to the car, and when moving around the house.

Use your sit/stay throughout his normal day too, for example; before crossing the road, before being let off his lead, before getting his lead on, before getting in the car, and at dinner time.

In between, teach him a new trick, or work on a specific behavioural issue, with your clicker!

Get help!

Knowing you’re doing the right thing can make a massive difference to your patience levels. It’s what keeps me going when things feel tough. Having someone to support you and explain how, and why, a technique will work can make all the difference. So often I work with people that gave up on something too early. They didn’t know what to expect, and weren’t sure enough that it was going to work to stick with it.

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currentlyavailable in the Dundee area, and as far as Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Tayport and Longforgan. If you are looking for advice for your dog then get in touch and we’ll have a chat about the best way I can help you!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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