When it comes to training a dog or puppy, it’s hard to know where to start. Safe to say, bringing up two Rottweilers from puppies has shown me quite how important a broad range of training is to ensure they’re under control, safe, and fun to be around.
Training a dog to stop on command, whether they’re running away from you or towards you, is important for any breed for their own safety, the safety of others, and to stay in control in a whole range of situations. That could be if they decide they want to chase something, or if they’re about to run into a dangerous situation.
But I’ll confess that having a breed that plenty of people are wary of - and that by its sheer size can probably cause a bit more chaos than some - has made me even more aware of the importance of making them stop when I need them to. Whether it’s stopping your dog from darting through doorways or bringing them to a halt immediately if they’re approaching danger, the list of applications is almost endless.
I’m not the only one who thinks teaching your dog to ‘stop’ is important. The UK’s Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme’s Gold Award includes a test on stopping your dog in an emergency situation. Dog behaviorist, trainer, and assessor Julie Aspinall agrees, “Why do we teach a dog to wait? Why wouldn’t we? There are so many situations when this isn’t just useful, but absolutely necessary. To me, it’s just good dog common sense, good dog behavior.” Aspinall, who has four Rottweilers and two German Shepherds of her own, still practices the skill every day, even with her older dogs, because - in her words: “you never know when you’re going to need it”.
Why teach your dog to 'stop'?
1. It stops dogs running into danger
Anyone who owns a dog will know that as much as you hope to keep them safe, there’s danger everywhere, and short of keeping them locked inside, there will inevitably be a situation where you need to stop them in their tracks. Ask Aspinall to name a few situations where the ‘stop’ command would be useful and she can reel them off without a pause. “If our dog is about to run across a road, we want him to stop,” she says. “Or if he has run across the road do we want him to run back? No, we want him to wait for us to get him.”
The same goes if a dog is running towards something poisonous, says Aspinall, or if you come across a potentially dangerous situation when they’re off-lead. “What if they’re running towards livestock that you didn’t realize were there? You need them to stop and you need them to wait.”
2. It stops them approaching other dogs or people
We’ve all been there - you’re walking your dog off-lead and for whatever reason, you don’t want them to get near another dog or person. Sometimes this means an emergency stop that could save a whole range of situations from getting out of control.
“It could be anything from your dog running towards someone who is frightened of dogs, to them running towards a potentially-aggressive dog,” says Aspinall. It might even be a situation where your own dog is nervous and has seen something that it might run at and bark and you want to stop it in its tracks. I have seen dogs avoid a fight when they might otherwise have done because the owner managed to stop them.”
3. It stops them darting through doorways
Despite us wanting our dogs by our side as often as possible, there are some situations when we don’t want them to follow us and need them to stop immediately and wait. This could include walking through gates or doorways when you don’t want your dog to be charging through ahead of you. There are times when teaching my own Rottweiler, Bruce, to halt immediately has stopped him darting through doorways or a gate ahead of me, when really I need him to stay behind me.
The command might even be useful in cases where you thought something was stopping your dog from following you, but it turns out it wasn’t. Aspinall lists a few: “If a lock on a cage or kennel has broken or a door has been left open and they’re about to fly out, you can stop them immediately if you have mastered the ‘stop’ command’.
How I trained my dog to stop
With a fairly long list of potential applications, it seems a no-brainer to train your dog to stop, whether you dub it a ‘stop’, ‘wait’, or ‘emergency stop’. I trained mine using a method taught by Aspinall. As with most training, we used treats as a motivator, starting by telling the dog to wait and then gradually backing away slowly. When ready, you call them to you and then tell them to stop. You can add a gesture too - usually a hand out in front of you - and even take a step towards them which is more likely to make them stop. Then, when they do stop, reward them. Keep repeating it, rewarding as you go, and eventually, they will learn to stop immediately. You can then build up the distance, ensuring they stop straight away no matter how far away you are.
Another method is to use a long line, gradually building up until you feel comfortable then practicing without the lead. It’s tempting to assume you’ve cracked it once you can make your dog stop as they approach you, says Aspinall, but it’s as important that they stop immediately if they’re running away from you as if they’re heading towards you. “You need to be able to make them stop in any situation, facing any direction,” she says. “Another thing you can do to make it even safer is not just to teach them a stop but to add in putting them in a down - that way they are even less likely to move. Start by teaching each one separately then combine them, that way they’re not just stopping immediately but dropping into a down and staying there.”
Like any element of dog training, it’s about persistence, says Aspinall. “You have to keep going, - if you practice every day it will take a month to get right, and then you should still practice regularly, like everything.” She recommends practicing the stop command in a whole range of situations, from when you open a door to when they’re chasing a ball. And while we might sometimes think some breeds are harder to teach than others, Aspinall is adamant it’s about practice. “Every dog can learn this - it doesn’t matter how small they are or how big or what breed - they can all learn it. Even if it doesn’t include a down and they just stop still in a stand, or sit, they can all learn it.”
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Ellen Manning is a freelance journalist who has written for regional and national publications for nearly 20 years. Ellen’s experience covers a range of subjects, from news reporting on some of the biggest stories of the last two decades to latterly writing features on everything from food and drink to travel, business, and her own love of dogs. Ellen has her own two Rottweilers, six-year-old Brandy, and Bruce who is four. Both have completed the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme bronze, silver, and gold awards. When she’s not walking her dogs or talking or writing about them, Ellen also works as a PR consultant representing small businesses, as well as teaching media training and public speaking.