Reward The Nothing

the nothing

When I’m going through group class orientation, and we come to the place where say “I want you to be rewarding your dog for doing absolutely nothing during class”, the looks on people’s faces would suggest that I’ve suddenly morphed into something like the photo above.

Isn’t that image scary? Taken from the move Neverending Story (one of my faves) that is Gmork, the face of The Nothing, delivering ever lasting Nothingness to the land of Fantasia.

Honestly, I feel like Gmork when I suggest this. Yet people ask How do I get my dog to stop freaking out at the mail man? how do I get my dog to just chill out during the day? I ask What do you want him to do? And the answer usually is I don’t want him to jump around on springs at meal times, I don’t want him to freak out at the door, etc. etc. In essence what these people are looking for is for their dog to do NOTHING.

There are many times a dog does absolutely nothing. Especially during puppy hood when they take those hard core naps. You can also set them up to do Nothing.

For the puppies doing nothing, most will tip toe around OMG DON’T WAKE UP THAT PUPPY! I need a break for God’s sake! While I see it as the perfect time to reward that puppy.

My house is a bit chaotic, and man if you can sleep through the chaos in my house (kids, dogs, cats, construction etc.) you deserve to wake up to a nice tasty treat. Even if it cuts your nap short, chances are the puppy needed the nap, he’ll smell the food, work to get the food, and konk back out.

Set them up so you can reward the nothing. I take my dogs out for walks, find a bench and sit on it. Depending on the dog I may or may not ask for a down. I might just wait until they offer it and then reward it. I sit at this bench and do my thing, ignoring my dog other than to drop food on his head for just laying there and watching the world go by. What does this give me? A dog who plops down and watches the world go by while I get to relax on a bench in the park. How nice is that? This also works well for me when I do event booths. My dog is happy to chill out in their camping chair while I talk to people, hopping down only when I ask so we can show off some of our stuff or let people pet the pretty puppy. Doing nothing while sitting in their chair is also highly rewarding for them.

In group classes I frankly don’t care if your dog isn’t doing the exercises we’re working on. If they are sitting there calmly, REWARD it. Many of my classes are held in a very busy park. There’s traffic, loose dogs, people walking dogs, baseball games and kids playing. If your dog can chill enough just to sit there, reward it. If he can’t do the exercise, no big deal. Reward him for chilling, watch what we’re doing and practice it at home. I bet you the next week, if you’ve done your homework, he’ll do it in class too.

Doing nothing is far from easy work for most dogs. Partly because they’re dogs, they like to be busy and partly because rewarding nothing is something many don’t do. It takes great impulse control for a dog to just do nothing rather than running amok checking out all the cool smells, sights and sounds. It is something we have to teach them, and we need to make it as rewarding as possible. In this way doing “nothing” can become a default behavior. “Hmm, we’ve stopped walking, I’ll just chill here until we start moving again” your dog will say.

So please don’t look at me like I’ve turned into Gmork when I suggest you reward your dog for doing nothing at all. After all that is what we want them to do much of the time. You get what you reward, so heavily Reward The Nothing. Unlike “The Nothing” in The Never Ending Story, a dog who does “nothing” isn’t scary at all, in fact being able to have your dog do nothing is quite nice when you’d just like to hang out in each other’s presence.


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