When you are with your dog, what are the moments that he gets the most attention from you?
Most likely when you two are playing (high energy) or he has done something naughty (negative energy). But how about when he is laying down quietly chewing on a toy? Last week we talked about desensitization, a method that encourages a positive, non-reaction from your dog. This week’s topic follows along the same line: rewarding your dog for doing nothing.
How it works
When I started at PetU, one of the first dogs I trained was a massive St. Bernard with a bit of an attitude problem. He knew he was huge, and knew how to throw his weight around. His owners brought him in for our 3-week intensive Canine College dog training program. They needed our help calming him down and focusing his energy, along with basic obedience.
The first few days that Canine College students are with us are solely spent on bonding; we let them come to terms with the new surroundings and new handlers. I did a lot of focus work with him, which taught him that I was in charge and I could be trusted.
Although he and I now had a bond, I spent the next few days listening to him make a racket in the kennel, and very unsuccessfully attempting to put his leash and brand new Gentle-Leader on. Just because we were friends did not mean he wanted to listen to me. Have you ever seen a crocodile do a death roll when they catch their prey? That’s more or less what our “training” sessions looked like. (He was the crocodile). I always won in the end, but it was an intense battle.
I decided to use a simple method to solve both of his issues – I would reward him for doing nothing. Whether we were working in the kennel room or attempting to put on the leash, I waited until he was sitting down and acting calm. As long as he was calm, he got a treat. As soon as he stopped barking in the kennel, I would peek my head in to check on him. If he was laying down or sitting calmly, I would go in with lots of treats and lots of praises. I did this several times a day, just for a few minutes each time. After only a few sessions he was noticeably calmer.
The end result
Within a matter of days he transformed from out-of-control to manageable. Then we bought him a weighted vest to help with his focus issues. He absolutely hated having it slipped over his neck, and would never stand still for me to buckle under his chest. Using the same method, a couple of bags of treats and lots of patience, I was able to finally attach the leash, gentle leader and vest, all with him standing calmly.
He had learned that being in a relaxed, calm state was the energy I wanted from him. From then on, we was a different dog; by simply rewarding ‘no behavior’ I had entirely transformed his overall behavior in just a matter of days.
NOTE: The key to this method is upkeep. It is not enough to do it for a few days and then never reward him again. Those rewards don’t need to be treats, they can be as simple as a pat on the head or a short back scratch, just to let them know you’re happy with them.
As always, contact us to set up training sessions!