When you want your dog doing nothing
The gap of time between giving information to your dog and them deciding on a behavior is where most of our dogs chose poorly. It’s in that space of time that bad decisions happen, you get frustrated, or overwhelmed and don’t have a plan of action, and your dogs behaviors get worse.
Teaching your dog that the lack of information from you is in fact information is part of a well rounded training program. We usually start by telling people to reward behaviors you like or behaviors you would like to continue to see. That’s easy to do when your dog is sitting at the door or chewing on a bone. What about not baking at the neighbor? Or continuing to sit quietly while you feed the baby? Those are also areas that can be rewarded but are often overlooked.
How do I teach “nothing”
I make sure that my dogs are equipped to deal with the lack of constant information. We train a default stay into our “sit” and “down” cues, and they are taught to stay put until more information is given. So often dogs get the cue, do the behavior, get a cookie and don’t know what to do next. At this point the human is engaged in a conversation or distracted, and the dog wanders off to find reinforcement elsewhere. Usually in the form of barking and pulling on the leash.
This is where I teach my dogs that lack of information means keep doing what I asked you to do first. If i asked you to lay down, I will intermittently reward that as long as you stay there. No “stay…. Stay….. Stttaaaaaayyyy” needed. In our programs we teach our dogs “puppy pushups” When the dogs learn the difference between each of the cues, Sit, Down, Touch. We begin to add a few clicks and treats between each cue and then a little time between each click to start to teach the dogs to wait for more information from the human.
“Nothing” for Puppies
Even our tiny puppies in our socialization programs are rewarded for doing nothing. We put a ton of emphasis on rewarding when puppies are watching things happen and not reacting to them. This creates a puppy who learns to dismiss things in the world. For an adult dog, you want them to calmly look at other people or dogs and continue on their walks, or through a doorway without so much as a second glance. We begin this process as soon as possible!
This also creates the idea that the human at the end of the leash holds all the reinforcement. Not the neighbors or the other dogs on the street. It builds value in the human being the most important thing in puppies life, and it teaches the puppy not to try to find reinforcement in other places. This is called passive socialization and while boring, is really important for all dogs to learn.