OK, it’s time to be honest. What is the number one thing that we as dog owners want our dogs to do? I think that if we are really being honest, the answer is nothing. Yes, we want our dogs to respond to our cues so that when we ask them to sit, they sit. We also want them to walk nicely on a leash, so that when we walk them our arms aren’t pulled out of the socket. For the vast majority of our dogs’ time, however, what we really want them to do is nothing. We want them to not react to doorbells, not bark out the windows, not chase the cat, not chew the couch, not pester us with toys or other demands for attention.
The big question is how to achieve this zen-like state of nothing. Some dogs seem to naturally take to it, but for many, we need to teach it by rewarding the dog for choosing not to react to things in the environment.
Recently, in the first week of a new Middle Management class, we practiced this with fabulous results. As anyone who has ever been to week one of a full AnimalSense class (especially Middle Management!) can attest, it can be loud! The dogs are usually very wound up, many are barking and almost all are completely ignoring their owners. This was definitely the case in this class, and it was clear that we needed to get these dogs focused. The problem was, it was the first class, so not all of the dogs knew cues like “watch me” or “touch” that can be used to prompt the dog to give attention. Instead, I simply instructed the owners to watch for anything that their dogs did that was calmer than what they had been doing and mark and reward it. If they were barking, wait until there was a pause and reward. If they were looking at all the other dogs, wait until they glanced back to their owner and reward. In less than five minutes, all of the dogs had quieted. Most were looking at their owners. Many were lying down. It was a truly amazing transformation. We had made it more rewarding for these dogs to ignore everything that was going on than to react to it.
AnimalSense’s Focus class is a great way to help your dog learn to ignore things that are going on in the environment. Sally Bushwaller also wrote a wonderful, detailed blog with video clips about training your dog to do nothing in the crate.