Teaching Your Dog to do Nothing: How Hard can it be?
As a professional puppy and dog trainer working in the Dorset area, I meet all types of dogs and also all types of clients. When you are working in this environment every day you start to realise that sometimes you over complicate situations without realising it. When puppy and dog training becomes a business, you can sometimes be driven by the need to meet targets and the client’s expectations, which can sometimes be unrealistic and you lose sight of the bigger picture.
A lot of my work involves working with gun dog breeds. These dogs need to be busy, this is what they were bred and trained for. A well-trained gun dog will have taken hundreds of hours of focused training to achieve that majestic level of obedience some aim for. I was once told a story of a man who, on a Saturday morning, would sit his two springers outside a café in a park. He would then go inside and have breakfast and a cup of coffee. Those dogs would not move and people would be looking around for the owner. The dogs were not distracted by people looking at them and even taking photographs. When the man finished his breakfast, he would walk outside whistle and his dogs would follow. They may have been sat there for 45 minutes!!
Why Teach a Dog to do nothing?
We can only dream of having such obedient dogs. My own dog would have tried to join me before I started to put the sauce on the breakfast!! This story got me to thinking. What is one of the most difficult tasks we can ask a dog to do? Recently, I have asked my regular clients this question and no one gets it right. In my opinion, the most difficult task we can ask a dog to do is nothing. It may sound a little bizarre, but try and get your dog to sit and do nothing. They might manage 30 seconds or even a minute. Some may even manage longer before they start to fidget and decide it’s time to be doing something.
My own dog does some form of training most days. If we have had a really busy weekend then I may rest him on a Monday. Otherwise, he will do two or three sessions per day depending on what we’re practising. I’ve now modified his training regime to ensure that we focus on doing nothing. That means I will put him in a sit or down and expect him to stay in that position until I command otherwise. Sometimes I will stand with him and other times I will walk away. I vary the distance and the direction and if there is a park bench, I will go and sit on it. I always return back to him, stand at the side, count to 5 and then reward. I do the counting so he does not anticipate a reward as soon as I get back to him. The training of my dog to do nothing has gone so well that I now make it a key feature in the puppy and dog training I do with my clients. For homework they are asked to take their dog out in varying distraction environments and practice doing nothing.
I have modified this post to add that when working with clients I have found it better for the owner to have a lead long enough for them to be able to stand on it and still hold the end. I instruct that when you adopt this position you do not give a command to the dog. They are free to sit, stand or lay down. The fact is you ignore the dog and you both do nothing. Because you are stood on the lead you don’t have to battle with a fidgety dog.
We have to make this realistic and fun for the dog so quick wins are the name of the game. It is better to be successful at one minute then keep failing at two minutes as this will be frustrating for you and not much fun for the dog. When the dog can competently do nothing for a period of time then you can extend the time you expect the dog to do nothing. In most aspects of dog training we want the dog to be doing something and this is what they expect to do. We also want a dog who can sit or be in a down for a period of time. We may want to talk to somebody on the street and we don’t want a dog who is demanding we move on or is tangling you up in the lead.
Next time you are practising try to start to practising doing nothing It is a challenge for both us and the dog.