The goal of this exercise is to teach our dogs how to settle down, relax, and possibly even take a nap while we are busy. This is great for a variety of situations, like running into a friend on the Greenway, going to eat at an outdoor cafe, or when shopping in the pet store. This can also go a long way to help restless or energetic dogs learn to settle down on their own. If you have an energetic dog, use The Do Nothing Exercise in conjunction with other management techniques such as crates, baby gates, and supervised tethering to keep them out of trouble.
I adapted this exercise from a trainer named Sue Sternberg who works with a large shelter/rescue system. Sue says, “To be a successful house pet 90% of a dog’s time will be spent indoors, doing absolutely nothing. This isn’t a substandard dog owner – this is real life. Not every minute can be spent in exercising and training. Most of a companion dog’s time is spent indoors doing absolutely nothing.”
I want to add that it is very important for our dogs to receive adequate mental stimulation, exercise, and training, but when these needs have been met, many dogs still spend a lot of time doing nothing. This exercise teaches them how to settle down and relax.
*We are not going to tell them to lie down. We want them to figure out that if they lie down they get a reward. Trained this way, we won’t always have to tell them what to do – they’ll understand that when we ignore them they need to relax*
What you will need:
*A quiet indoor area such as a bathroom or bedroom. Later on you can practice this in front of the TV. Bathrooms are great rooms for starting to train simple exercises. A toilet makes a nice seat and you don’t have to pull your pants down to sit on it! Bathrooms are boring, quiet and usually devoid of distractions*
*A blanket, towel or mat for use as bedding*
1)Bring your dog to the quiet indoor area (bathrooms are great for this exercise).
2)Place the bedding at the foot of a chair or seat and sit down
3) Gather the leash into neat pleats until most of it is folded, accordion-like into your hands and you are grasping the leash about 12 inches from where the leash meets your dog’s neck, giving him very little room to wander
4) Tuck your hands between your knees and lock your knees together. Wait and look out into space
5) Ignore everything the dog does. Luckily he can’t do very much. If he tries to jump on you he doesn’t have enough leash to go very far, and if he chews at your feet or shoes, just tighten up on the leash a bit until he stops chewing and then let out whatever extra slack you took in when he started.
6)*BE PATIENT* BE PATIENT* BE PATIENT* Ignore whining and other protests*
7) As soon as your dog lies down, and he eventually will, lean over and drop a treat between his front feet. If he remains lying down (I doubt it for the first few times), drop 5 more treats between his front feet one at a time very quickly – as soon as he opens his mouth to get one drop another. Then return to a fully upright and seated position. I can pretty much guarantee that as soon as you lean over and drop that first treat, or after the fifth treat, your dog will get up and act unruly again. If he does, immediately sit up keeping the leash tucked between your knees, and look away ignoring him*
8) When he remains settled, lying down, and calm after the fifth treat, sit up and wait one second. If he remains down after this, drop another treat. Sit up again and count to two seconds before delivering the next treat. Then three seconds, four seconds…so on. If at any time he gets up and moves around, just stay quiet, completely ignoring him, and continuing to hold the leash between your legs.
During the first few sessions, be prepared to be very patient and wait your dog out. DO NOT SAY DOWN OR USE ANY OTHER COMMAND. We want our dog to figure out on his own how to get the reward! We don’t want to have to continually tell him to lie down or be quiet – we want him to be able to do this on his own automatically!
When you are done with this exercise, wait until your dog is lying down and then give a release word – “OK” “free” or “all done”. This lets your dog know the job is finished and he can go be a dog! Then get up, unhook the leash, and walk quietly away. Ignore him for a while so he doesn’t get excited and run around.
Any time you see your dog laying down and quietly resting – even napping – drop a treat by their nose. It seems counter-intuitive to “interrupt” the peaceful moment with a treat, but we want our dog to learn that we reward his calmness…not ignore it! And remember…rewarded continues!