Reward Nothing (I am serious)

Do you have a dog with boundless energy? Would you describe your dog as hyperactive? Would he make a case study for dogs who might suffer from ADD? Have you tried rewarding him for calm behavior? Do you require downtime or snuggle time and then make it worth his while? While you are working hard to find ways to burn off his energy, it might be very helpful for him if you teach him how to relax and chill out. This is not innate for many dogs, they may have to learn how to do this.

We spend a lot of energy engaging in movement-based activities with our pups, but how many of you reward the act of being calm? Here’s how you can do it: For one week, observe your dog closely and reward your dog for any calm behavior. If your dog sits, lies down, or even walks calmly through the room, praise him (“good boy!”) and give him a treat. If your dog approaches you and sits without being told to do so, reward that behavior as well. If your dog has crazy moments (food time, before a walk or car ride) try to ignore the crazy and reinforce or reward the calm. It will happen!

Reward the Good, not the Bad

This continual feedback will help your dog learn that calm behavior makes good stuff happen! Another way to reward calmness is to require downtime or even nap time. I LOVE this idea, which I first heard about from The Peaceful Dog, a dog training/pet care service in New York. The next time you settle in to watch your favorite show, or take a nap, ask your dog to join you. If he isn’t allowed on the couch, have him settle at your feet. If your dog is really challenged to settle, you may have to keep him on a leash to keep him near you. Snuggle or pet your dog if he enjoys that, talking calmly and maybe pass him a small treat or two. If your dog isn’t a snuggler, tell him in a soft voice what a good boy he is for settling and give him a treat if he is being calm. You may have to start with just a few minutes of downtime until your dog gets used to this, then again he may really enjoy this permission to chill out and decide to stay with you during your entire show!

In our last newsletter, we discussed using the word ‘yes’ more to let your dog know what behaviors you appreciate. Rewarding calm behavior follows this same principle. Dogs need clear communication to understand what is appropriate and not appropriate in your home or in certain situations. Capturing positive behavior is often much more effective than punishing negative behaviors. Some dogs will need more feedback than others to help them discriminate so make a point of letting your dog know what you like with a pet, verbal praise or a small treat. So yes, reward “nothing”!