Chaiary: the art of doing nothing

The way I conceptualize it, the art of doing nothing comes in handy in 3 different contexts:

1. Doing nothing at home (low activity days)

This requires the skill of switching off one’s brain and body without being mentally/physically exhausted. It includes staying home alone as well as relaxing while humans are doing things that don’t involve dogs. Here’s an example of Chai staying home alone on her second day with me … and the link to a post going into home-alone training details.

2. Doing nothing while running errands or in between training sessions (brief spurts of relaxation in between more active behaviors)

This requires the skill of switching between arousal levels quickly. I have two main ways of training this: (A) crate1 or mat training2 for seminars, trials, waiting in the car and (B) teaching my dog that when my foot is on their leash, it means I’d like them to lie down and relax.

I’ll talk about the third method here – the first two already have their own posts/series linked to above.

When it comes to teaching a lie down cue with a foot on a mat, I’ just’ll start as early as my dog’s first leash walk in a public place. As I’m taking them places and briefly stopping in between (a puppy class, an errand etc.), I’ll stand on the leash when I’m talking to someone, getting money from an ATM, ordering something … I’ll keep the length of the leash between my foot and the harness as short as possible and not give any particular attention to the dog. If and when they lie down, I feed without using a marker cue.

Initially, I’ll feed quite a bit to help them understand. Later on, I’ll only feed when the puppy is looking away from me (I don’t want an obedience down). Even further down the line, once behavior and cue are understood, I’ll randomize reinforcement. For example when I’m out in the street, waiting at a taco stand, I’ll drop a single treat between my dog’s front paws anytime a red car goes by.

Phoebe was the hardest dog to teach the leash cue to. Lynn Ungar (thank you for being wonderful, Lynn! Good CA memories!) suggested I cue the down and then keep my foot very close to Phoebe’s collar as I stand on her leash, not giving her attention. That way, when I was taking obedience classes from Lynn, Phoebe wasn’t physically able to get up and start bouncing and teeth-clapping at me in anticipation or frustration. Once she had understood this, she was able to relax – something that she used to only be able to do in a training context when crated or sent to a mat.

3. Doing nothing for longer periods of time in public (while your people are having a picnic, on public transport, under the table at a restaurant or café, at a trial or seminar …)

This requires the skill of patience in the face of distractions. Mat stationing skills don’t hurt either.

With little puppies, a great way of introducing them to this concept is to just start bringing them places. Small puppies sleep a lot. This fact alone will help them get used to the fact that sometimes, humans do human things in public and dogs are just there.

Any puppy I have, I’ll bring pretty much anywhere – the younger, the better. I’ll bring their mat and a chew and keep the leash too short for them to wander. Simply being in a new and exciting environment tends to tire puppies out and makes it very likely that they’ll fall asleep, practicing exactly what I want them to practice: chilling in a busy environment made by and for humans.

With an adult dog, I will put more work into mat skills (see the crate protocol1 or the CU mat protocol2 – both work for mat training).

  1. Full crate training tutorial (can be used for mat work as well):
    Part 1:
    Part 2:
    Part 3:
    Part 4: ↩︎
  2. Full CU mat work walk-through with a puppy:
    1st post:
    2nd post:
    3rd post:
    4th post:
    5th post:
    6th post:
    7th post: ↩︎

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