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How Do I Teach My Dog the Art of Doing Nothing

Gung-ho pet parents show up to training pumped about the things they’ll learn to do with their dog. Basic commands, badass tricks, and all the essentials of communication are vital parts of the dog training curriculum.

But it’s time to get honest about one of the little-known secrets to training a dog. One of the most important dog training lessons is teaching your dog to just not do shit.


Yep. The subtle art of doing nothing much is one of the best ways to use positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to do what you want. At times, that really does mean doing nothing.

Not Misbehaving Vs. Doing Nothing

We all know that dogs are easily distracted. They’re our ever-vigilant protectors, looking for danger. They’re naturally curious, ready to run at the mere mention of squirrel!

Show me a dog whose ears don’t perk up at the sound of a can popping open and I’ll show you… well, a vet referral, because your dog may be going deaf. Or maybe it doesn’t have ears. Who knows.

Next time your dog is doing nothing, slip them a little treat to say thanks. If you’re out on a walk and run into a friend, your dog may stop and sit while you chat. Cool.

But maybe it’s that one buddy who just doesn’t know when the chit-chat should end. Don’t wait for your dog to get impatient.

Much as you’d love to start whining and pulling away, social norms kinda require you to escape with tact. Dogs aren’t up on people-appropriate behavior, so may get impatient as the chat drones on.

Stop this behavior before it starts by showing your dog that doing nothing is fab. Don’t wait for your dog to look for the treat.

Find that sweet spot before it gets a chance to feel distracted. You’re not rewarding the expectation of a treat by handing off the snack. You’re rewarding their mastery of just doing nothing.

Doing Nothing Is Good Behavior

Our human-centric definition of doing nothing is pretty fucking literal. You’re not behaving. You’re not acting or reacting. You’re… doing nothing. Right?

Close. A behavior doesn’t have to be an easily-recognized action or reaction. It can simply be staying focused on a task instead of being distracted by that squirrel. It can be staring into space instead of begging for attention.

Doing nothing is always doing a little something.

Unexpected visitors are an awesome example. Dogs are social creatures by nature and get super excited when people drop by.

Your friends probably aren’t down with that jumping shit, so perhaps you started by training your dog with a basic command. “Sit” and “down” work wonders to direct your dog to the desirable behavior.

But when Mark has dropped by for the umpteenth time, maybe your dog has stopped giving a fuck. Mark never pets the dog anyway. Hey - not everyone is a dog person. It happens.

If fido knows there’s no lovefest in its future, it may simply lay by your side on its own. What? That’s one good god damn dog. Why not reward it for mastering the art of doing nothing?

What Doing Nothing Teaches Your Dog

Learning the subtle art of doing nothing actually teaches your dog mad important lessons that will help other parts of training stick.

When pet parents get overzealous with commands, the dog may not know what to do without very clear direction. This can make them anxious.

Training your dog to be okay with waiting gives them permission to just sit back and chill. It gives them confidence to live in the moment without the pressure to worry about what to do next.

Not reacting teaches your dog impulse control. This curbs unwanted behaviors, but the biggie here is that it keeps them safe.

Simply standing still while you chat with your friend is relatively not a huge deal. But staying calm and not freaking out in heavy traffic or at the sight of an open door could mean the difference between life and death.

Doing Nothing Is A Lot Harder Than It Looks

Training your dog to just fucking do nothing is one of the hardest parts of the process. You’ll need to start by redirecting the unwanted behaviors that have already become second nature to your pup.

Doing nothing is a higher-level skill that you can start on early, but then refine. Talk to your dog trainer about how to incorporate doing-nothing training into your lessons.

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