Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The "Nothing" exercise for impulse control training

My sister recently expressed an interest in adopting a second dog, and told me to keep my eye out, next time I was at the shelter, for a dog in the 4-5 year age range. I found not a one.

Take a tour of your local shelter and you are likely to find the same thing--an overabundance of dogs between 8 months and 2 years. Having fostered a handful of these dogs in the past year, I can see exactly why: they don't stop moving. Tiny puppies are perpetual motion, perpetual pestering, perpetual get-into-things machines but they are impossibly cute so it's easy to forgive them. 

Once they start looking like adult dogs, but still haven't slowed down, a lot of adopters just don't know what to do with them anymore and so they end up at the shelter, with all the other dogs their age. 

Of course any training is going to be helpful for these dogs; learning to sit, down, leave it and the rest gives constructive activities and options for their brains to engage in, instead of destroying things and pestering people nonstop. 

Pam Wanveer, when I was taking Sandy for her TTouch sessions, showed me how to just hold the dog's collar, and resist all the struggling, sniffing, and fussing around, until the dog is calm. 

The article by Sue Sternberg in the "Train to adopt" series in the September/ October issue of the APDT Chronicle of the Dog describes a similar exercise as the Nothing exercise. 

You can practice this in the shelter, in a quiet room where there are few other distractions--perhaps the room where visitors can meet dogs. 

Sit in a chair, put some bedding or a blanket at your feet, and hold the dog's leash with very little slack and most of the leash folded into your hand. Stare into space, sit straight up and ignore the dog. 

The dog will fuss around for a while--trying to chew your shoes, jump up on you, kiss your face, sniff around, etc. Ignore it all and hold the leash, holding it tighter if you need to limit some of the activity. 

Wait for the dog to lie down on the bedding. As soon as he does, look at him, stroke him calmly, and tell him how good he is. 

When he bounces back up again, immediately disengage and look away. As soon as he lies down, repeat with more attention.  

The time he can remain lying down will increase, and the times between will decrease, as soon as he realizes that calm behavior brings the reward. 

What a simple, wonderful way to help shelter dogs and foster dogs learn to be calmer, more controlled, and more appealing to adopters!


  1. I was always so interested when you mentioned it before...and I think it would be good for Miss M! We have gone looking for older fosters a couple of times, but you're right, it's always the young guys in the shelter who don't show well because they just need to get out.

  2. Wonderful information - I can use this now with Sydney, who needs attention but can be over the top. Thank you.

  3. I really think we need to learn more about this as I am sure we could use it!

  4. I think this is a great exercise, even for small puppies to learn, if only all people knew and understood how to help puppies to make adjustment to interact with humans, there'd be so many less in shelters.

  5. This is a great idea as most people probably resort to putting the dog in the crate or using too much verbal correction. I'll have to remember this if I get the chance to foster a maniac youngster!

  6. yep that's a great idea... the young ones really are too 'busy' and nuts a lot of the time... if I get any more fosters I will definately try this exercise on them... I don't have any issues with my own dogs now that they are 5 & 6 years old... and the 5 year old is a greyhound ;)

  7. Good advice and it reminds me of the best way to stop a dog from jumping as taught by Dr. Stanley Corin. Be a tree. So many people push the dog away when it jumps, giving it some desired attention. He suggests just standing still, like a tree. Boring to the dog!

    It is so sad to see the number of young dogs that are abandoned through no fault of their own, if only they had been trained properly.

  8. great advice, we've tried to do this as much as we can with Renae since she was a pup and its really made a great difference

  9. Great advice! I could actually stand to do a similar version of this with Hades. He tends to get a little antsy sometimes, and I know if I would just stop immediately giving into him we could make progress. Both our dogs are relatively easy, in my opinion, I just think we tend to give into them too often too quickly.


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