Reward Nothing

Yes, you read correctly, I am advising you to Reward for Nothing!

Whilst with the clicker you are rewarding your puppy for specific behaviours you want to reinforce; you are usually promoting active behaviours. Usually, clicker training is not teaching your puppy to remain calm.

We often forget in our training to reward calmness, although it is a “skill” that we often would like our puppies to develop for certain circumstances. This is the reason why it can be useful to start rewarding your puppy for just remaining calm.

Rewarding your puppy for being calm can help develop self-control and the ability to switch from active to relaxed behaviours.

To reward calmness, you also need to make your delivery of a treat calm; the delivery of the treat should be as much a non-event as possible.

When you notice your puppy being calm or relaxed:

  • Deliver a treat slowly and calmly without a word to or any eye contact with your puppy.
  • Move away slowly. Hopefully, your puppy will return in his calm state.
  • Do not use the clicker as your puppy may be associating the sound of the clicker with active working mode

Try to avoid anticipation from your puppy. This is not a game as such, you don’t want your puppy to know when or from where the treat is going to come.  Just pick an opportunity when you notice that your puppy is calm and relaxed to give your puppy a treat. Your puppy will start to associate calmness with something good.

The next video is one of the nicest examples I captured of “Reward Nothing”. I taught my niece this game with Mehwi who was wary of children. I gave her a few treats in a pot to use for this game and explained that she needed to keep calm around him so he would not be scared.

Within a few days Mehwi and my niece were inseparable, and I managed to capture my niece’s interpretation of the game. It is a perfect example.

Loose Lead Walking

Loose lead walking can be a stressful skill to learn for both the puppy and the owner. But it does not have to be like this. For me teaching loose lead walking is just another game.

Before starting your loose lead walking, your puppy must have a lot of value for sitting at your side so make sure you have played the “Sit by my side” game a lot.

I usually use the word “Close” to teach my puppy to walk to heel and I tend to prefer to only walk with it on my left side to start with.

Start to train your puppy in a boring environment with no distractions. I tend to start in the kitchen.

Clip the lead to the collar of your puppy, not a harness (A harness tends to teach the puppies to pull).

For a “Close” position next to your left leg:

  • The lead is in your right hand.
  • The clicker is in your right hand.
  • The treats will be given with your left hand.
  • Start walking and call your puppy.
  • As soon as the puppy acknowledges you and the lead is loose click (or say yes) and then reward.
  • Provide the reward at your left side with your left hand next to your leg, along the seam of your trousers.
  • Make sure the reward is provided low enough, so you do not encourage your puppy to jump. I am afraid if you have a small breed you might have to bend to give the reward at your ankle level.

To start with, click & reward very frequently so long as your puppy is not pulling on the lead. Do not reward in front of you, do not reward away from you and make sure your puppy comes to your hand positioned next to the seam of your trouser to get its reward.

You might be clicking and rewarding at every step, every 2 seconds; this is OK. You want an energetic fun exercise to keep the attention of your puppy focused on you. Do not worry that you are rewarding too often, with time you will reduce the frequency of the clicks and the rewards but at the beginning a high frequency of clicks and reward are key to keep your puppy focussed on you.

Do not stop moving forwards when you reward your puppy so there is a momentum and flow of movement all the time, hence less chance for your puppy to get distracted.

  • Do not make it too difficult or your puppy will give up.
  • If your puppy passes you or is pulling on the lead turn your body to change direction so you are again ahead of it.
  • Stop the game before your puppy is bored, we often stop too late.  
  • To finish the session do not forget to give your release word so your puppy. knows the loose lead walking exercise is over and that he can now go and smell (or pull on the lead). This is especially important! You do not want your puppy to start to guess when the game is over.

When your puppy starts to get the hang of the game it is time to start making it a little bit more fun. This can easily be done by changing speed so that you are jogging a little, then walking again. Be mindful though that some energetic dogs start to jump at this stage, and if it is the case you might want to keep the game calm and avoid jogging.

You can also add some of the tricks your puppy knows such as “Say Hello”

from the side or “Sit by my side”.

Remember Make it fun, make it a game!

If the clicks and the rewards are not frequent enough it means the exercise is too hard for your puppy and you are going to lose its attention. Make the criteria easier. To start with my frequency is nearly 1-2-click (but I always click for something positive) followed by 1-2-reward (the reward comes after the click, not at the same time); 1-2-click; 1-2-reward. With time you will be able to reduce the frequency of the clicks and the rewards, but it takes time.

Train this game every day, keeping the sessions short and entertaining. You want your puppy to get excited and love the game when you are saying “Close”.

When your puppy is getting good it is time to increase the difficulty. The list below is in order of difficulty. Only move to the next stage when you have mastered the preceding one.

  1. Trying with no lead in the same boring environment.
  2. Try in the garden on the lead.
  3. Trying in the garden without the lead.