Default Zen Remediation

Or, “100 Treats Down, 900 to Go”

My current favorite dog blog is my friend Eileen’s blog (fittingly named Eileenanddogs). It’s unlike any other dog behavior or training blog I’ve read because

  1. Eileen is, like me, a training enthusiast (reads a lot, learns a lot from great trainers online, watches videos, trains her own dogs) but not a professional trainer, and
  2. she often blogs about her mistakes, including videos of her training mistakes, which is incredibly instructive AND validating, because we all make those mistakes! Well, I certainly do.

Today she posted about an idea she got from another dog blogger to train one behavior with 1,000 treats:

I love this because I tend to be a little unfocused in training and pass out treats for good behaviors, cute behaviors, behaviors I vaguely like, etc. . . . What if every trainer took 1,000 treats, really concentrated, and spent them wisely on one behavior?

Immediately I thought of the behavior I have been puzzling about how to fix lately: Zen. The frustrating thing is that Barnum can do a terrific zen (leave it) when he knows we’re training, and he will go into “training mode” after one or two repetitions, even if I use “real-world conditions,” like my dinner plate that has leftover food on it. But it doesn’t stick to the next real-world situation.

But then I thought, “What if I put all my training energy — small as it is — into Zen? And what if I required a form of Zen whenever we did any work or training for which he is getting reinforced?

So, I counted the treats I’d just gathered for the day, and added another bag for good measure. It added up to about 100. (There’s no way I’ll actually be able to keep an exact count; my memory and my math are not that good. But it’ll be close enough.)

I started with Zen from the beginning of the Training Levels and worked up super-fast. Then, I did treat-bag Zen and treat-hand Zen: No mugging the treat bag or treat hand anymore! If he was clicked for any behavior (whether Zen or something else), if he dove at my hand or the treat bag, I’d just wait (close my hand, close the bag) and treat only once he backed off. After ten repetitions of this, he seemed to get this for most of the rest of the day.

My big goal is to have Barnum stay well away whenever anyone is eating or there is any food in the room. He does sometimes go into his crate without cueing when one of my meals shows up, but just as often he doesn’t. He might hang around and ignore my food, but he also might hang around and get “nosey,” sniffing after things.

Today, when my food arrived, I cued Zen, and started with just having him move his nose back. I continued with uncued Zen, clicking for him being farther away. By partway through lunch (the first meal I tried this with), he was off the bed, across the room, lying against the wall. YAY!

We managed to replicate that, with only one or two lapses, for dinner, too.

I don’t know why it’s always such a surprise when I set out with a sensible training plan, stick to it, and discover that it works. It’s like this whole clicker training thing to which I’ve devoted a huge chunk of my life over the past dozen years actually is based on something logical, or something.

I wish I had a picture of Barnum at the beginning of lunch versus the end of lunch! Let’s see if I remember to keep it up tomorrow. (That’s part of the reason for posting about it; I tend to remember and keep up with things better if I write about them and share them with others.)

My end goal is the for the arrival of yummy-smelling food to be the cue for Barnum to go to his crate. Or if he doesn’t want to go into his crate, to go several feet away and stay away unless called.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

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6 Responses to “Default Zen Remediation”


  1. 1 Starre February 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I just love when training things get posted lately. I always love reading about training, but now that I know that, soon I will be doing the training dance again, its so much more exciting! I can’t wait to see how it goes for the next 900 treats.

    • 2 Sharon Wachsler February 7, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Yes, I remember that feeling before I got Gadget and before I got Barnum. Anticipation can be so exciting!

      Thanks for the encouragement about our continued Zen training.

  2. 3 SR February 12, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Wow, this is timely! I’m working on Level 1 with my dog, and she’s exactly the same way. Once she’s in the “zen zone,” as it were, she’s amazing. But she always needs a reminder or two before she can get into the zone, especially if I try it cold. I look forward to reading more of your experiences with this.

    • 4 Sharon Wachsler February 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Hi SR. Welcome! I’m glad to hear you’re working the levels, too.
      I am hoping to post an update on our zen work today. (I took some pics yesterday I was hoping to post, but I keep being too busy to upload and caption them and explain what they mean.) And more progress today, too. :-)
      Have you read any of my past zen posts? You can find them here: http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/?s=zen


  1. 1 Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge: Starting Week 2 | eileenanddogs Trackback on February 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm
  2. 2 Halfway Through Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge: Clara is Relaxing! | eileenanddogs Trackback on February 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm
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