Doggie Zen is a very simple and very powerful impulse control training game that will influence the dog in a profound way. Doggie Zen essentially teaches the dog to think first watch for information from the handler and respond appropriately. All dogs can learn to think first!
There are many variations of this game. It promotes impulse control and calmness which transfers into all areas of the dog’s personality.
This game can be played with food, toys, anything that is of importance to your dog. In the beginning, food is certainly easier to handle. If your dog is totally obsessed and ridiculously wild about his training treats, then do this exercise with his kibble or even with Cheerios (as long as he’s not obsessed about Cheerios!) If your dog is obsessed about every food, then use the lowest value food that you can and get started.
Step one: scoop handful of food into one hand and close your fist. Be sure that handful is not so large that you find yourself accidentally dropping treats.
Step two: present your full closed fist to your dog. Don’t be shy now! Really put that fist in front of your dog’s nose, show that you have something wonderful in there but don’t open the fist.
Step three: your dog is most likely very interested in your fist including licking, biting, smacking you with his paw, etc. At this point do nothing, say nothing, remain calm, keep your fist closed and still. Don’t move the fist away from the dog, remain very still. Say nothing!
Step four: when the dog gives up for a second, which may come with the appearance of looking away, sitting, taking a couple steps backwards etc. then you can open your hand. As soon as he tries to steal from you close your hand quickly and be careful to just close the hand, don’t move the hand away. Yes your dog will look slightly confused for a moment but he will give up again and when he does open your hand. Think of your opening of the hand as the initial reward for him trying to learn that he cannot steal.
A good analogy is in a restaurant! When you see the wait staff coming with your favorite meal how happy are you! And you do not even have your food yet!
When you can open your hand and leave it open for one second without him stealing use your other hand to collect one piece of food and give it to your dog. If your dog continues to not steal take one more piece of food and give it to your dog. When your dog tries to help himself close your hand.
Step five: wait longer durations of time with your hand open before offering a treat or piece of food that your dog can have.
Variation: play this game with his tennis ball, play this game with his tug toy, play this game with anything that your dog gets excited about!