I recently watched Blackfish, a documentary about orca whales in SeaWorld. Tangential to the contents of the documentary, one of the former trainers briefly mentioned the use of a three second neutral response, which I found very interesting. The concept is that after an animal is asked to perform a trick, they are either given a food reward for a successful trick, or a three second neutral response for an unsuccessful trick.
So far as I can tell, the intent is to clearly indicate “you did not do what I wanted well enough” without punishment or expression of anger, frustration or disappointment. It simply involves not expressing any emotion through speech or body language.
I tried looking up more information about this as a training technique, but most results were just discussing or reviewing Blackfish. The idea stuck in my head though, and I began to imagining scenarios where it would be fun to try. Whenever someone tells a bad joke: three second neutral response. When someone asks me “do you want bacon on that veggie burger, har har har”: three second neutral response. When someone comes to my door and asks for $5 because [story that doesn’t really make any sense]: three second neutral response. Basically any time someone does something you just find disappointing and obnoxious, rather than dignify it with a response, simply do nothing for three seconds.
In seriousness, I did actually try it on Ludo the day after I watched the documentary. At night he sleeps in his own room, and sometimes he goes in right away when asked, and sometimes he freezes and growls and refuses to go in without being forced. So far, I can’t tell what the difference is, in his mind, between those times. On that particular night, he chose the freeze and growl option when I asked him to go in his room. I was very frustrated and tired, and his reaction made me angry, but I know from experience that yelling or otherwise expressing my anger just makes him nervous and more uncooperative, so I tried to relax my face and shoulders, and slowly counted to three. After that pause, I gently asked him again to go to his room. He tentatively walked over and, resigned, went in his room.
I strongly recommend everyone add this to their repertoire of reactions. It’s a good way of not feeding the trolls, and might actually be an effective training technique, with animals and people.