I have a new dog that is about 8 months old. We have taken two group classes, but I wasn’t very good about doing the training between each meeting, so now our dog doesn’t seem like she is really trained at all. The reason is that I’m so busy all the time, and by the time I get home from work, training my dog was the last thing I wanted to do. My New Year’s resolution is to carve out time to work with my dog so I thought I would start by asking you if you had any ideas about how to fit everything in and still have time to work with her.
I know exactly how you feel as I too am very busy, and have a new puppy that requires me to teach her what I expect of her, as well as getting through house training.
My first advice is to take a deep breathe when ever you feel overwhelmed by your dog, because whether or not you realize it, you are training your dog every waking moment you are with your dog. So, with that in mind, be careful what you teach! Often when we are busy, we tend to react to situations rather than respond. So, if your dog is doing something you don’t want her to do and you react by giving attention to your dog in that moment, you may very well train your dog to believe that misbehaving gets your attention.
Next, all is not lost if you began with classes, at least you know what the basics are and it’s not like you have to learn all of the timing, etc. again. With that, let’s look at how you can fit in your training without it seeming like such a daunting task.
Keep it short
Training should be done in short sessions, so that is to your advantage. Dogs or people don’t like the old “drill” type of training that used to be taught, so look for 2-10 minutes a day to work on the basics, and intertwine others as you go about your business. You can intertwine training things like “Eye Contact,” “Sit,” and “Down,” with all kinds of things you would be doing anyway. For instance, if you are working in the kitchen, fixing a meal or a snack, most dogs will usually hang close since that is the room with all the food. Practice asking your dog to “Sit,” while you prepare your food. You can have a small amount of some special things that won’t contaminate your food to reinforce your dog. A few things that come to mind are tiny pieces of cheese, Cheerios, Gold Fish crackers, or small pieces of hot dogs. You can count out 10 treats and get 10 “Sits, Eye Contact, or Down” as you ready your food.
I work at my computer a lot when I am not working with my clients, so I have a mat set up right by my desk to give the puppy a visual of where I would like her. Every time she lies on her mat, she gets a treat. It didn’t take long before the mat to became like a target for my puppy and now I can take it around the house with me if I want her to lie down and relax, rather than being under feet, and I don’t have to reinforce her very often because the behavior has become one she likes.
I also take my puppy’s mat with me when we go places and she knows how to calm herself down, even in public. This makes for easy, simple training and gives dogs a skill that they should have in their toolbox.
Keep treats in your pocket or around the house in candy dishes where your dog can’t reach them, but are easy to grab into if you see your dog doing something you like. Reinforcing good behaviors when you see them will encourage your dog to repeat those behaviors again. So, don’t ignore your dog if she is sitting calmly, reinforce that calmness by walking by and dropping a treat on the ground between her paws. Again, this is very easy training and little time is required.
I really like to count out treats and have little bags with 30 or so treats, all ready to go for “official” training sessions. I also make little labels for them with one behavior on each one. That way I can reach into the refrigerator and pull out a bag and whatever is written on the bag is the behavior I train. So, if it’s sit that I got, I will get 15 sits from that 30 treats, since I use a treat after every sit to toss away so my puppy will get up from the sit, so I can do it again. This is a great game for dogs and sitting becomes a very normal behavior to offer when you train like this. Also, if you are intertwining your training throughout the day or evening, and “Sit,” is one of the behaviors you are working on, your dog will start offering sits all the time in hopes you are going to “play that game” again. It will be the same with the other behaviors you are working on as well.
To find extra “official” time to train, look at training during activities you don’t love to do, so things like sorting laundry, commercial time while watching TV, waiting for something in the microwave, dusting, etc. It’s easy to train your dog during those times and they also give you an end point to the training.
These are exactly the things I do with my puppy and she is pretty good at all of her basics, and I don’t feel like I had to spend too much of my precious time on any skill set.
Good luck and happy training!