Pretty much every one of my clients tells me that it’s difficult to find enough time to work with their dogs. I’ll admit to having the same issue with my own dog, which is not as well-trained as I’d really like him to be. But I do find ways to sneak in a few short sessions.
My advice is to practice many very short sessions throughout the day. It doesn’t take much time to practice one to five repetitions of “Sit” at the door while you reach for the handle, or to practice “Come” once or twice.
There are a lot of short moments during your day when you might be able to do this:
• During commercial breaks of your favourite TV show (make sure to turn down the sound!)
• While your bread is toasting
• While your coffee is brewing or your tea is steeping
• While the microwave or stove is working on your next meal
• While you’re on the phone (remember, you don’t need to give commands when you’re rewarding your dog for good behaviour)
• Two minutes before your walk. Don’t indicate the walk in any way, just start running your dog through his commands. Reward each correct response. After the last one, say, “Good dog! Wanna go for a walk?” and go get the leash. This is a jackpot!
• Two minutes before the dog gets to go for a drive (see above)
• Every time you let the dog in or out of a door (say “Sit” or “Down” before you open the door)
• Every time you give your dog a bowl of food or water (say “Stay” or “Leave it” before releasing them to get it)
• While playing fetch (say “Sit,” “Down” or another command before throwing each ball)
• While your computer is warming up, shutting down, or downloading that slow email or website
• When you walk out to pick up the paper or mail (wait at doorways, walk on a loose leash, etc.)
• Every time you start an interaction with your dog. Don’t interact with him unless he is calm and polite -- especially when you first come home. Ignore your dog (pretend he is not there) if he is being wild or noisy
You’re Always the Teacher
The key to training is to realise that your dog is always learning from you, whether you are intentionally teaching or not. That’s why management -- physically preventing your dog from practicing unwanted behaviour when you’re not able to focus on him -- is so important.
I also feel it is important to structure your dog’s environment so that he is most likely to succeed in doing what you want him to do. This way, you can reward your dog for it -- and your mate will learn what he is supposed to do.
One of my colleagues suggests that it takes about 5000 repetitions for a dog to truly learn to perform a behaviour on cue in any situation. Like building up muscles, you must do a lot of repetitions. That seems incredibly daunting! However, if you can fit in three short sessions each day, you can accomplish this in just a few months:
• 15 repetitions (reps) a session x 3 sessions a day = 45 reps a day
• 45 reps a day x 7 days a week = 315 reps a week
• 315 reps/week x 16 weeks = 5,040 reps
This is four months of daily work -- a small fraction of your dog’s lifetime, when you look at the big picture, and short bouts of dedication required from you.