Training your dog can be a simple process. In my years of experience as a certified professional dog trainer, and of observing inquisitive canines and working with their parents, I’d venture to bet that more often than not, in general, dogs enjoy “going to school” and participating in their lessons. Fun and games like tug, fetch, and other forms of enjoyable attention from humans, yummy treats, and any other types of motivators that intrigue pupils can create a world of successful learning — which equates to getting more of the behaviors dog guardians want (or less of the ones they don’t want). But, sometimes those feelings that you need to set aside a huge chunk of time to teach or maintain skills can feel overwhelming! Of course it’s great if you can include planned training sessions into your day, but we know that realistically this is often not as doable as we’d hope.
Fortunately, we have tips for conquering that battle, working training into your day without it feeling like you’re having to cancel other things to make time. You get a trained dog and get to keep your schedule. It just takes a little forethought.
Productivity Tips to Use for Training Your Dog
1. Write It Out
A solid plan begins with visualizing what you want, then writing it out — typing an email to yourself, creating a note on your phone, or going old-school and putting pen to paper. Whatever your preference, describing what your goals are, what you want from your dog, and what you want from yourself will set the training wheels in motion! (No pun intended.)
For instance, let’s say you want your dog to learn to greet people politely when out on a walk or you want your dog to walk nicely on leash. Provide details and paint a picture of what you want, so you know what you’ll need to work on and reward.
2. Involve Your Dog in the Planning
When creating your plan, determine your dog’s baseline of behaviors, so you know where to start. You can also take into consideration what your dog likes or doesn’t like. Maybe your plan is to go running with your dog on a busy city path, or venture to the dog park so they can socialize. Well, it could be your dog would rather hike with you in a more isolated area or partake in a different sport altogether. You might need to either train them to want to do these things you want to do, decide to go where they want instead, or come up with a compromise.
3. Look, Listen, Communicate Clearly
Even though dogs have a language different than us humans, we can still learn to communicate with one another. Dogs learn to “speak” or understand our verbal and visual cues, and we learn to speak Dog-lish. By observing our dogs’ macro and micro signals and mannerisms, we become aware of when they are happy, tired, hungry, relaxed, and/or not feeling one hundred percent.
It’s important to notice the small things. Little movements or responses dogs make can speak volumes. Paying attention to what your dog likes — or maybe doesn’t like — through their body language or vocalization can be of great value. By knowing these preferences, you learn what can be used as a motivator or what you need to add to your training plan.
As for communicating back to your canine companion, speaking clearly, with a loving voice, and in an approachable, relaxed way, they are more likely to trust you and respond in the same manner.
4. Reassess and Revise
At the end of the day, week, or month, reassess your current plan. Is what you are doing working? Are you reaching your goals? Do you need to revise your plan? This is the time to do it. Plans are malleable, not static. Sometimes variables that are out of your control can lead to you needing to alter your plan. That’s totally ok. Just remember tips #1 and #2.
If you’ve reached your current goal(s), you can always change up the same behavior goals by manipulating the 3-D’s, or just set an entirely new set of objectives you want to achieve. Think “advanced studies” or “graduate school.”
Life is busy! And, it seems we get busier every day. Setting aside time to train your dog doesn’t mean needing to carve out hours at a time (it’s great if you can, see #6 Dynamo Day). Sure, incorporating a specific few minutes here and there is ideal, but even if you don’t have the bandwidth to add training sessions to your calendar, you can still adapt your usual routine easily. For instance, when you let your dog out to go to the bathroom (or take them out), before coming back in ask your dog to perform one behavior — a sit at the door, a paw raise, spin, hand-target, or anything your dog already knows.
Another suggestion would be to ask your dog to do something before you throw the ball, play a game of tug, or get in the car. Working training exercises into your daily life creates the ‘train-as-you-go’ approach. This means you’re still reinforcing behaviors you want, but it might not be as daunting to your schedule.
6. Dynamo Day
If you do have that extra time, or want to carve out time in your busy schedule to devote to training your dog, then make it a Dynamo Day! Decide how much time you want to set aside and what you want to work on. Be thoughtful and organized, and plan accordingly.
Create this powerhouse session by confirming your dog’s baseline of behaviors and determining what you want to work on for the day that can help build momentum into the following week. Choose behaviors that are beneficial for the life you share together.
7. Everything in Its Place
Toys and chewies all over the place? A collection of outfits, supplies, and equipment? First, go through and clean out, then clean up.
You can divide everything up into different categories, including: keep, donate, discard. You can then take inventory of things you might need to replace.
8. Meal Planning
Using food for training doesn’t mean adding on calories to your dog’s current diet. It just means using the usual ration in a different way. Instead of feeding out of a bowl (unless you’re working on specific training exercises that involve a bowl), you’d be using much of the day’s ration for training, enrichment toys and other activities.
Planning meals means using food to your advantage during training times or when enrichment is especially necessary. For instance, let’s say you want your dog to entertain themself when you’re working at the computer, tackling homework with the kids, or preparing (or eating) your own meal. Dispensing your dog’s meal, or part of the meal, with the use of a food-delivery toy provides nourishment along with physical and mental enrichment. They get to have fun while eating, and it keeps them busy and out of your hair.
9. Set Aside Time
You have the Train-As-You-Go and the Dynamo Day options, but what about those who prefer to set aside a designated few minutes a few times a week? This is one great way to create a schedule where you mix up the variable for one behavior or work on different behaviors on different days.
For instance, M-W-F could be the Sit-Stay days, and T-Th could be the Down-Stay with distractions days. Maybe work on a game of Recall and Hand-Targeting every morning before heading to work (or firing up the computer). Whatever behavior you choose, even three to five minutes can be productive!
10. Plan Ahead — for the (Following) Week or Month
We’ve mentioned planning a few times, which we’re huge fans of. This tip includes planning ahead for future adventures. We’ve said it before, you don’t want to teach someone about fire drills during a fire! In this case, you don’t want to teach your dog a brand-new behavior during the time you need it.
We recommend going through your schedule, looking at the weeks (or even months) ahead, and figuring out what behaviors you’ll want your dog to know. For instance, let’s say you’re going to be having visitors in a month and you’re going to want your dog to behave nicely when the doorbell rings or there’s a knock at the door, when company is sitting and socializing, or moving around abruptly. Start thinking ahead — maybe Go to Your Place, being quiet with door knocking, leaving things alone when someone leaves food sitting out, can be taught now, instead of waiting until folks show up and your dog ends up jumping up all over your guests.
Bonus Tip — Remember What’s Real
Each dog should be viewed as an individual — and one who adapts and changes throughout his or her life. There might be a time when your dog’s behavior doesn’t match your expectations, and no matter how much training you’ve provided, he or she is who they are. If there’s a behavioral issue that can be threatening to another animal or a person, then working with a certified dog trainer or vet behaviorist would be the first step. But, if this is not the case, then sometimes it’s okay to just accept this inquisitive canine as who and what they are. Allow them to be true to themselves. Find all the good in them, love them for all they do for you, and appreciate them for their unique personality. This can be a much less stressful approach.
A humane, reward-based approach can result in a more enriching life for you and your inquisitive canine. Our pups can be so forgiving and easygoing about life that they can get lost in the training session shuffle. We hope these tips help provide a little motivation for you to change it up a little, creating a new routine that’s both fun and productive!
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