Wow, so it’s National Train Your Dog Month, but how do you find the time to train your dog when you have so many other commitments that have to get done every day? Often, we even feel like we need more hours at the end of the day to fit in all the stuff we didn’t get done.
Here are some tips to help you train your dog to do or to stop doing all of those things that you wish you had time to teach her – when you don’t have any extra time!
Keep small containers with lids stashed all around your house in the places that you spend time – at your computer, near the door, in the kitchen, next to the bed, on the end table next to the couch, in the bathroom (yes, we know your dog follows you in there too!). Yogurt or cream cheese containers work well for this. Fill the containers with a mixture of your dog’s regular food and high value treats that are cut up into the size of a pea.
Any time you notice your dog doing something you like, say “yes” enthusiastically, and quickly grab a container to give her one treat. Then put the container back. At first your dog will probably stand and stare at you afterwards, waiting for another snack. But you don’t have time to train her right now, so go back to what you were doing. Soon you may notice her doing something else that you like – “yes” and treat. By having the treats close by, you can reward behaviors you like quickly without leaving what you were doing.
This same principle works with deaf and b/d dogs, you will just use their "yes" signal, either visual or tactile, and then immediately give the treat. With a dog that will notice you moving to reach for the treat, it's important that your "yes" comes while they are still doing the good behavior, before they come running to get the treat. The "yes" should come during the behavior you like, as it serves as a marker to the dog about what exactly you liked.
We often notice our dogs doing things that we don’t like, but when they are doing things we do like, we often ignore them because we are busy doing other things. So, our dogs learn that if they want attention, they should do things we don’t like – that’s not really what we want them to learn, is it? So, when your dog is quietly chewing her bone, “yes” and treat. If she is lying quietly at your feet, “yes” and treat.
Right after you treat, though, go back to what you were doing before. That will help you get done what you need to get done, but it will also signal to your dog to go back to doing something wonderful because it might possibly earn her another treat.
If your dog is only doing things that you don’t like, choose one behavior at a time to concentrate on. Whenever you see her doing something (anything) other than that behavior, “yes” and treat. For example, if your dog barks at the window a lot, any time you notice her look away from the window, scratch an itch, go get a drink of water, grab a toy, or stop barking – all of those deserve a “yes” and treat. If you can catch her doing other things to reward a lot, you will start to notice the barking at the window will happen less and less and the behaviors you are rewarding will happen more and more!
Another way you can find time to train your dog is by using life rewards. This means that you will use the things that your dog wants in life to reward behavior that you life. Our dogs all need to be fed, to go for a walk or playtime, and to go outside for business trips every day. Use these times to expect a behavior from your dog that you like.
If you mindlessly open the door to let your dog out when she is pestering you, you are rewarding her for pestering you by giving her what she wants – you to open the door – and so her behavior of pestering you will continue. If instead, you open the door when she is doing a behavior that you like, you will be rewarding that behavior instead, and she will start to do it more and more.
The best way to get your dog to do behaviors that you like is to reward her when she is doing them on her own. If it’s close to time for her to go outside, and you notice her chewing her bone, say “let’s go outside” and quickly go to the door to let her out. If it’s her mealtime and she is spinning and barking in the kitchen, go sit down on the sofa and wait until you see a behavior that is calmer and quieter (you probably won’t get her to be completely calm – after all, her dinner is there!) Then go feed her.
You get the idea. Your dog needs these things in her life every day. There is no getting around it – that’s part of living with a dog. But you can use those things she wants to reward behavior that you like, or that you don’t like. It’s your choice. And it doesn’t really take any extra time from your day.