One of the biggest excuses I hear from people all the time is “I just don’t have time to train”. We have collectively made this concept of dog training a daunting and a formalized task where you are either totally committed or you just can’t seem find the time to start so you don't do anything. I want you to understand, training moments happen all the time. You can have a wonderfully behaved dog without formal obedience training.
Dog trainers have the ability to see and consciously reward desirable behaviors throughout the course of our day. Most dog trainers actually don’t go to formal training classes. Yes they have the skill set to work on the building wonderfully desirable behaviors at home but they have made dog training a lifestyle and so can you. Everyone loves their dogs, that’s a given, but not many dog guardians are savvy to how to reinforce behaviors as they occur. The key is to capture great behaviors when they happen naturally. Unfortunately, the majority of feedback dogs get during the day is if they are doing something undesirable. We say things like “NO BARK”, “DON’T JUMP”, “STOP PULLING”! Well first and foremost the non-verbal dog has no idea what most of these quasi-commands mean (unless you have actually gone through the process of teaching them with lots of repetitions) and can we all stop naming negative behaviors, how the hell do you reinforce your dog if he does stop barking, “good, no bark”?
I always ask people, "Are you in the mindset of building behavior or are you trying to stop behavior"? Consider how drastically this shift could change your relationship with your dog. When your dog performs something undesirable it’s ok if say “hey, NO, knock it off”, whatever your natural reaction is, then ask, "what do I want instead"? So if your dog jumps up to look for food on the table and your yell, “NO!”, then pause and think of something you would like, try “go to your bed”, point to the bed, help him target it, when your dog gets settled on his bed, “good dog, thank you”. Toss him a treat! Teach your dog to beg for that food but from 10 feet away laying quietly on his bed. Same behavior, same outcome (getting the food) but a much more desirable behavior and a stronger relationship based on clear communication.
Rewarding behavior gets repeated and repetition is the language of behavior. So, consider something that feels like a difficult task to train, like “not pulling the leash”. Let’s teach your dog “heel” or “walk with me” or “right here”. First, teach your dog what this concept means. The same way you taught your do to sit (most likely luring him with food until his head moved upward and his butt fell to the ground, then repeated enough times for him to build the association to the cue “sit”). Walk back and forth in front of your house using his breakfast as rewards, hand feeding him for following you around, maybe he's only earning food when he finds himself on your left side. YOU DON’T NEED TO GO FOR A ONE HOUR WALK! If you don’t like the you’re your dog walks on leash, stop walking your dog. If you let your dog pull you down the street every day you are training him to pull on walks, every single day. Instead, could you exercise your dog with play in the backyard or drive to the park and give some free time and just use leash walking as a training exercise. I always say, “8 is GREAT”! If you could train your dog for 8 focused minutes (preferably twice a day, morning and evening), you will have a dog who can walk on leash much faster than if you wait to train one day a week in an hour long dog obedience class. Before you know it your are walking around the block, then the neighborhood, then one day... the world (or slightly further in your own community).
Short frequent sessions can actually help you make progress with your training and as a bonus this can have huge benefits on your own physical and mental health. You will find this concept of consciously working on building a behavior rather than trying to stop a behavior will change the relationship with your dog. You may enjoy your dog more and appreciate your time together even more. If you are trying to make any major changes in your own life and you want to focus on your own well-being your dog can help. Now that you are ready to walk your dog after these short frequent sessions are starting to pay off your frequency of how often you are willing to just go for a walk may increase, ditch the phone and really connect. Activities that make you work at twice your resting rate is proven to give you health benefits. Little movements like training or playing with your dog could help you with your health goals. These movements all add up. This sounds great but how do you make this a habit which you are willing and able to do as a long term practice?
Time is one of the biggest barriers so training your dog cannot be “one more thing you have to do”. Many people fail to build a routine because they feel like if they don’t have the time and energy to do it daily, consider the activities you engage in with your dog on a daily basis. Feeding, walking, petting, and play. Could you be focused on making these interactions training opportunities. When you go to feed your dog hold the bowl up high. Ask your dog to sit and wait, if he comes forward for the bowl, pick it up. If he waits, then build in a release cue like “OK”, over time you dog will become patient and learn this impulse control based on the context cues of the food bowl. This activity is a functional reinforcing behavior. If he waits patiently, he gets to eat faster. Simple.
Motivation is a huge key when you set a training goal. If your priority is to stop an unwanted behavior, or not to feel embarrassed in public you may fail to keep building and improving your routine. But if you can make improving your relationship and communication as your motivation. If you are getting something out of the immediate interaction, you see and feel the mutually beneficial advantage to training your dog. These small changes can be a sea change in behavior, clear communication and can make training goals much more accessible in a shorter period of time. It’s important to understand when interacting with your dog, everything counts.