We all live busy lives. Even when things are not busy, we want to enjoy that and not fill our days with things-to-do. I fall into this line of thinking as well: when I am busy, I do not feel like I have time to do all of the things on my list, and then when I do have the time, I use it to relax or to do something that is not on the list at all! If I’m putting off folding laundry, that’s harmless enough, but postponing training can actually set me back a few steps. So, if I’m feeling like I don’t have time to train, I remember that I really do, if I make it fun and worth doing.
Make It Work While You Make It Fun.
My clients often have trouble finding the time to train and sometimes ask: “How do you keep up with training?” This is how I do it.
- I keep it fun. A training session has to be something I look forward to doing. I have to change my mindset going in: it is not a chore; it is an opportunity to teach my dog something new or to help her get better at something she already knows! Will she have improved since yesterday? Can I move on to the next step? The excitement of discovering these answers motivates me to train.
- I keep it short. When I work with a client in their home, I am there for an hour, but I do not expect the client to train for an hour every day. In my own home, I set training to just 2-5 minutes a session. I can do that a few times a day if I like, but even once a day is better than nothing. Both my dog and I perform better if the sessions are short and sweet.
- I limit a session to 10 treats. This helps me keep a session short if my dog is learning something new. Sometimes, I want to push a session and try for “one more.” Limiting myself to 10 treats ensures that I do not put too much pressure on my pup, and that I stop after treat #9. The tenth treat is for free when I say “All Done!”
- I have a training session while I’ve got something in the microwave. Warming up a piece of pizza? While it’s in the microwave, I grab some treats and do a quick session with my pup. When the microwave beeps, I tell my dog, “All Done!” and toss a free treat. Bam! That’s a session!
- I give myself a break. If I am feeling frustrated, so is my dog. Or vice-versa. I give myself permission to stop a session if it is not going the way I intended. Maybe I started by training a Down, but now my dog keeps rolling over and I am annoyed. So, I toss my pup a freebie treat and take a break. Not all training sessions go perfectly. In fact, perfection is not even my goal. I just want to be able to teach my dog something clearly. And if I am irritated or my dog is confused, the teaching and the learning are both ambiguous. So, I take a break, think it over, and come back with a better idea of how to progress. My dog wants to learn; she will be waiting with open mouth.
- I change it up. Sometimes I am training something that is necessary, but not as fun, like brushing teeth or filing nails. When doing so, I am teaching my dog that staying still during these grooming procedures means yummy treats for her. It’s helpful and important for her to learn this. But this is not as fun as asking her to weave through my legs or put her toys in her basket. Those things are also more engaging for her; she gets to do stuff, rather than just be calm while I am holding her paws or face. So, some days we work on grooming, and some days we work on the fun stuff. I say this with the caveat that if you are teaching your dog something new, you want to stick with that for several sessions at least, so that she has an opportunity to repeat the behavior and understand what you want. But if you are just wanting to keep well-known behaviors strong, then you can typically spend one session doing one thing and another session doing another. Keep it interesting for both you and your dog.
- I see what my dog needs. My goal is to work with my dog once a day. Sometimes, I do more. Other times, I skip a day altogether. My dog rests most of the day and is most active in the late afternoon and evening. If she were more active during the morning and early afternoon, I might work with her 2-3 times a day, but since she is comfortable sleeping and resting during the day, I practice with her in the evening and that seems to work for both of us.
- I do what I can. Sometimes I am not in the mental state to have a practice session with my doggie. I’ve had a long day or I am stressed by world events. So, I do what I can. I play tug. Maybe I throw a ball. I run with her while she does zoomies around the yard, or I spray her with a hose while she does zoomies around the yard. Or I hide treats in the yard and let her find them. These are all fun interactive games to play that require little effort and concentration on my part. If I do not feel like I have the focus for a training session, I engage with my dog in some way that strengthens our connection and improves our ability to work during the next session. Yay!
I understand when my clients say they don’t have time to train. I show them that there are ways to make it work and, hopefully, they realize that training is possible. Once they try it and see how well their dog responds, they get excited and really want to train more. Finding time for all the things in our lives is a struggle sometimes, but finding time for our dogs is always worth it.
Lynn Webb, Owner of The Proficient Pup Dog Training & Massage