TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - We adopted our dog Jasper when he was about 6-months-old. Like good puppy parents, we went to a training class right away. Jasper did well in class, but now that he is 18-months-old he has totally stopped listening. Every week we promise ourselves to be better about training him, but the days fly by and we never do it. How do you motivate your students to keep working with their dogs?
For most of us, it is hard to find time for one more thing in our already over-scheduled days. Training the dog takes a backseat because is seems optional until your dog develops some horrible behavior that is really hard to correct.
Dogs thrive on structure and predictability. The "Nothing in Life is Free" method makes your dog work for every reward they receive. Rewards can be food, attention, playtime or anything your dog enjoys. If I make my dog "wait" before going out the door, I don't have to give her a treat when I release her with an "OK." Getting to go out is the reward. By integrating training into every single interaction, you will naturally train them without any extra effort.
Training sessions are most effective when they are short, fun and your dog is motivated to work. For most dogs, hunger equals motivation! Measure out half of your dog's daily ration of kibble and put it in a baggie. Use this as training "treats" throughout the day. I love this method because it keeps me honest! If I don't train, my dog doesn't eat.
Here are examples of how training can easily be integrated into your day:
1. Wake up and go out to potty: "Wait" by the door to go out. "Good dog" when they go.
2. Breakfast time: Practice some cues before eating: Sit, down, watch me, shake.
3. Time to eat: "Wait" for the food bowl to be put on the floor and "OK" as a release to eat.
4. Morning walk: "Wait" to go through the door. Have your dog "stay" before leaving the driveway and then practice "heel" if walking on leash. If walking off leash, periodically call your dog back to you and then release with "go play."
5. During your walk, stop periodically and give your dog a cue: Sit, down, etc.
6. Time to get in the car: "Load up," "wait" and "unload" can be part of this common routine.
7. Playtime can also be learning time. Have your dog "wait," throw the ball and then release him to "get it, bring it, and drop it".
My dog loves to clean the dishes after I load the dishwasher. I have her "stay" on her bed and then release her to "clean up." This kind of schedule creates structure, predictability and allows you to train as you move through the day. You will be amazed how quickly your dog learns to follow the rules and you can stop feeling guilty for letting yet another day go by without training.
- Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org