When There’s No Time to Train, You’re Still Training
One demanding aspect of dog training, even when you have all the needed tools and knowledge, is to stay motivated. Most of training applies to life, especially the part where no matter what, it goes on. There will never be a time when you can say, “There, that behavior is finished.” Well, ok there is, but let’s not go there. My point is that one of the most noble aspects of life is to strive to get better-any token gesture is at least a respectful nod to the universe that you are trying. The universe likes that, or so these emanations streaming from somewhere between my chair and keyboard are asking me to share. Seriously, when I can’t get that forty mile bike ride to fit into my schedule I do a couple hundred pushups along with squats to the ground and exploding straight up with a high jump around my computer work. Not fun, but it hurts enough to make me think I got some exercise in. I also try to keep working because when I get blocked, boom-push ups! I don’t advocate using negative reinforcement for the dogs, but I can handle it myself. (Serious Digression: Except that I recently learned about an exercise called the Burpee-ten of those and I am panting for several minutes.)
How this relates to dog training is that sometimes, heck most of the time, there just isn’t, well, time to get a formal training session in. That’s ok! Studies actually show that short sessions are far better for dogs! My training philosophy totally utilizes this idea and when I am really rocking my proper training plan, a formal session should only last for three minutes anyway. Don’t have three minutes? One will do! Don’t have a single minute? That’s ok, too! Practice those sits. Your dog just wants attention, and he’s going to wind up getting it no matter what. People will complain about their dog-annnnd there is time spent on the dog. It’s also time spent having a negative thought. And nobody is happy about that time-except those jerks you need to weed out of your life. (Digression: Get rid of them through the training technique of extinction! So many problems in life are addressed through training, such a valuable life skill.)
Often I am confronted with a dog that is constantly told to stay out of the kitchen. The dog is being told what not to do, but there are then myriad other ways he can get into trouble. Proper training always asks us to find something to ask the dog to do rather than telling him what not to do. That is why sit and down are such valuable tools. Sit and down are incompatible with pretty much every problem behavior. If your dog is in the kitchen, or doing anything you don’t want tell him to sit.
In competitive bicycling, there’s a saying, “It never gets easier, you just get faster.” A little secret here-if you’ve built your dog’s stays up over time, anything you do in real life will be distraction training. You’ll want to work on all those triggers that get your dog to move out of place. A dog starts proper training of stay with the trainer simply standing up and then bending back down immediately, before the dog has a chance to break his “stay”. I laugh a little at my writing this as I am often forced to stay bent over and just keep popping bits of food into the dog’s mouth so that he stays. The point is to have the dog not get up, and to ultimately get the idea that as long as he’s sitting he’ll get food (which you eventually transfer to praise and simple respect of rules to make you happy). Get up, no food. Another trigger, take a quick step back and then right back to treat the dog. You’ll go on in this fashion, taking two, three steps back, to the side, etc. Get to the point where you can actually walk around the dog and you’ve really managed to get a good stay. Then you unlock the ability to experience the joy of discovering that walking around in the opposite direction is a TOTALLY different trick that has to be built up slowly. The good news is that with every one of these triggers you repress, the next one gets a little easier. Well, let’s not say it gets easier since you’ll be presenting harder distractions for the dog to fight through.
For the kitchen example, if you’ve built up your stays over time, you’ll be able to build up a stay to last for several minutes. No way anybody is going to sit still and just watch the dog for three whole minutes! Three minutes? Who has that kind of time? If I see a three minute YouTube video, I’m bored before I even start it! No, ask for that sit/stay while you are preparing dinner. Be sure to be sensitive to how long you can ask for this. I want to emphasize that you only need to do a minute to three minutes of training at a time for a really formal session, just one stay to get the door open to let the dog out (pretty advanced-work on that one!) is an incredibly useful exercise you have an opportunity to do several times a day. It takes a lot of effort at first, but over time this exercise will allow you to open the door for guests and have your dog sit attentively to wait to be released. No more rushing out the door in chaos either.
Another important note: You can’t train a behavior while you need it. So what this means is that you should not ask for those first sit/stays while you’re in the kitchen fixing dinner or opening the door for guests-set your dog up for success. Unless you want a good laugh at your expense. There’s no way they’ll be able to sit still through all of those enticing aromas. Best to have some practice sessions right where your dog should sit while you’re working in the kitchen.
Even with a known behavior, any change in environment requires re-training. Nearly every show I do with my dogs sees a dog being distracted at something in our surroundings and I have to go through some training steps to get the extremely well-known trick accomplished. Find that spot you want your dog while you’re working in the kitchen and start with taking a step back, two steps, etc. Eventually you can start rattling pots and pans around. If you feed your dog from the kitchen, this is a great exercise to practice while you get his food bowl ready. A steady stream of treats is called for-your goal is to have your dog never break that stay while you slowly build up the distractions. And remember, you aren’t keeping your dog out of the kitchen, you are asking him for what will become a well-known behavior, the sit.
I’d like to emphasize that your dog is going to get a certain amount of attention from you. If you wait for problems to arise it’ll be negative, but with a solid foundation of stays built up you can have a dog happily respond to you even when there is chaos all around. You’ll also have built a valuable response that could ultimately save his life if he’s about to run into traffic-an automatic response to “Sit” will stop him short.