Get yourself a dog training habit


There’s little doubt that most of us could do more of it – dog training that is!

Trying to juggle training your dog with the rest of daily life can be quite a task, especially in a busy household where there are literally hundreds of other factors competing for your attention. Bearing in mind that even fellow professionals complain to me that they don’t have enough time to train their own dogs, it’s little wonder that practising a sit stay is often way down the list of priorities for the average owner.

So, with the practicalities of daily routines firmly in mind, how can we ensure that we do give our dogs the share of our time and energies that they need?

Break it down

When we train dogs, we always recommend that the task is broken down into tiny stages – each one with an end goal of its own. Over time, these mini-goals add up and take you from your starting position to your end result.

Of course, we need to do exactly the same for ourselves. Breaking your ‘homework’ down into tiny stages, and recognising when you have achieved a good result for each stage is far more encouraging and motivating than attempting to tackle the whole task in one go.

Put it ‘on cue’

Many of you know about putting dog behaviour ‘on cue’*, but how about human behaviour? If you get to the end of the day or the week and suddenly remember that you were meant to train the dog, a good strategy is to build it into a routine that prompts you to do it automatically. For example, if you get into the habit of always doing three minutes of training before you get your dog’s dinner ready, it will soon become such an ingrained pattern that you will do it on autopilot – just like brushing your teeth or locking the back door. In addition to this, by the end of one year, you will have accomplished a massive 18 hours of training with your dog that you wouldn’t have done otherwise!

Mini routines like this can be built in to any aspect of your existing daily routine with your dog that you like. The first two minutes before you let your dog off lead on a walk, the two minutes before he gets his bedtime biscuit, and so on. Of course, how successful this is will also depend on one other factor: having all the bits of equipment that you need close to hand.

*if you’re not familiar with the term ‘on cue’, it means to associate a behaviour with a signal – for example, ‘Sit’ or raising your hand for a stay. 

Avoid ‘prep fatigue’

How many of us own gym equipment that gathers dust in the attic? How many of us have a bike that sits in a shed or garage and is rarely used? Often the fact that you have to go and get the key, walk out there, unlock the door, get the bike out from under the other clutter and clean it, all before you can think about going for a ride in the countryside is enough to put us off and take the car instead!

In order to avoid ‘preparation fatigue’ before you begin training, it works best to have all the bits you need ready to hand. In my case it is the clicker – which I still like to use when introducing a new trick or command, food treats and a toy. Because these things are relatively small, I have small ‘stations’ of them in strategic places in the house: by the kettle, next to the sofa, in my coat pocket for when I’m out on walks. This means that whenever the fancy takes me to do a quick bit of training, I’m already armed and ready.

If you still need to find ways to motivate yourself to actually put those good intentions into practice, joining a class where the instructor supervises your active training can really help. This is primarily because a schedule of a once a week class with practise in between can prompt you to remember, if only out of a sense of shame, if you haven’t been a good student! Finally, for those who need the extra push – sign up a friend to teaching their dog a trick, a specific exercise or joining a class or the online course at the same time as you. A small amount of healthy competition can work wonders!

Sarah Whitehead –

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