Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, May/June, 2008.
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Everyone wants her dog to be well trained. If that weren't the case, I wouldn't have had a thriving training practice of over 100 dogs a week for the past 22 years. So if everyone wants a well-trained dog, why doesn't everyone have one? The number-one excuse I hear on a daily basis is "I don't have the time," which is decidedly not true for 99 percent of the people who attend my classes. (To the other 1 percent, I say, "What were you thinking when you got a dog?")
As a working mother of two children ages 9 and 15, and the owner of three dogs-two Border Collies and a Parson Russell Terrier-I understand your dilemma. But you can have a well-trained dog. The solution to the time-crunch issue is to find the little pockets of time that you don't even realize you have. Trust me, you have them: Like the change that falls into the cracks of your sofa, it's there-you just can't see it yet. Then once you find it, you have to maximize that time with a smart, multi-cammand training routine.
The good news is that you actually have more time than you may think. I have some simple suggestions for retooling your schedule a bit to carve out 15 minutes a day for teaching your dog some basic commands. Yes, just 15 minutes will do it, though to be clear, I'm speaking of teaching formal commands as opposed to the socialization aspect of dog ownership. That is a separate and distinct subject, which I'm not addressing here.
And now a word from our trainer
TV commercials are great time to train your dog, as long as you're prepared for them. I have one student who sets up a little training station on a tray table next to the chair where she sits to watch her favorite reality shows on TV. On the tray she puts some food rewards, a wooden dowel she uses for teaching the trade command, a martingale collar in case she needs more control than with the buckle collar her dog usually wears ... and the TV remote control.
Her training routine goes like this: The puppy is pottied before the show begins, and she leaves his leash on him as she sits down to watch her program. (Sitting with her foot on the leash prevents the pup from wandering off.) Then, when her show breaks for a commercial, she gets up and does a bit of training until the program returns.
For the times (and there are many) when training doesn't go quite the way she'd hoped meaning the puppy needs a bit more practice than the commercial break allows-his owner hits the pause button on her TiVo and continues until the mini-session is complete. She doesn't train this way every night, but she does maximize her training opportunities by making use of time when she normally would just be vegging out. Her puppy is being trained, and she's still able to discuss the merits of whoever has been voted off the show/island/runway that night.
While you were out
Taking your dog outside to go to the bathroom is a fact of life, so why not make it a dual-purpose mission? (Those of you who are paper-training your dogs may consider skipping this section, but don't.! Instead of taking your dog out to go to the bathroom" think taking your dog out for a walk," and read on.) Outside time is prime time lot training your dog. The obvious exercise is heeling, but you can also work on sit and stay (while you're picking up alter him) and the come command. Watch me is a great command to use when your dog gets focused on something you'd rather he ignore, and leave it solves a multitude of sins, from not picking up chicken bones from the sidewalk to cutting short a sniffing session with a new dog who seems uncomfortable.
Cooking up a training session
Whether you're throwing some hot dogs. on the grill, cooking a five-course gourmet feast, or warming up leftovers in the microwave, you can absolutely train your dog while preparing a meal! You can have him do a down-stay while you gather ingredients from the refrigerator, or you can send him to his place while you're chopping parsley-all those little practice exercises add up to a well-trained dog. As a bonus, your dog is learning that the kitchen is not a place to race around, looking to snag a bite to eat, but rather a place where good mariners are rewarded. Just like with the kids, right? (But that's a whole other training column.)
Double Up: How to train a combo
If your dog already has been introduced to a few commands that he still needs to master, that's when combos come into the picture. Basically, if you have just 10 minutes for training, instead of spending the time on one command, spend it on four or five that are linked together. Here are some examples of combos.
- Dog on leash, next to you. Give the commands sit then wait. Throw a toy, and command get it. When the dog has the toy, tell him to come, sit, and give.
- Dog on leash, next to you. Give the heel command and begin walking. Command down, stay and keep walking (without
the dog). Stop, turn, and command sit then come.
Or my favorite:
- Dog is just hanging out inside. Command sit, then say collar (the word I use as I reach for and grab his collar) and leash (the word I use as I attach his leash). Command heel and walk to the door. Command down and wait as you open the door and walk outside (into a fenced yard, presumably). Then give the come command.
Combos can he done at the level your dog is currently trained to, working toward making the sequences more advanced. You can think tip new ones and group them into a routine that accomplishes a goal, like getting to the car calmly or greeting someone at the front door. Of course, there are times when you have to focus on one command per session,but working combos is a way to get some training done when you thought you didn't have time to do it. And since I've helped you find the time you didn't even know you had, your goal of having a well-trained dog is only a TV commercial/walk/dinner away!
Kathy Santo trains dogs for home and competition at her obedience school in New Jersey. She's the author of Kathy Santo's Dog Sense and a regular guest on The Martha Stewart Show.