This morning as I was getting ready for work, I praised my dog, Sylvie, every time she gave me eye contact. During breakfast, I ignored Sylvie when she tried to get my attention by pawing my leg, but when she laid down on her mat, I tossed her doggy treats as she remained on her mat.
While getting ready to take Sylvie for a walk, I asked her to sit before I attached the leash. And on our walk, I called Sylvie to come at random times, giving her a treat if she came as soon as I asked. As I left for work, Sylvie settled down for a long nap after all the “training” sessions we did this morning!
Do you wish you could train your dog, but feel like you don’t have time to spare? Every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity. Take a look at the ideas presented below. These are not shortcuts, but real training based on sound principles of animal learning. It takes little or no extra time out of your schedule to incorporate these suggestions.
1. Ignore undesirable attention-seeking behaviors
Bella, a German Shorthaired Pointer, has a habit of jumping up on her family when they return home. Paco, a Chihuahua mix, barks at his person when he wants a treat. Then there’s cute little Dolly, a Cocker Spaniel, who whines and paws at her family for food when they sit down to eat.
These dogs usually get rewarded with attention, good or bad, for these behaviors. Ignoring the dog takes away the reward of the behavior. If everyone in the household is consistent by ignoring the uninvited behavior, the dog will eventually stop because there is no payoff. But if you try this, expect the behavior to get worse for a short while as the dog tries even harder to get your attention. And don’t forget to give your dog attention at many other times, as he needs it!
2. Reward your dog for giving you attention
Lulu is a terrier mix who pays attention to everything except Michelle, her person. Michelle complains that Lulu never listens to her, even though she talks to Lulu constantly and tries to force Lulu to look at her.
My advice to Michelle is to stop trying to force attention from Lulu. In this case, the constant chatter is just babble to Lulu. When Michelle became silent for a while, Lulu eventually looked up to locate Michelle, at first just for a second. Michelle immediately rewarded Lulu with a piece of hot dog! Now Lulu has learned that it pays to attend to Michelle regularly!
3. Catch your dog in the act of doing something you like!
Your dog already has behaviors. Through training, we show our dogs what behaviors get rewarded, and dogs are more likely to repeat behavior that is rewarded!
I wanted to teach my dog Sarge to play bow on cue. First I had to get the behavior to happen. I noticed that Sarge would bow on his own each time he got out of bed. So I stashed some treats in several convenient (but out-of-reach to the dog) places around the house. When I saw Sarge do his play bow just to stretch, I marked the behavior by saying “Yes” and gave him a treat.
I repeated that for a few days, and Sarge started to offer more play bows, as he made the connection between that behavior and a yummy treat.
4. Train during TV commercials
You don’t have to set aside 30 minutes for a training session. Dogs actually learn best in short sessions, from one to 10 minutes. (Using their brain is hard work!) Just have your treats ready, and see how many behaviors you can reward your dog for during the commercial break!
5. Get your dog to say “please” for things he wants
Once your dog can do a few behaviors on cue, such as “sit” and “down,” train him to ask for the things he wants. If he wants to go for a walk, ask him to sit to attach his leash. At feeding time, ask your dog to sit before giving him his bowl. When your dog wants to go outside in the yard, ask him to sit before you open the door.
This teaches the dog how to earn what he wants, and helps to maintain those behaviors he’s learned with regular practice.
Every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity. So with a little planning, you can start to train your dog in no time!
Ann Allums, CPDT-KSA, works as the Special Programs Coordinator for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Her experience as a certified dog trainer includes six years as dog trainer for DogTown at Best Friends Animal Society, where she was also part of the DogTown series on National Geographic.