January is the Association of Pet Dog Trainers‘ (APDT) National Train Your Dog Month. Falling smack-dab in the midst of our New Year’s Resolutions, Train Your Dog Month is a month dedicated to making dog training a part of our everyday lives. People are busy, and, if you’re like me, your greatest wish may be for “more hours in the day”. So, as the month continues, here are some tips to help us all continue to work dog training into our lives each day.
- Set small goals. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the goals we set for our dogs’ behavior. Start small. Think about something you know your dog can handle, and focus on a behavior that’s just slightly harder. If your dog is good at going to her bed, see if you can get her to go to her bed when you’re a little further away from her. If that’s easy, see if you can get her to do it while you make a knocking sound on the countertop. Increasing the difficulty of behaviors slowly is key to conquering the full behavior.
- Five minutes matter. For the rest of the month, make a promise to yourself (and your pooches) to work with them each, individually, for just five minutes. You’ll be amazed at the things your dog can learn in just one five-minute session per day.
Even challenging behaviors can be worked in five minute increments, and this helps to avoid burnout and boredom.
- Make it easy on yourself. Think of a time of day when dog training would be really convenient, and there’s a clear trigger that will remind you to do it. It might be when you’re taking off your shoes after coming in the house from work (your dogs are excited to see you, and that’s a great way to burn off that energy right away). It might be during a commercial during your favorite TV show. Maybe it’s right after (or before?) you check your Facebook account. Whatever it is, follow that cue you’ve set, and train your dog for five minutes each time it happens.
- Record your progress. Whether you record your training with your cell phone as it happens, keep a notebook of one-liners about what happened each session, or a scroll on the fridge, keeping even very short records helps you to remember where you started and see how far you’ve come. This is very important because it reinforces your training efforts and encourages you to continue.
- Keep it positive. Both in and out of training sessions, look for opportunities to reward your dog for the things he does that you like. If you don’t like something he does, think of another behavior you’d prefer he do instead, and focus your training time on that alternate behavior. It’s much easier to teach your dog the thing you do like than all the things you don’t like.
When you train your dog, you strengthen your relationship with your dog. A strong relationship that’s built on trust and encouragement is crucial to any training plan. Working a few minutes of positive training into your regular routine provides you with a natural opportunity to change the behaviors you don’t like, build on those you do, and grow your appreciation for your dog – every day. What new trick would you like to teach your dog this month?