One of the biggest training challenges many people have is finding time in their busy day to get some training done. The feeling of not being able to make time often comes from how we trained in the past. Have you been directed to set aside a specific time to work with your dog? Maybe 30 minutes after dinner each day? That’s quite common in traditional training.
With already busy days and unexpected challenges popping up, it can be difficult to make this happen. So I want to take the pressure off with five ways that you can train without having to find a bunch of time in your daily life. Are you ready? Let’s go!
You DO NOT have to set aside a chunk of time for training
There may be times when you are super keen to work on a new skill or trick and are excited to dedicate chunks of time to it. Or you are doing a session with a trainer or taking a class, so you will need to train for 30-60 minutes. But you know what? Training is generally more productive when sessions are kept short. Studies back this up. This is great news for those of us wondering how to squeeze another half hour into already packed days. So rather than scheduling blocks of time for regular training, you will be as productive by keeping training times short. – under 5 minutes. Whew! That feels more manageable, doesn’t it?
The thought of training can feel overwhelming because of how we perceive our goals
Let’s face it. Most of us are goal-oriented and think the fastest way to get where we want to go is to dive all in. Unfortunately, a goal can seem so far from where we are now that we feel daunted and don’t even know where to start. The good news is that successful training is a process that involves tiny steps. Small steps make training more manageable and allow the dog to move forward smoothly and with fewer slowdowns. Creating small actionable steps with straightforward and specific success checkpoints will provide the clarity both you and your dog need. It will help you take that first step, motivate you to keep up the training and keep you on track. Unrealistic goals slow or prevent progress and are frustrating for you and your dog.
What are you teaching or helping your dog with now? Sit down and split the training into small steps, each with a micro-goal that will get you to your end goal. Make the steps small enough that each goal is clear and straightforward and make the success checkpoint easy to achieve.
Since people tend to be clumpers, learning to split training into small steps can be challenging initially. What may feel like a small step can often be divided into 2, 3, or even four more steps. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to do and is a lot of fun. If you need a hand getting started, let me know. I’d love to help you with your training plan.
OK. We’re ready to talk about how to incorporate training into your daily routine.
Your dog is always learning
Thinking of training primarily as an isolated activity can be counter-productive. Whether we want to admit it, our dogs are always learning. Gaining information from patterns repeated in daily life, from the outcomes and consequences of choices they make, and from our reactions to things. We may not always be aware, but they are watching. And taking notes. This may seem a bit scary. But it is actually an incredible opportunity. You can take advantage of the time you have to spend on daily activities and turn them into learning opportunities. Here are just a few possibilities:
- Feeding your dog
- Letting your dog out into the yard
- Cuddling your dog
- Walking your dog
- Playing games with your dog
- Going for potty breaks
- Putting your dog’s leash on and off
Any of these can be a chance to build self-control, teach duration of a behaviour or practice a skill.
I suggest picking one daily activity to start with. Then, you can gradually include more as you feel comfortable.
Maximizing your training time by fitting it into activities already part of your daily life is a game-changer!
Save Time By Pre-Prepping Training Treats
Does this look like your fridge?
Organizing meals and snacks in bulk is a great time-saver. You can do the same with your training treats. Prepare treats of different values to last a few days or even the week, depending on whether the treats are fresh or dried. Break them into tiny pieces so they are ready to use. This way you can grab a handful and be ready to go with no wasted time. This will not only save time each day but also speed up your actual training sessions.
Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect
I might catch some flack for this one, but here goes. There are many skills that we learn through repetition. How does the saying go? “Ten-thousand times to perfection”? In general, practice does lead to proficiency, for sure. But repetition alone does not guarantee success when training our dogs. Creating a reliable skill also involves great reinforcement. That means you can often reach the same goal with better reinforcement rather than repeat, repeat, repeat.
Let me give you a specific example. When a client is working on a recall, I often suggest they practice it once and then stop. You read that right. One repetition, and that’s it. Only one, but with a huge payout. I mean, blow the dog’s mind with the result. What do you think will leave a bigger impression? Repeating the recall ten times, getting one or two treats each time. Or one repetition and getting a huge reinforcement. I don’t know about you, but sign me up for option two! So even though you are spending less time on it, the outcome can be better because the perceived reinforcement value is higher for the dog.
One more point on this topic. Latency is another way to power up your training without spending extra time. Rather than working on a skill over and over, give your dog time to process what they have learned. Studies indicate that a student can come back after a break from training and perform the step as well as those that practiced it multiple times over that period.
I hope you see that training doesn’t need to be daunting. Thinking of training in a different way will allow you to incorporate it into regular activities, make it part of the fun you have with your dog and keep the process straightforward and manageable.