When people see dog trainers with amazingly well-behaved dogs - there's a misconception that we spend hours and hours a day training them. We don’t. What we do, however, is spend a couple of minutes training them, often, and we make training so easy for them that they can’t get it wrong. We also put a decent amount of thought into managing their environment to prevent them from learning or practising the annoying stuff, because we're lazy, and we know that that's easier than trying to change an undesirable habit later.
Training a new behaviour is not about putting aside 2 hours and drilling something start to finish until it's perfect, it's unlikely anyone could commit to that regularly, and even if you could - that’s not how dogs learn best. They learn best doing many many many tiny little sessions. Mastering teeny tiny little segments of the desired behaviour at a time.
The makings of fancy complex behaviours aren’t fancy or complex at all - they’re simple, easy, achievable, incremental steps that just require consistency.
Our dogs usually have a few training projects on the go. They might be husbandry behaviours, general obedience, annoying habits we're trying to dilute, or getting them used to something they don’t like.
Regardless of what they’re learning, I break down the end goal behaviour into micro-steps (known as slicing) and work on each step at a time in VERY short, perhaps 10-15rep sessions. These training sessions only take a couple of minutes, literally, usually once a day (twice if I'm lucky!). If I have 4 personal dogs, that means I typically spend a whopping 8-12minutes a day training them. That's it. Making it happen seems to be the hard bit. Where to put it in your day. How to make sure you fit it in. Try to sandwich it either inside of or in between other ingrained habits. Here's a little list of ways to make new habits stick from one of my favourite books 'Atomic Habits' by James Clear:
Make it visible (so you don't forget)
Make it attractive (so you'll want to do it)
Make it easy (so it's not daunting)
Make it satisfying (reinforce yourself!)
Perhaps you could keep a jar of kibble next to the kettle so while you're waiting for it to boil you can practice some position changes. Or maybe you cut your dog's walk down by 10 minutes so you have 5 minutes and the start, and another 5 at the end to practice stuff. You could hand feed them half their dinner and use their dinner time as the cue for you to train.
Or maybe you make it a rule that you can't have your evening beer until you've trained your dog - whatever works! But realise that it doesn't need to be daunting or overwhelming. Doing SOMETHING is always always better than doing nothing. And we don't want it to be a huge task, because your dog will learn better if it's a tiny one. Win win!
Steps to success:
1. Pick a training project. Perhaps it's nail clipping, ear cleaning, a trick, loose leash walking, or staying on their bed.
2. Break down the behaviour into as many steps as you can in your mind, and start at a step where you KNOW your dog can succeed. (Like... lie down on a mat with the clippers just on the ground nearby. It's not the goal behaviour, but it's a step in the right direction!)
3. Find 3 minutes
4. Count out 10x treats (so you don’t get greedy and push them like they’re cramming for an exam, it won’t help)
5. Do 10x training reps where your dog is succeeding
6. Marvel at how easy that was and how happy your dog looks
7. Do it again tomorrow
Like everything in life, good things take time and there is always more to learn. Just because you don’t have hours of free time in your day (who does???), doesn’t mean you and your dog need to miss out or that you'll never be able to reach your training goals.
Investing 3 minutes a day to clarify your world to your dog is absolutely invaluable to both ends of the leash. Even if your dog is perfect (though I haven’t met one of those yet), training is an amazing form of enrichment that will build their confidence, strengthen your relationship and obviously improve their behaviour.
So get off your phone (but thanks for reading!) and go spend 3minutes brightening your dog's day 😀