One of the first questions I tend to get from potential clients is “how long is it going to take to train my dog?” The answer is, it depends on your goals but you can get a better-behaved dog with a daily commitment of simply watching your favorite half-hour TV show. Not too bad right? That’s because training should never take very long! We think we need big blocks of time to practice training with our dogs but in reality our dogs learn best in very short training sessions. Here’s what I mean:
The average television show is 30 minutes long with 3-4 commercial breaks around 2 minutes each. That gives around 8 minutes of training time while you watch your favorite show.
8 minutes??? But that doesn’t sound like enough time! Well it can be, if you are CONSISTANT. Consistency is the name of the game in dog training. You are much better off training 4 times a day for 2 minutes at a time than training for an hour once a week. Your dog will learn more, be excited to train with you, and your lessons will be reinforced daily. The idea of these short sessions is to leave your dog wanting more of the game you are playing together. If you end a training session while your disinterested dog is ambling away, he isn’t going to think it is very fun to train with you. But if he ONLY gets to train with you for 2 minutes before you take a break, he is going to be excited when he gets to train with you because he was having fun when it ended last time!
Additionally, television training puts a built-in restriction on your training. Humans can fall into the trap of “that one was good, but let’s get one more good one before we quit.” Instead, you end up suffering from diminishing returns where each successive attempt gets sloppier than the last. Eventually you end the session on a less successful attempt because you trained that one task for too long. Television training forces you to stop once your show comes back on (I know I’m not missing any Big Bang Theory Bazinga moments), creating a built in system for limiting your attempts.
But Laura, I don’t watch TV! Okay fine, I don’t watch much either anymore (except Big Bang Theory, seriously, that show is great) but I love my podcasts. I suggest downloading an episode of “Stuff you Missed in History Class” and use this same technique. This also gives you the added benefit of allowing you to take your daily walk while you train. Go out for your walk and every time there is a commercial break in the podcast, stop and work on a skill. Those skills can be eye-contact, sits, downs, stays, surprise recalls, leave-its, whatever you are working on that day. Plus, you get the added bonus of having the distraction of the natural world built in. So no excuses if you don’t watch TV!
Takeaways: Whenever you set out to train your dog, whether it be a puppy or an adult dog, make sure your sessions are short and fun! Pick one or two skills to work on for a short session and then leave them wanting more! Consistency is the key, so train every day for just a few minutes at a time and you will be well on your way to a better-behaved dog!