Monday, March 6, 2017

Making Time for Positive Training

March is always a busy month for me. Midterm grades for my students are due at the beginning of the month, so there are always 5 classes of papers to grade, panicked emails to answer, and numbers to crunch. Then at the end of the month, I have 300+ middle schoolers coming to campus for an English festival that requires hours of preparation before hand. On top of all of that, we LOSE an hour! Finding time for training can be difficult--and with my patience already stretched thin, keeping that training positive can be even more difficult. This month our Positive Pet Training Blog Hop theme is time management for training.


Over the years, we've learned some techniques for fitting training into our schedule that keeps me from getting too stressed and taking the fun and positivity out of the training for the pups.

Reinforce Old Behaviors on Walks
Long-time readers of the blog know that Barley and I have always used our adventures as opportunities to practice the things we're working on in class: I send her to stumps using the command we use for tables in agility, she walks on logs using the command for the teeter, she practices stay while I take a thousand different photos of the same pose. 


Rye is starting to get similar walks now that she's gotten more solid stays in areas with fewer distractions. Walks are such an easy way to work in a little training on non-walk-related behaviors because walks are already built into our regular schedules.

Smiling prettily might be a skill that can't be taught.

We can work in a lot of training if we have time for a long walk, like the 2-hour adventure in the woods Barley and I did last weekend, or we can add in just a little bit if we only have time for a quick loop around the neighborhood. We can practice a 15-second stay or a 1-minute stay when we get to the park in our neighborhood without adding a lot of extra time into our walk.

We've also been using walks to reinforce the idea that if I stop, the dogs stop. When I walk Barley solo, I usually walk on the side of the street with a continuous sidewalk and no intersections, but with Rye, I walk on the side with lots of intersections and we stop at each one. She's learned very quickly that when I stop at an intersection, she stops and sits and waits until I tell her we're going again. This is a behavior we use all the time--when Barley and I stop to chat with a neighbor, when I stop to pick up poop, when I stop because there's a dog in a yard in the distance and we need to cross the street but there's traffic--so it's an important one for Rye to learn, too.


And after a few months of walking in the cold and not seeing neighbors to chat with or other dogs that force us to cross the street, Barley's been getting a refresher on this as well. Just like the non-walk-related behaviors, this takes next to no time to work in on our walks. I don't use any commands for this one because I want the dogs to choose to relax on their own, so I stop and wait. The first few times Rye would go to the end of her leash (so I always stop a couple feet from the end of the sidewalk), but from obedience class she's learned that the only way to get going again if she's pulling is to sit and stop pulling, so she'd sit and wait for me to walk up beside her--that maybe added an extra 20 seconds to our walk. Now, she's learned that when I slow down, she should look at me instead of charging ahead and when I stop, she stops nicely beside me almost immediately.

It took Barley a little while to remember this is what we do.

Incorporate Training Into Chores
We also use my chores as a time to practice different skills. Last month, I mentioned that we keep a mat right in front of the fridge. We practice mat work during all of our kitchen chores. I keep treats all over the place, so before I start unloading or loading the dishwasher, I put a few on the counter and send the dogs to the mat and when I finish all of the silverware, they get a treat if they stayed on the mat and we repeat with the plates and the coffee cups until the whole thing is done. When I cook, I make sure there are a few veggies set aside so that I can give the girls a couple bites throughout the cooking process. We do similar things in the laundry room while I fold laundry.


We also incorporate sit-stays, watch, and reaction to distraction when we go shopping. In obedience class, we sometimes play a game where our trainer sets up several chairs in a line. On the first chair, there are shopping bags, the second is a few feet away and has a variety of grocery items (empty brownie boxes, egg cartons, etc.), and the final chair has a box or reusable shopping bag. Each person takes a turn walking up and grabbing a bag from the first stop, then getting a grocery item and putting it in the bag, and then putting that in the box/bag at the end. At each stop, the dog is supposed to sit calmly and wait and between the stops the dogs have to walk on a loose leash. Rye and I practice this in real life at the store as I try to decide which cat food flavors Soth isn't going to reject. Just like with walking and household chores, it adds less than a minute to the activity to praise Rye while I fill the basket and occasionally stop to give her a treat.

Rye hates nature, but she loves shopping.

Set a Specific Time Each Day for Training (and keep it short)
There are some behaviors, especially new ones, that are harder to work on during other activities. For example, Rye's working on staying at a distance and in class that involves using a long line. The first time we did this in class, she wasn't really sure what was happening when I clipped the long line onto her and walked away and she didn't want to stay even though we'd practiced at a distance before, just without a leash. So, we needed to work on mastering this at home so she could handle it with the distractions of class. We try to set aside 10-15 minutes before bed to work on those behaviors. Wearing Rye's mind out before bed helps her sleep through the night. Once we've done this for awhile, it becomes just as much a part of our routine as taking a walk or doing the dishes.


Training doesn't have to take a huge chunk of your day. If you make it a part of the activities you already see as routine, training begins to fit in seamlessly. 

Be sure to check out all of the other great blogs participating to see how every one else makes time for training in their busy schedules. Our theme this month is Time Management for Training, but we welcome any positive training posts. Thank you to our co-hosts Tenacious Little Terrier and Wag 'n Woof Pets for another great month of positive training posts!  



12 comments:

  1. We do lots of small training during TV time at night, and Bailie works on her obedience on her lunchtime walk. There is always a way to fit in training if you want to.

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    1. Those are great ways to work in training throughout the day!

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  2. I think working on and reinforcing old behaviors is so important, and something it's too easy for many to forget about. Even when we're not learning something new, there is something to work on!
    I need to have more stashes of treats around too, so they're more handy when a good opportunity comes along. It's too easy to lose our chance if I have to go all the way to where the treats are kept; plus if they see me headed that way, they always follow me! I need to work more on getting them to stay on their beds while I do that.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. Having stashes around the house helps me immensely (although it still seems like the times I need them most are the times are when I'm in the rooms where I don't have any stashed away!).

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  3. Sounds like you have two, very nice walkers thanks to all the training. I guess the hard work is paying off.

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    1. Don't let them fool you! Barley walks very nicely--Rye is a monster on a leash, but when we stop walking and do something that doesn't require movement for a few seconds, she's pretty good :)

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  4. Photo stays are so useful, aren't they? I swear his photo stay is better than his normal one. I might have to think about clicker training "smile." Mr. N looks so serious in all his photos!

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    1. Barley's stay is much better with a camera, too! Sometimes I think I should do agility class with my phone in hand because Barley would be more likely to stay longer--of course, I'm not coordinated enough for that.

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  5. Oh I love what you do with the mat behavior and I have some questions. I only use the mat when they eat but I can move it elsewhere throughout the house but have gotten lazy. Do you use one mat for both dogs? How long do they have to stay on their mat? How long did it take to train this?

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    1. They choose to use one mat--when I first got Rye, I'd set up two side by side and try to get them to use separate mats, but Barley has always left room on her mat for her kitty brother on the mat. I'm too lazy to spend the time telling them they need to go to separate mats (plus they are too cute when they share one!).

      We vary the amount of time they have to stay. Bar will usually stay until I tell her she can get up, but Rye's still learning, so sometimes she gets up before I'm done with whatever chore I'm working on. I never give her a correction word, though, because I want them to choose to relax on the mat, so I just send her back to the mat and decrease the time between treats so she thinks staying there is really fun :) Sometimes they'll stay a long time--like if we've had a picnic after a hike, I've had Barley rest on the mat the whole time we were eating. Sometimes it's just for a minute while I stick something in the oven. Usually with the long times, they'll just fall asleep after a while.

      It was surprisingly quick to train it--once they got the command of sending to their mat, which took a few days of practicing every time, they were both more than willing to stay as long as they got treats periodically. It might also help that in Rye's obedience classes, we use the mat as our home base, so between exercises we'll send to the mat and if we're doing something where only a couple dogs are working at once, the other dogs stay on their mat. So, this is just something I've really had Rye doing every day since I brought her home.

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  6. We also try to incorporate training in everyday activities. Even if you don't have time for formal training, you can still get something in.

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    1. I agree! It doesn't take much time at all to practice a quick stay or to work on patience :)

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