Tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” That is a profound recommendation straight from the life-experience of someone who overcame a lot of difficulties, and accomplished things most people told him were impossible. As an African-American breaking into the world of professional tennis mid-20th century, I doubt he had dog training in mind, but it’s really applicable. Too often we can come up with so many excuses for not training, and the more we put things off the harder it is to know just where to start. We totally forget that there’s only one place we CAN start — like Mr. Ashe says: where you are!
No matter if you just got a puppy, recently adopted an adult dog, or have been living with Spot for years, there are bound to be behaviors you aren’t happy with! Training with your dog is a wonderful bonding experience, whether the dog is an old companion or new recruit! And don’t believe that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” line – dogs (and people) can learn at any age. I think that saying came about as an excuse for folks who didn’t want to change their ways! Don’t let the “if only syndrome” blind you to how easy it is to just jump in and DO something: here and now!
Start small. Pick one behavior to work on. If Spot doesn’t SIT on command, that’s an easy, basic behavior with a lot of real-life applications! If Spot also has greeting people with all four on the floor, asking him to SIT can help with that. However, Spot has to be really good at SIT and find it gets him lots of praise and attention so he’ll WANT to do it in a greeting situation! Ask him to SIT to get his dinner; before getting on the couch/bed, to go outside/come inside, to get in the car, to get a treat, to get petted. These are all things Spot LOVES and it’s amazing how quickly he’ll master that SIT command if it’s paired up with, “Good things, good things, good things – yeah!” Once he’s mastered SIT, use all those same things to motivate Spot to lie DOWN!
You can pick any command or behavior problem. Don’t know how to teach Spot? Ask a friend with a well-trained dog, google it, get a book from the library, enroll in a class, or hire a professional to teach one-on-one lessons in your own home. My recommendation is find instructions from a trainer who emphasizes POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT, because you and Spot will enjoy the training a lot more than if it’s punishment-based. Bu the point is there are lots of opportunities that you can easily access TODAY right from your own computer and/or phone!
Lots of times I hear from clients how hard it is to find time to train. They put it off day-to-day until suddenly the week is gone and they haven’t practiced the class lesson! Oh, I understand how impossibly busy our schedules can get! It’s often very hard to re-arrange your day to add ANOTHER commitment! The good news is you only need a few minutes at a time! Folks think they need to put aside at least a half hour, but both Spot and you will work all the better for keeping lessons short and snappy!
But that’s worse – you think – finding a lot of 3-5 minute bits of time. Not if you’re crafty! Look at all the times we’re WAITING during the day. While the microwave is warming up our tea. While the kids are looking for their shoes. While the dishwasher/washer/dryer finishes up. During TV commercials! A half-hour TV program has at least 3 commercial breaks, each 2.5-4 minutes long. If you keep some treats on a shelf in the family room, those commercial breaks are a PERFECT length to work on one behavior. You’re not giving up anything to make training time. You’re not rescheduling your day. You’re just starting where you are and using that time to bond with your dog instead of allowing some corporation to brainwash you into buying something you don’t need.
So, get started! Treat training like a game, instead of boot-camp! If you forget and sit through a commercial break or two, don’t beat yourself up! Just laugh at how well the TV has US trained and try to catch the next one! Start where you are physically, mentally and emotionally — and training will get easier as you learn to relax and have fun!