October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, sponsored by the American Humane Association. Most shelter dogs end up in shelters through no fault of their own. Top reasons for surrender of a dog include financial hardship, loss of home, death of a family member, even homelessness. But it's also true that some young adult dogs arrive in the shelter with very little training. People will say, they just didn't have the time to get it done.
Those of us who have good dogs are often queried about how we got our dogs to go lie down when we are entertaining or stay out of the kitchen while we cook. I have more than one friend who is stumped by those questions. They would answer, "I just tell him to do that" without any real understanding of how things got that way. Most of them are also parents of kids who are really fun to be around. They'd say they raised their kids and dogs the same way, which can raise some eyebrows.
Training dogs does not have to take time out of your daily activities. In fact, having the dog mixed in to the daily activities is exactly how they end up trained. I used to take my dog to work every day when I ran the education department at HSUS. Many of us did and all the dogs were really well behaved. Were we all dog trainers? Not a chance. We just really wanted to bring them along, understood their needs for exercise, companionship and routine, and really followed through on certain standards set for behavior. Still not helping, right?
So it turns out that dogs learn a new task just as well in 3 sessions per week as they do in five or seven. So the idea that you have to train every day is just not true. Dogs also learn best in short lessons so the idea that you need to put aside a block of dog time, is also not so. But you do have to have your dog in the room and know what he likes. Some people just don't do that. Either because the dog is just so rude they can't even start or they really don't understand how to get a dog's attention.
If you didn't have anything a dog needs, this wouldn't work so well but you actually do have everything your dog needs. You've probably been giving it away for free. Whether your dog prefers to be in or out, he needs you to open the door. Use that. Don't open it unless or until he does something you like, even if that is to finally lie down. If every time he lies down you open the door, he'll lie down often. That's dog training if you like him to lie down, of course. Once he sees that what he does changes what you do, you become interesting. Now you have his attention. Don't waste it.
Each time you notice your dog is going to lie down, say a word. Wait......then open the door. Then some time when he might lie down or maybe not, say the same word. If he does it, he should get a full ticker parade if he likes that and the door opened as usual. Now start asking him to lie down with your chosen word at random times. Once he will do it 8 out of 10 times, start asking whenever you want...even if he's not likely to do it. When he does, offer things he really, really wants. When he doesn't, roll your eyes and disengage. See how easy this is?
Pick another behavior you like and do it all again. Before you know it your dog is trained, responsive, and manageable and you can't remember buying any training equipment, taking any classes or spending much time dedicated to the dog. But now he can be where you are all the time and seems to just know what you need. All because you know what he needs and you have it.
This week the Ragner Relay passed right by my house. I've been meaning to arrange for Lance to work on his stranger danger. But arranging for strangers to come by for training is a big deal. I could go park out in front of PetSmart but again with the time constraints. So we sat on the porch for 3 hours while random people and strange cars jogged and rolled by just before dawn. I would be up anyway because on this rural road, you can't sleep through that. I took a bag of Bil Jac treats and I dispensed them each time a headlamp bobbed in the distance. It didn't take long before distant head lamps caused Lance to rush over to me for a dispensation. Within a half hour, he was actively looking for headlamps and if he noticed before me, he was lavishly rewarded with Bil Jac. After another half hour, he couldn't be bothered with every single head lamp. There were just so many. I'm sure you don't have the luxury of living on the course of the Relay but think about the opportunities you do have to use what happens to be interesting to your dog. Part of the reason they like us is that we do try so hard.