I know! I get it! I train 4-5 other people's dogs every day, go home and make sure the kid has his homework done, or take him to tennis, cook dinner, clean and do laundry and then listen as my husband tells me all about his day. While my dog is now almost 9 years old, I know that if I don't practice with her every day she will (and does) go backwards in her training.
Why would a well trained dog go backwards in their training? Simple, dogs learn and are reinforced (or not) for their behavior every day, all day long. Behaviors that are reinforced will repeat, those that don't get reinforced eventually go away, even in well trained 9 year old dogs!
So, how to I incorporate training into my day? Here's a sample of a typical day for me.
6:00 am - the alarm goes off (ugh really not liking these high school early start hours), the dog has figured out that fairly quickly she's going to get fed, so in hopes to hasten that event I hear a low growl. It's not menacing, just a message that she would really like me to pick up the pace. Instead, I attach her to the tether on our bed, a message that growling or any demanding behavior gets nothing! After I get dressed and brush my teeth, I return and release her (she is settled and calmly waiting now) to follow me down stairs. I ask her to wait at the top of the stairs so I don't get run down in her haste to get her food more quickly. When I am safely down the stairs, I release her and toss her a quick treat! No I don't wear my bait bag to bed, but I do have treats strategically stashed around the house in dog proof plastic bins.
6:15 am - We are on a tight schedule these days, so this one really helps. Winter and I walk out the front door, I ask for a wait before opening the door, this is key as the front yard is NOT fenced and I have startled several deer on occasion as they were feeding on my hosta by the front door. Once I determine the coast is clear I release Winter with the command 'get the paper' and she swiftly runs down the 100' driveway, snags the paper and races back to get her well deserved treats! She then gets released to go back out to do her business which she does with alacrity because breakfast is yet to come!
6:20 am - I prepare the dog's food first, this takes a bit of time as sometimes it needs to be defrosted, so while I'm doing this, I ask for a sit, down, sit, stay or some other string of behaviors that ends with a stay. This serves to keep Winter still so that while the microwave is doing it's thing I can also start prepping the rest of the families breakfast without having her under foot. Once the food is thawed, I pick up her dish (yes, she's still in a stay) bring it to the counter, place the food in the dish and then release the dog. We heel across the kitchen to her feeding station, she sits automatically as we stop and holds a perfect 'watch' for at least 20 seconds. I ask her to 'wait' while I put the dish down, and release her to eat once I get out of the way! That entire behavior chain is reinforced with a single bowl of food!
6:45 am - While eating breakfast, Winter is asked to hold a down/stay at my left side, the side away from my son. At 15 he no longer drops as much food as he did when he was 6 but she's still ready to beg if given the opportunity. For holding the down stay she might get 1-2 treats at random intervals.
7:00 am - We are out the door, and if it's a day I can't take Winter with me I will hide treats throughout the house just before we leave. She holds a down stay until we are ready to close the door, at which point she gets a much anticipated 'Find it' command so that she can spend up to 45 minutes searching the house with her nose for the hidden goodies.
If Winter comes with me (only in the cooler weather!) we often go to the park after dropping my son at school, and before I open the back of the car, I ask for a wait, no need to reward this behavior, being released to get out to go for a walk is enough of a reward. We will walk around the track with a few friends, but even as I am chatting there are lots of opportunities to reinforce and practice cued behaviors. Every time she approaches the kids playground or sand box area, she get's a 'leave it' command and appropriate treat for complying. We heel for several meters along the way, and she is reward for the really nice happy heeling I like. If a dog comes at her that I know plays too rough, we practice 'hide', where she buries her head between my thighs to stay safe from the overly rambunctious types, she gets rewarded while holding the position and I get to shoo the dog away. I call her to come at least 5-6 times during a 30 minutes walk and reward her at least a couple of those times for the best recalls. If I have to use my emergency recall (three short whistles) I ALWAYS reward her with a high value treat! This is one response I always want her to return for so it gets special treatment.
During training sessions with other dogs Winter often stays in the car, if I am working outside near the car, she has developed a bad habit of barking, this is a demand behavior. To counter condition this I place a Manner's Minder device in the back of the car with her. It can be remotely triggered to deliver a treat and as I am working near the car, I periodically reward her for being quiet.
In between each client I find an area to take Winter for a break, each time she comes out of the car she is asked to 'wait' before she is released to jump out of the back, this let's me disconnect her car seat belt and check to make sure it's safe to let her out. She is always on leash during these breaks, so each break is an opportunity to reward good leash behavior. If we run into someone we know or someone stops to admire her, we now have opportunities to reward good greeting behaviors, although with Winter getting attention from someone is reward enough!
She does, of course, act as my neutral dog when I am working with reactive dogs, so during those sessions there is lots of heeling, looks, stays and various other cues I use to direct her to change or maintain her body position.
2:30 pm I may have to stop by the bank in the afternoon, this requires a wait before we leave the car and each time we go through a doorway. Heeling into and out of the bank building, sitting each time we stop, waiting patiently for the next teller to open up (I know I could use the ATM but where's the fun in that), sitting nicely for the bank manager who always has to say hello and maintaining her composure even though there are lots and lots of people around who might just want to pet her! All of these behaviors get rewarded, some with pets (like the bank manger greeting), but many with food, particularly the hard ones, like not getting overly excited when people talk to me about how well behaved she's being!
3:00 pm Once we get home for the afternoon and evening things are pretty quiet, I'm often tied up with phone calls, answering emails and working with my son on his homework. Winter likes to go hang out in the fenced in back yard or sleep in the kitchen on the tile floor. Recently I noticed she was no longer providing me with a solid cue for going out, so now before I let her out I ask her to 'speak', releasing her to the back yard is enough of a reward that I anticipate fairly soon she will begin giving me the bark at the back door signal to go out again.
6:00 pm Dinner time! Winter is all about the food, so will begin to dance and sit by the refrigerator right around the time I start making dinner. This can get annoying but is once again an opportunity to reinforce good behaviors and/or give her alternative behaviors for ones that can be annoying. One example is her propensity to sit right in front of the fridge and stare at it during dinner preparations. She is of course hoping to make me go to the fridge to get her food for her. Since I have a fairly small kitchen this places her smack in the middle of my prep area! So we work on 'go to mat' in the doorway, this also serves to keep other people out of my kitchen and out of the way! After asking her to go to mat, which I strategically place in the kitchen doorway, as long as she stays in place I periodically place a reward on the mat at random intervals. Again, while eating dinner, Winter is asked to hold a down/stay at my left side so that she does not beg at my son's chair.
8:00 pm TV time in the den. This is the time when the whole family retires to the den for a bit of TV and down time. Winter likes to cuddle on the couch with us, but is not allowed up unless asked. So she positions herself in her best "please may I?" attitude, butt on the floor looking lovingly into our eyes! When we are ready she is permitted access to the couch with us. Again, no need to reward with food, her reward here is cuddling with her people!
So how much training have I done on a day I've had no time to do a formal training session in? If I do not count any time we spend training with other dogs, there are probably 40-50 interactions each day that can be rewarded in one way or another. If I fail to reward those good behaviors periodically the behavior will, over time, diminish until it is gone. How sad to have worked hard to create a cued behavior only to have it die of neglect!
So it's not always about making the time to train, as much as it is about taking the opportunities you are given throughout the day and reinforcing the behaviors you want and have already worked hard to establish!