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How long does it take to train a dog?


A new puppy owner rang me the other day to ask ‘How quickly can a puppy be trained?’. To which my answer was, ‘To do what?’.

 

I suppose most people would expect a ‘trained’ dog to sit, lie down, and come back on cue, and walk without pulling on the lead. But then you would also expect ‘a trained dog’ not to pee in the house, jump up on people, beg at the table or to steal stuff and chew it up. You’d expect ‘a trained dog’ to let go of something when you ask, to be calm when you put the lead on or off and to be able to be left on its own for periods of time, to be sociable with other dogs (or not, perhaps), cool around horses, calm around toddlers and elderly people.

 

Most people would like their dogs to do all of this as standard. It’s a pretty long list.  It doesn’t take into account anything specific like retrieve an object, go to its bed, travel on the Underground, go running with you, find your car keys, or play flyball. Even those things don’t begin to exhaust your dog’s potential: just think of what an assistance dog can do.

 

I can teach a puppy that ‘sit’ means ‘please place your backside on the ground’ in less than 10 minutes while a guide dog with an experienced dedicated team takes 20 months to train. But that dog will sit through anything. So it’s important to know not just ‘what?’ but ‘when and where?’ ‘Sit’ is truly useful when your dog will park itself for as long as you need, regardless of what you are doing, what the dog was doing or what is going on around it, say, sitting while another dog approaches, or while you make multiple trips to the car through an open door to fetch the shopping, or sit in a field of sheep while you untangle a lamb from a fence (that’s useful in my life!).

 

So if you’re wondering how quickly your puppy (or dog) can be trained, start by outlining exactly what you would like your dog to do, and how well. Then the single most important thing that determines how quickly your dog is trained is not the trainer (much as I hate to admit it), or the classes, or the method you use – although all these things will make a difference, one way or another - it’s you. Do you want the 10 minute sit or the 20 month sit? It’s your choice. Decide what matters to you, then make that commitment to your dog.


5 things every dog owner should do 


Quick and easy things that will enrich your dog’s life


Feeding games Meal times are a highlight in most dogs’ day and simply dumping a cup of kibble in a bowl is missing a trick. Pop it in a ‘Kong’; fold in the ends of a kitchen roll tube, fill with kibble and let them rip it apart; or simply scatter the food over the patio and let them sniff it out. 


New things Dogs are naturally curious and although some are more wary than others, most enjoy the stimulation of a different walk, a new place, game or toy. What else can you introduce to your dog's life?


Scent games Give your dog’s most important sense at least one challenge a day, whether that’s finding dinner in the garden (see Feeding games, above) or teaching them scentwork. See my blog for more ideas www.hotdogtraining.co.uk.


Vet checks Many dogs hate the vets because suddenly a stranger is doing worryingly intimate things to them! While your dog is relaxed and resting (not sleeping), take the opportunity to examine very gently sensitive areas like paws, ears, mouth, tail and back legs. Being used to being examined while relaxed will make vet visits much easier – and will earn you huge Brownie point with your vet!


Training Dogs have amazing brains and huge potential (just look at what rescue and therapy dogs can do). Dogs love to learn at all ages and enjoy the interaction with you. HotDog’s Challenge Class is a mix of obedience skills, brain games, trick training, fun agility and scentwork that keeps dogs stimulated, focussed on you and having fun.



Great games to play with your dog 
 

Very popular with dogs in our classes!
 

Find it – Take a treat or toy that your dog LOVES. Allow a sniff, then place it away from him. As he goes to get it, say ‘Find it’. Repeat several times, gradually placing the treat/toy further away, and then slightly hidden, always saying ‘Find it’ as he goes to get it. In this way, you associate the words 'Find it' with searching. Next session, work up to hiding the treat/toy, while your dog is watching. Now he has to use his nose to find it. Eventually, your dog will ‘stay’ and search for the object in another room!
 

Muffin tin game – Your dog watches as you place a treat in a muffin tin. Let him come and take it. Repeat 2-3 times. Next, place a tennis ball over the cup so your dog has to move it to get the treat. Repeat. Add a second ball so your dog works to discover which ball the treat is under. Gradually add more balls until your dog is searching the whole tin to find the treat.
 

Sprinkles – Simply take a fork and tin of fish and flake it over a wide area of grass. Then allow your dog outside to happily snuffle out all the fish flakes.
 

Tug chase – If your dog loves tug games add a twist by allowing him to ‘win’, then you run away. Your dog will follow to get you to play again. When he reaches you, say ‘good’ and play again. Add a cue like ‘chase’ as you run off and, over time, if your dog steals your slipper, ‘chase’ will get your dog running to you, not away!
 

Hide and seek – While your dog watches, disappear behind a door and call ‘find me!’. When he does, make a huge fuss. Repeat until he understands the game. Over time, you can hide in another room or play it outdoors.

 

6 ways to make dog walks more exciting

Stuck in a walking rut? Plodding round the same old route day in day out?  
 

It’s dull for us and even duller for our dogs - and let's face it, for many dogs, the daily walk is the only change of scene they get in every 24 hours. So here’s how to put the fun back into your daily walks for you and your dog.

 

Sniff walk – Same route, same pace? Next time, why don’t you both stop and smell the roses (although, to be frank, it ain’t roses your dog wants to smell). Scent is hugely important to our dogs but we tend to hurry them along, either on the lead or marching round at such a pace that they have to break away from scent exploring to keep up. So try an amble. Take time to look at your usual route with new eyes and give your dog loads of time to really get his nose stuck in. Great for dogs who need mental stimulation but less exercise.

 

Surprise walk – Choose a route where you will retrace your steps. While your dog is running on ahead, plant surprises along the route such as a toy, a ball or a small bag of treats hidden in a bush, up a tree, under a stone. On the way back, call your dog when you get to a surprise spot. Ask her, ‘What’s here? What can you find?’ Lots of dogs will follow a pointing finger or you can encourage her to look under a bush/stone to find her surprise.

 

New walk – This seems an obvious suggestion but you’d be surprised how many clients I see who do the same walk, day in, day out. Make a commitment to do at least one new walk a week. Get in the car, explore a new footpath, ditch the run round for a mooch along the high street. Most dogs love a change of scene as much as we do.

 

Kibble trail – This is great for older dogs, less mobile dogs and young dogs who are likely to over-exercise themselves. Set up a trail of your dog’s usual food or small treats. If your dog has a good ‘wait’ or ‘stay’, you can ask him to sit while you go out and plant a trail of kibble. Then return to him and tell him to go find it. If your dog doesn’t have such great impulse control, enlist a friend, or drop the kibble as you go and get your dog to find it on the way back.

 

Training walk – Practising the commands your dog knows in different situations is really useful so turn the occasional walk into a training walk.  Keep it light and fun - having your dog under control in a non-pressured situation will pay off when you really need it.

 

Activity walk – For many of us, taking the dog for a walk involves getting to a space where our dogs can run and then leaving them to find their own entertainment. Every now and again, make your walk really interactive. Devote at least part of your walk to games your dog really loves. This might be ball chasing (and if your dog is not great at retrieve, take two balls), or frisbee, tug games or ‘Find it’. This last is a game I always teach as part of puppy classes. It  simply means teaching your dog to find something – a treat, a toy or (more advanced) a scent – on command. You can even hide yourself, call your dog and let her find you!