Dog owners typically ask professional dog trainers this question, “how long and how often should I train my dog?” Whether the intent of the question is to make sure they put in enough training time to be successful as they tend to be an overachiever or whether it’s because they only want to put in “just enough” time because they have other things they would rather be doing, makes no difference.
The answer to the question is that training occurs all the time for a life-time. However, for the person that absolutely needs a concrete answer as to time and frequency, a variation of the below is usually given:
- 10-15 minutes per session,
- 2-3 times per day,
- five days per week.
It’s also followed by advice such as: “keep it short and fun, end the session before the dog loses interest and frequency is more important than length of time.” This is all good advice as one needs a concrete plan especially in the beginning stages of training a dog. If one does not have a plan in place, “life happens.”
When life happens, unplanned activities get placed to the side. Before you know it, you’re well-intentioned plan to train your dog will not happen. This is like when people want to start an exercise program. If they don’t make appointments in their schedule to go to the gym, it’s likely that life will interfere. However, if one schedules and keeps those appointments, one will be much more successful in obtaining their fitness goals. Later, as fitness becomes a way of life instead of a goal, the need for scheduled appointments will become less necessary. Thus, it is the same with the training of a dog.
Once a dog learns basic obedience commands and you’re happy with the results, there becomes less of a need for set training appointments with your dog. Expecting, reinforcing and maintaining good manners becomes a life style and thus training occurs all the time. A dog learns what works best for them to achieve their goals whether that to be to get food, praise, or a fun game of fetch or tug. This is when the auto training of your dog can begin.
They already know basic commands and can do them reliably upon being given a hand and/or voice command. They perform the desired cue because doing so brings pleasure and/or the avoidance or release from an unwanted stimulus. Additionally, repeating a learned habit can be reinforcing in of itself as well.
This is when the auto training of your dog can effectively begin. While walking your dog, come to a stop and wait for your dog to sit without telling him to sit. When he does, tell him “yes” and reinforce his choice to sit with a food treat and/or praise. He will soon learn to automatically sit upon you halting to a stop. Prior to letting your dog go outside to potty, wait for him to sit. When he does, open the door and give him a release command such as “ok” so he can go through the door. Once he offers the sit automatically upon you approaching the door, make it more challenging by expecting him to maintain the sit until the release command is given. If he stands prior to the release command being given, close the door. When he sits again, open the door. Within a few trial and errors, he will probably maintain the sit until he hears the release command. When you lay down on the couch, wait for your dog to offer the behavior of laying down and then reward as before. You didn’t tell your dog to lay down, he offered it as a behavior in hoping it would result in a reward as it has done so in the past.
Auto training a dog is very fun and rewarding. You end up with a dog that is much more pleasant to live with and it seems as if your dog can read your mind.
Feral dogs in Thailand have in a sense auto trained themselves. It probably took more trial and error (as it does in dog training that uses auto-shaping) as they did not have the benefit of someone teaching them basic obedience commands before the auto training occurred. However, they have learned the most effective way to get food hand-outs from humans is to lay down and wait. By being patient instead of pushy, humans will offer them parts of their meals or will eventually leave part of their meals behind in the form of trash. Jt Clough, a professional dog trainer and life/fitness coach in Kona, Hawaii has noticed the same about the dogs who “live outdoors” on Kona. She has observed them to be well socialized and well-behaved which was a form of auto training.
So you too can learn to auto train your dog. First teach your dog basic obedience commands with the help of a professional dog trainer. The training can be done for you via a board and train program or you can learn how to train your dog via in-home private lessons or by attending a group dog training class. Once your dog knows the basics, the auto training can begin. Look for opportunities to auto train your dog and enjoy a wonderful companionship to last a life time!