Don’t have a lot of time to work with your dog? That’s okay—with small intentional training sessions, you can still make big progress. Even if you have other commitments to work, home, friends, or family, you can spend a few minutes a day intentionally working with your dog to achieve your training goals. Here’s how to do it.
Make the Most of Time You Have
Instead of being frustrated with how little time you have available to train, make the most of the limited moments you do have during the day to practice the skills you’re working on. It takes only a couple of seconds to cue, praise, and reward your dog for doing many behaviors, whether that’s sit, down, or certain tricks. Every interaction we have with our dogs is an opportunity for them to learn something new. You don’t need to have structured training sessions to have a big impact on their understanding. Practicing a cue or trick with your dog while you’re getting ready in the morning, between answering emails, or while you’re watching TV is a great way to build training into your daily routine and it doesn’t require you to carve out a lot of time.
Set Small Goals for Training
To make the most of limited training time, have a clear sense of which skills you want to work on with your dog. Homework from a training class (in person or online) can help you structure weekly training goals, or you can pick a skill that you know your dog needs for the sport(s) you train/compete in.
If you aren’t sure what to work on, pick a trick or two or some basic obedience/manners skills that you have been lax on teaching or refining. The goal itself doesn’t matter—it’s about the process of setting one so you have a plan that will help you be consistent with your training. You can write the goal in your planner, on your calendar, or put it on a sticky note on your fridge so you’re reminded of what you and your dog need to work on. Having goals can help you get the most out of limited training sessions by keeping you motivated and organized during the few minutes you have.
Incorporate Training into Your Daily Routine
If you’re feeling discouraged about not having enough time to do all the training you want to do with your dog, it can be useful to reframe that conversation for yourself. Instead, think about the time you do have and make the most of it. Your dog will be grateful for any intentional time spent working together.
Here are some ideas for incorporating training into small moments during your day:
One of the best opportunities to work with your dog when you have limited time is to turn meals into training time. As you’re prepping your dog’s bowl, take a few minutes to practice some skills. You can ask your dog for a few cues you have been working on, give them a quick refresher of tricks they know well, or begin training for new tricks or behaviors. You can make it a challenge to see how many tricks your dog can do in a short period of time.
An easy way to incorporate small training sessions with big outcomes into your day is to use your dog’s regular potty breaks as an opportunity to practice door manners. Anytime you open your door—to take your dog out, when you get home, or when you’re getting the mail—it’s a great opportunity to work on polite behaviors like not darting through the door until being released. You can use this moment to practice sit, down, stand, or other position changes with your dog before going outside. Keep treats on you or stored next to the door so you can reward them for polite door manners.
One impactful skill you can work on anytime during a spare moment with your dog is recall. If you call your dog’s name, it’s important for their safety that they come. If you keep dog treats at your desk in your home office and/or stashed through your home, you can call your dog from different places when you’re between calls, doing laundry, cooking dinner, or watching TV in the evening. Practicing recalls from different areas in your house will help your dog work on listening to the direction of your voice and find you wherever you are. Just don’t forget to have treats ready to reward them!
Keep Training Equipment/Props Accessible
If you’re working on a particular training skill or behavior that requires props, try to find ways to keep that prop easily accessible so it’s ready to use. For example, if you’re working on proofing your dog’s weave pole entries, leave your weave poles set up in your backyard, hallway, or living room. When you get a break from work, are taking your dog out, or just have a couple of spare minutes, you can quickly practice sending your dog to the poles from different approaches without having to set up a big training session.
Loose Leash Walking
Anytime you take your dog outside is an opportunity to practice leash manners. Even if you have a fenced backyard, you can put a leash on your dog and practice a little bit of loose leash walking for part of your time outside. That way you can work on these skills even if you don’t have time to take your dog on a long walk or an intentional training outing that day.
Consistency Is Key
A key to a dog successfully mastering new behaviors and skills is consistency. If you and your dog just go to class once a week and don’t practice at home between classes, it will be hard for them to quickly learn skills. Taking a few minutes a day to consistently work on skills will help your dog learn and polish new behaviors. Consistency means practicing and training regularly, but it doesn’t require having large amounts of time to focus on training.
Small Training Makes Big Impact
It might feel like everyone you know has more time to work with their dog and that might be true—but it doesn’t mean that the time you do spend working with your dog isn’t valuable. Your dog isn’t comparing you to the owners/handlers of other dogs, so you shouldn’t either! Your dog values quality time playing and training with you and will enjoy that time, no matter how much or how little you have that day.
In fact, sometimes small training sessions are more successful than longer ones. It can be tempting to work on a skill over and over again in a practice session until you and your dog get it just right. But your dog will often get tired, frustrated, or otherwise burned out as a result, which isn’t the most effective way to train. When we’re training, the goal should be to always end training sessions on a positive note before your dog gets tired or frustrated. It’s also important to end each training session with your dog feeling engaged and wanting to do more. Short training sessions spread throughout the day — instead of one big training session — naturally keep you goal-oriented and your dog engaged and enthusiastic about learning.