Right now, it’s starting to feel a little bit like spring in Utah. It seemed like winter lasted forever! We had two inches of snow down here in the valley last week, and there’s still snow on the mountains. Utah Sometimes it feels like winter ends in May and spring only lasts a month until we’re into summer.
Spring, for me, often conjures up a desire to do some cleaning. My car needs it, my office needs it—but we don’t realize that our dogs need spring cleaning too. In places that get cold (don’t talk to me if you’re from Florida!), winter is probably the time that people get lazy with their dogs. It happens to me too. If it’s snowing outside, it’s so hard to conjure up the motivation to take the dog for a walk.
It seems like every December I get a call from someone whose puppy we trained in the spring or summer, who’s now having accidents in the house because it’s afraid to go out in the cold. Other dogs’ aggression resurfaces again once they can’t go outside and get it out as often and don’t feel fulfilled. That darned cold really makes things go backwards.
The good news is that it’s time for spring cleaning! I want to introduce you to two simple things that will leverage your time and your effort. The absolute best way to spring clean your training regimen is to everything! Work on all the behaviors you possibly can. Do drills. Play games. If you have the time for that, then go for it!
But not everyone has that time, so I want to give you these two tips that I always fall back on this time of year (although they’re applicable during the summer and fall and winter as well). These training methods have a collateral effect, which means that they affect your dog in other different moments. If I tell my dog to sit right now, and she does it, that probably won’t do anything for her behavior an hour from now. But if you do one of these things, it will affect your leadership that you have and the tone of your dog for the rest of the day.
These two things are structured motion and structured stillness. What this typically turns into for me and my clients is doing a down stay or place command for thirty to forty-five minutes. This is’t as tough as you think. Once you’ve taught your dog to do this, start doing it at dinner. A lot of dinners will get cold! You’ll put your dog down in the bed, he’ll jump off, you’ll get up and correct him, you’ll sit back down and get some mashed potatoes, and then you’ll repeat the process the times. But soon, your dog will figure out how to stay put, and that’s huge. A dog that can practice structured stillness for thirty minutes a day will be far more calm.
For me, structured motion usually takes the form of a structured walk, where my dog is next to my side. Some people can get away with a treadmill as well. The only thing you really need is for the dog to be moving, expelling some of his “wigglies” in a structured way, so that his mind is active at the same time. Thirty to forty-five minutes of walking with your dog right next to you, or twenty minutes on the treadmill, will make a world of difference for your dog’s calmness and your sanity.
If you’re looking to spring clean your training efforts, then thirty to forty-five minutes or so of both of these every day will help you immensely. Structured silence doesn’t take any of your time; you can easily do it while you’re eating lunch or watching TV in the evening. But structured motion does require time. You’ve got to get out in the beautiful sunshine and get to work! But if you get out and do it, you’ll put yourself in a good position. These two habits will clean up your dog training regimen—fast!