It can feel overwhelming when you think of the many skills you want your dog to learn and try to find the time to train them all. If I stopped to think of all the skills my children needed to become the well adjusted, successful adults they've become I would have locked myself in a closet and never come out!

It might be easier if you think of it as “giving appropriate feedback most of the time” vs "training skills".

While I don’t want to say raising children is the same as raising dogs, there are similarities. Sentient beings learn the same way. They learn what works and what doesn’t work to gain something or to get something to stop or go away.

I didn’t have training sessions twice a day, 3 – 4 times a week with my children. I did, however, give feedback on a daily basis until they learned to do what they needed to do without requiring input from me.

I am not referring to skill sets required in activities such dance training or hockey, but to those used in everyday life. The same would be true of my dog.  Rally, agility, tracking, etc., would require active training sessions in order to see success. Yes, feedback is given in training sessions as well, but that feedback is part of a structured training plan.

I began to think of feedback vs. training repetitions recently as I watched my own interactions with my dog and couldn’t remember ever teaching certain skills.

Often I didn’t actively teach anything. I didn’t have twice a day training sessions, 3-4 days a week. Instead, I gave feedback on a regular basis via consistency, introductions of new cues, environmental set up and whether or not an offered behaviour would work.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not. For example, I taught “wait,” which I use all the time. I was mindful of using the cue every single time I wanted him to wait - going out the front door, out of the car, into the car, at the corner, up or down stairs, etc.
I cued “wait,” didn’t step forward until the leash was slack, then cued “okay” and we continued. If the leash was tight at any point, I’d quietly wait so he learned self-control. I did this every single time, without fail. It didn’t take long for him to learn that “wait” means “hang on, no forward motion”.
Click here to see a video on how I use wait in every day life.

I began doing “body checks” with my dog after each walk due to the rise in the tick population. He’s a hairy guy and has lots of great hiding places on him. I labeled it “body check” but I didn’t have a training plan. He’s already used to standing by the door upon return to have his paws wiped, so I took advantage of that and began “body check”.

I rub my hands over his body, feeling for any new bumps, lumps or stray sticks. When I am done, I cue “all done” and toss a couple of Charlee Bear treats. Easy Peasy. I make sure to practice in different places. We often practice on walks, any time he’s been near tall grass, or if I need to untangle something that’s stuck on his body. I cue “body check” and he knows what to expect, which makes it easy for me to do.

I think this is the reason I have a hard time telling clients how often they should train their dogs. I rarely did a specific number of sessions/repetitions with my dogs. Other dog trainers may cringe as they read this. I am not suggesting we should forgo the importance of training with repetition, criteria, generalization, etc. I am simply suggesting some skills can be acquired in a different manner.