Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.
- Charles Spurgeon
As a dog trainer, I'm obviously around a lot of dogs, and I love meeting new dogs, helping their owners learn to communicate with their dogs, and the moment where it all comes together, whether it's a fear reactive dogs, or a new puppy. My job is an endless source of joy to me. And while I always pride myself on making sure that my clients understand what their dogs needs to be able to thrive with their family, each dogs needs are different, yet the same.
Whether in the show ring, as a working guide dog, or a beloved family pet, all dogs need three things to be successful: Piloting, Activity and Work. It's just the dosages of each change based upon the individual dog.
So what does that look like in my house? Well, let me introduce you to Arwen, the (almost) 7 month old Border Collie, and Ellis, the 3 (?) year old Staffie mix.
5:30 a.m. - Wake up
Yeah, it's a bit brutal, but I wake up every day at 5:30. It used to be 6:00 when I only had Ellis, but the reality of it is that having a Border Collie requires a different style of dog training than most dogs. That goes for any dog, be it mutt or purebred, that is super high energy. Arwen is a type "A" personality. She's hard working, and she feels the need to be constantly moving or doing. She's definitely a Hermione.
I knew that when I got her, and if she was going to happily live here, I knew some adjustments would need to be made. So to start with, at 5:30, let the dogs out while I grab my coffee and breakfast, and toss a ball for her in between bites and sips. We head down to the basement where there's plenty of room, and she fetches for 1/2 hour straight, while wearing her backpack. And that's just our warm-up for the day.
I look at exercise as time: time spent in exercise is time out of trouble.
At Arwen's age, that 1/2 hour of fetch will buy me about 2-3 hours of calmness, provided I have adequately exercised her the day before. This 1/2 hour doesn't work if she didn't have enough exercise the previous day. It's like feeding your children; just because you fed them dinner yesterday doesn't mean you can skip today.
Ellis joins in the fun, too, and usually for the first 10 minutes I let them wrestle (no backpack when wrestling) so I can finish my breakfast, and only when Ellis is done wrestling, do I finish Arwen off with fetch, usually with Ellis hanging out next to me on the couch.
6:00 - 7:00 a.m- Breakfast & Potty Break
Now that the dogs are exhausted, they are usually rather hungry. Since I need to make sure Arwen is on a bathroom schedule (I've only had her about 6 weeks, and she wasn't housebroken when I got her), I've actually set her up to be hungry. Wake up + exercise = famished. The dogs eat out of various enrichment toys, with Arwen preferring a Kong Wobbler, and Ellis preferring the Outward Hound "Nina" ball. The dogs are locked in separate rooms to eat, as I usually have a bit of running around to do, either taking kids to school, shopping, or perhaps I just want a few moments to myself. They have about 1/2 hour with the toys, and if they're done, I take them away. Otherwise, I give them as much time as they need, but not as much time as they want. Meal time is meal time.
Usually at this point, I let them out for another potty break, and then they're in their room.
7:00 - 9:30 a.m. - Chill Out Time/Another Round of Exercise
If I don't have a morning training session for the day, I will head up to my office, where I'll hang out and get some work done. There are specific rules for my office: no wrestling, no energy, just calmly chewing on the office toys (learn about how to best use your dog toys here).
If I have a morning session, I will add another half hour of exercise at this point for Arwen, along with some more mental stimulation, such as learning a new trick, treats in an enrichment toy, or maybe just a Kong. Because....
9:30 - 1:30 p.m. (sometimes as late as 4 p.m.)
They are typically in their room during this time if I have training sessions during the day. They've been physically exhausted, had some mental work, so they're primed to chill out. They will be let out to use the bathroom when my kids get home from school, but this is their long stretch of quiet time. They're used to the routine when I have back-to-back sessions, and this routine, though not rigid, is tremendously helpful.
If I don't have back-to-back sessions, I use this time to relax, and catch up on calls, emails, or blog posts. Regardless of my dog training schedule, this is quiet time (usually), perhaps punctuated with a few shorter runs in the basement if there's time.
Late Afternoon - Evening
The walk happens after l I get home after my last session of the day. Sometimes that's early afternoon, and sometimes that's at 9:00 at night. I don't dwell on how long the walk is, just that it was productive, and I was able to Pilot them appropriately. Arwen is still working on walking politely. Ellis is a champ. During nice weather, the walk can be 3 hours in the park, or when we go rucking. In crummy weather, sometimes it's just around the block. Again, I don't usually use a walk to wear out a dog; that's like using a bucket to bail the Titanic: the benefit is so negligible, it's almost nonexistent.
Like tears in the rain.
The walk is to build your bond with your dog through Piloting. Sometimes they are allowed to sniff, other times, this is a brisk walk. They will usually be wearing their backpacks with just a little bit of weight in it to help the walk be more effective.
I enjoy being outdoors with my dogs, so typically we will go about a mile. If the weather is crappy (#Cleveland), as it has been, we will keep it short.
This is my chill out time. Dinner with my family (while my dogs eat from enrichment feeders), following by another brief game of fetch in the basement with Arwen to wear her out, followed by whatever tricks/commands I want her to learn. This week we've been practicing off-leash heel, lie down, and back up. So far she knows sit, stay, come, "to me" (used to help her refocus - she has to come to my left side and sit down), bring (bringing whatever toy I tell her), ringing to bell to go out, and she's now effectively housebroken (bar any more intestinal drama). This is usually only about 20 minutes in length. Ellis may work on some things with me as well, just for some extra mental stimulation. Scent work is his favorite right now.
Finally, around 8 or 9, I'm ready to settle in. I usually hang out in my office with my husband, where we'll watch tv. Sometimes it's video games with the kids. If the weather is nice, we will still be hiking with the dogs at this point. We don't watch too much tv in our house in the summer. I usually go to bed between 10:30-11:00, after the dogs get let out one last time.
You'll notice that I fully expect my dogs to have plenty of down time, which is integral to my sanity.
A dog can never be truly happy unless their owner is taking care of themselves. In other words, I give my dogs all the Piloting, Activity and Work that they need, not necessarily as much as they want. So if Arwen has gone on a 8 mile trek with me in a day, I have no problem giving her a negative when she asks to play ball in the evening. If Ellis and I spent a (productive) hour on scent work, if he brings me a puzzle toy later, I don't feel bad not filling it for him.
Dogs are like toddlers; they have no "off" button. Just because they want something doesn't mean they need it. You need to make sure you are taking care of your needs as well. Otherwise your dogs start to feel like just another chore you need to endure your way through.
My schedule works for me because it's not rigid. Given the nature of my job, I have a lot of flexibility in what gets done when, but at the end of the day, there is a general flow throughout the day. I find that with dogs, as well as children, having a schedule that shows some flex results in a calmer, happier household. It also prevents me from "forgetting" to walk my dogs. If something is important, and needs to be addressed every day, schedule it. Get on a gentle routine, and you'll find that your life is a lot less chaotic. Your dog gets the Piloting, Activity and Work that they need, and you have built in time for relaxation. So allow for some wiggle room on your day, but make sure you're hitting all the things that need to be done, and allowing for the things you want as well. It's the key to a successful bond with your dog.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio