Couch Potato Training

By Jamie Bozzi, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KSA

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Finding time to train our dogs is often a challenge. But did you know that a “training session” can take place on the couch, even while you are watching TV, or as you move from one room to the next? What better place than the comfort of your own home?

Achieve simple training goals by using what you have—the living room!

Basic foundation skills are best taught in no-distraction or low-distraction environments. Living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms in a house or apartment make wonderful training environments. You are setting the dog up for success by strategically using the place he is most familiar with.

The term “couch potato training” refers to training not only in the living room but in all rooms of the house, even the bathroom. It also means using household items to train the dog. This type of training is easy and fun!

Small Space Success

Is your dog moving around too much? Does he seem too distracted? Then do a quick training session… in the bathroom. Huh? That’s right—the bathroom. Why? Small spaces equal fast success! Keep it short, sweet and simple … and small.

Small spaces set the dog up for success. The dog will be more likely to offer attention and gain body awareness. Plus the dog is comfortable in a familiar, no-distraction or low-distraction environment. The best learning takes place when the learner is relaxed and comfortable.

Small spaces also set the owner up for success. They allow the handler to pay more attention to the dog. Before you can expect your dog to give you his undivided attention, you must give undivided attention to your dog. Small spaces allow dog and handler to connect. It’s easier to engage a dog in a small space, where there are no (or few) competing interests.

Managing the dog’s environment is also key to success. A small room does the work for you; it allows your dog to find you. For example, eye contact can be taught in the bathroom, because it limits the dog’s choices. When the only options are toilet and handler, the handler starts looking really interesting (but close the lid if you have a toilet drinker!).

Heel position can be taught in a hallway or doorway. The small space leaves less room for error. If the dog learns and practices the correct position from the beginning, the cue can be added sooner. Teach as many behaviors as you can in an environment where the behavior you want is the only behavior the dog can do. Bingo! The dog does it right the first time and every time.

Couch Potato Training, Continued

Lots of creative training games can be played using regular household items such as chairs, coffee tables, couches, etc. Provide your dog with a “living room toolbox.” You don’t have to buy expensive training equipment or props, because great training tools are all around you. You can practice many levels of basic behaviors in all rooms of your home, with items you already own.

Here is a brief list of household items that can serve as training tools:

■ Couch, sofa, or chair

■ Coffee table

■ Rug, bathmat

■ Wooden spoon

■ Fly swatter

Long items like wooden spoons, dowels, or a fly swatter can be an extension of the handler’s hand and arm to help teach the dog to follow a target, move away from the handler, and follow cues at a distance. Mats and rugs can be used to do distraction and distance work and teach the dog impulse control and relaxation. Pieces of furniture can be used as obstacles to teach “under,” “over,” and “around,” as well as other moving behaviors. Heel position can be taught by teaching the dog to follow a hand target or practicing correct heel placement between the couch and the coffee table.

Train While You Watch TV

Yes, you can actually train your dog while you watch TV! Use TV commercials for building your stay behavior. Ask your dog to sit (or down) and gradually build up the time to a 30-second or a 60-second TV commercial. Once the commercial has ended, release your dog from the sit position.

And all this training helps teach confidence, impulse control, and resilience against the distraction of environmental stimuli. Couch potato training is fun and easy!

More Benefits

Living rooms can also be alternatives to dog parks and dog sports, at least in the beginning stages of training. For shy or reactive dogs, the home is a wonderful place to learn the basics before you take it on the road. If clients decide to build on their basic skills and learn more, they will have already trained the foundation behaviors necessary to attend almost any type of dog sport class.

Generalization and the Real World

The key to helping a dog learn to generalize is to change the picture as soon as the dog is reliably offering (or understanding) the behavior. A great way to “change the picture” is to practice in every room of the house, gradually adding distractions, and then taking it on the road.

You can do a lot of generalization work and get a very good foundation in the house before you even step outside. And when you do step outside, try the patio, porch, garage, driveway, backyard, etc. Gradually transition out into the real world.

Adding these changes early in training is most effective. Train in different rooms. Have different family members issue the cue. Be sure to vary the situation in which you train. This is where you need to be creative and continuously think of new situations to train in and new distractions to train with. You can get very creative in and around the house or neighborhood.

Change happens one choice at a time. Choose the living room!

Jamie Bozzi of SMRTDog is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant (CBCC-KA) and a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI). She enjoys freelance writing, competing in scent detection trials, and hosting special events.

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