The Six Minute a Day Dog Training Challenge
Congratulations on joining the Six Minute a Day Dog Training Challenge!
Everything you need to know about the main principles of the Challenge you should be able to find on this page.
To participate in the Challenge, you need to read the entire page – yes, all of it!
At the very bottom of the page you’ll find a link where you can submit your personal Training Recipes. This form needs to be submitted by 8pm CST on the Sunday before the start of your Challenge.
Tutorials for teaching the specific skills can be found in the menu and in the text below.
The concept of Training Recipes was inspired by Dr. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits® program. In Tiny Habits, you use an already existing daily habit as a trigger to perform an extremely simple behavior that you want to turn into a new habit. For example, if you already brush your teeth daily and want to get better about flossing, you might make your Tiny Habit: After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth. I did Dr. Fogg’s program a few years back (also free) and realized that a similar format would work for dog owners that want to train their dogs but either can’t find the time or have problems making progress when they do train.
For the Challenge you will be creating three Training Recipes.
Each Training Recipe will have two main ingredients: a Trigger and a Skill.
The Trigger is a daily habit you do without fail. Feeding your dog, brushing your teeth, taking a shower – any of these can be Triggers as long as you do them every day no matter what. You will need to identify three of these – one for each Recipe.
The Skill is whatever you are going to work on with your dog – for this Challenge you can choose either the Down or Stay skills. (You can choose another skill but I recommend sticking with one of these the first time you participate).
Three Training Recipes = choosing three Triggers and one Skill.
Each Training Recipe will look like this:
After (Trigger), I will spend two minutes improving my dog’s ability to do a (Skill).
Example Training Recipes are:
“After my dog eats and I pick up the food bowl, I will spend two minutes working with him/her on ‘Down'”.
“After I eat dinner and wash the last dish, I will spend two minutes working with my dog on ‘Down'”.
“After I let my dog in from the yard, I will spend two minutes working with my dog on ‘Stay'”.
“After I hang up/put away the leash following our walk, I will spend two minutes working with my dog on “Stay”.
Using Triggers to kickstart your training
Starting the Monday of your Challenge, immediately after you do your Trigger habits, you will spend just two minutes working with your dog on the Skill you choose. Don’t try to do the training session before something else. After is the key word here. No other action should come in between the Trigger and the training session.
It helps to be very specific about the Trigger – try to pinpoint the immediate moment the action is done. When exactly is “After dinner”? After you eat the last bite, after you clear the table, after you load the dishwasher? Choosing “After I load the dishwasher” is more precise than the vague “After dinner”.If the Trigger habit you choose is something that you do more than once a day, but you only want to use one of those times as your Trigger, then you can also identify the time of day (in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening).
An example of when you might need this is if you walk your dog twice a day but only want to make the morning walk your Trigger.
Teaching & Improving Skills
A Skill is any ability that can be taught and improved. Playing guitar, doing yoga, painting a picture, designing a web site, calculating physics equations, training dogs – these are all skills.
I am pretty good at training dogs. I play guitar pretty poorly. And I don’t know the first thing about physics. Regardless of which of these I chose to work on, the process is the same. I need to start wherever am I at, and get better by increasing the difficulty.
Down and Stay are Skills we can teach our dogs.
Your dog might be pretty good at them or might suck. You need to start where they are at. This is their Baseline ability. More specifically, it is the level of difficulty that the dog can easily do the Skill.
It’s a good idea to have a Goal – a level of difficulty you want your dog to get to. The Goal might be clear or it might be fuzzy, but there is always some level of ability that you are aiming for. By definition, a Goal is more difficult than the Baseline.
Incremental Levels of difficulty connect your Baseline ability to the Goal. You don’t go from teaching “1 +1 = 2” straight to teaching algebra. You progress in logical steps.
It’s important that you understand these terms before you move forward! I’ll be using them a lot. To recap: a Skill is something you can learn and improve. The Baseline is how well you do the Skill now. The Goal is how well you want to know the Skill in the future. To reach the Goal you need to get better one Level of difficulty at a time.
How do we make a skill more difficult?
There are Four Conditions that can be changed to make a Skill more difficult for a dog to do:
- less Direction: the less information or more subtle the signal you give them is, the harder it is for the dog to understand.
- more Duration: the longer the dog is asked to do Skill, the harder it is.
- more Distance: the further away the dog is from the handler, the harder it is.
- more Distraction: the more interested the dog is in the outside environment or stimulus, the harder it is to do the Skill.
Whenever you are trying to move up a Level of difficulty, you will be working on one of the “D”‘s. Not all conditions will apply to every Skill.
These 4 “D”‘s can be changed to make it less or more difficult for a dog to do a Skill. The less information you give, the longer you ask the dog to do something, the further away you are, and the more stuff going on around the dog, the harder it is for the dog to do a Skill.
For this Challenge I walk you through teaching and improving your dog’s ability in one of two Skills – Down (as in lie down) and Stay by consciously changing the “D”s.
For the Down Skill, you will be focusing on improving your dog’s ability by giving less Direction.
For the Stay Skill, you will be focusing on improving your dog’s ability by adding more Duration and Distance.
While you can use these principles to teach almost anything, I recommend sticking with one of these the first time you do the Challenge.
I’ve created tutorials explaining Down and Stay.
I’ve also compiled a video library demonstrating the methods. The videos are a bit older and some of the wording might be different but the principles I describe are the same.
Whatever Skill you choose, your dog has a Baseline ability – the current level of difficulty that your dog can easily do the Skill. It might range from not being able to do the Skill at all to being advanced. Whatever your dog’s Baseline is, that’s where you need to start.
You will decide on a Challenge Goal for that Skill – the level of ability you’d like your dog to be by the end of the 5 day challenge. The Challenge Goal might not be your ultimate final goal. For example, let’s say you really want your dog to be able to do “a ten minute Stay while I walk 30 feet away at the park”. That would be an unreasonable Challenge Goal if your dog can’t currently do Stay for one second in your house. To achieve that ultimate goal, you need to break things down into smaller goals that get you closer and closer.
Think of it like teaching a child Math. The ultimate Goal is probably that a student graduates from 12th grade with a certain proficiency in Math. To reach that ultimate Goal, the Math skill is broken down into smaller goals:
- The yearly goal is to get the student closer to the graduation goal.
- The semester goal is to get the student closer to the yearly goal.
- The class goal is to get the student closer to the semester goal.
A 2nd grader’s Baseline in Math should be higher than a 1st grader’s.
Therefore the 2nd grader is closer to the graduation Goal (12th grade ability) than the 1st grader.
Your dog might have first grade ability or he might have seventh grade Baseline ability in Down or Stay.
The sky’s the limit to how advanced you want your dog’s ability in a Skill to be. But there are no shortcuts. You’ve got to teach 1st grade skills before 2nd grade skills and work your way through the grades to get to 12th grade ability. But you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get there with the right approach to teaching the Skill. “Stay” is much easier to teach than calculus!
During each two minute Training Session, you will work on getting your dog from Baseline to your Challenge Goal one Level of difficulty at a time.
The Challenge Goal should be based on the dog’s Baseline – how well your dog can already perform the Skill reliably. I’ve given some suggestions for each Skill but you can make up your own if you prefer. Aim for an easier goal rather than a harder one (but make sure it’s a noticeable improvement!). If you hit the goal before the end of the Challenge, just create a new goal!
How to Approach each Two Minute Training Session
Be prepared. You are less likely to do the session if getting set up is a pain in the ass. So be prepared with everything you need beforehand – stash of treats close by, blanket if you need one, etc.
Know or find your dog’s Baseline. You should have an idea of your dog’s Baseline level before you start each session. A good way to find the Baseline is to see what the hardest level your dog can easily get right three times in a row.
At the beginning of each session, ask your dog to do the Skill at the most difficult Level they have already done successfully (might be one level up from Baseline or might be Baseline itself). If they get it right, ask for it again at the same Level. Repeat until your dog is successful three times in a row at that same Level.
Focus on one “D” at a time.
Do you want to add Distance to the “Stay”? Do you want to give a more subtle cue (less Direction) for “Down”? Pick one and focus on it for that session.
Use the Rule of Three
If the dog is able to repeat the Skill easily three times in a row, then he knows the Skill at that particular difficulty Level.
If I ask a child to solve 1 +1 three times, and each time he easily answers “2”, then I can assume he knows it. That doesn’t mean he knows 8 x 9 or even 2+2.
If dog is easily able to do the Skill at a certain difficulty Level three times in a row, then assume he knows it at that Level, and make it a tiny bit harder the fourth time.
Anytime your dog doesn’t get the Skill right when you are making it a bit harder, go back and repeat Baseline one time. If he is successful, then immediately try the harder Level again. If you cannot seem to move up from Baseline to the harder Level, it is likely that you’ve made the new Level too hard, and you need make it a little easier (but still harder than Baseline).
Remember, Baseline is the level that the dog can currently do easily. So if your dog doesn’t get it right at Baseline, then you might need to reconsider what your dog’s Baseline really is!
Don’t be stingy! Deliver a treat your dog really really likes for every single successful repetition!
Remember that uncontrollable Distractions increase the difficulty Level.
More Distractions automatically raises the difficulty Level of the Skill. If the Distraction Level is higher, such as in a public place, expect Baseline Duration and Distance to be shorter, and expect to need to give more Direction.
The main thing you will need are tiny pea-sized treats that your dog is excited to work for. Not just “Ok, I guess I’ll take it” but “Hell yes I’ll take it!”. Think of the difference in your attitude if someone offered you $1 vs. $50.
You might find it handy to get yourself a cheap treat pouch so that you have something to hold your treats in. It also makes it convenient to be able to just easily grab your pouch right before a training session.
A blanket or towel can make teaching Down or Stay easier, especially when you are first starting. When I struggle with teaching a dog Down or Stay I will often break out a blanket as my first troubleshooting step. This works especially well with small breeds.
One last thing – and it sounds corny – but I want you to celebrate your success.
Success is the mere act of taking two minutes to spend working with your dog. Success means that you remembered to do your Training Sessions. Progress will come – the important thing is just doing the sessions.
So congratulate yourself, do a little dance, yell “Woohoo!”, do anything that helps give you the feeling of success immediately after each session.
This was the hardest thing for people to remember when I ran my first experiment with this program. Do your best – it’s an important component to the Challenge!
Getting More Help
If you get stuck somewhere and need additional help, post your question on our Facebook group! The Facebook group is the only place we’ll be giving advice and feedback for the Challenge.
You can also book us for training services!