I've received a handful of requests for more five minute training ideas. I love that you all are embracing the notion of shorter training sessions, focused on fun exercises to help your dog be more successful on your walks, in your home, etc. This time around, I thought it might be fun to pick five 5 minute training ideas that focus on getting your dog more mental and physical stimulation, moving beyond walks, sniffiaris, and puzzle toys. So, here you go!
1. Fun with leave it/drop it: Gather a bunch of items your dog might be tempted to sniff, pick up, or destroy; I like to use boxes, wadded up aluminum foil, used paper plates, used kitchen sponges, old dish towels, socks, bones or toys past their usable dates, highlighter pens, ball caps, etc. You get the idea. With your dog in another room, spread these items around on the floor, then bring your dog in on leash and walk them around and through all of the items like a gauntlet. Your goal is to be able to use your voice (and treats!) to redirect them away from picking up any of the items on the floor; resist the urge to tug their leash to get them to leave the items. Sniffing is okay, of course, but picking stuff up should be met with a happy "drop it!" and redirection. See if you saying "leave it!" alone is enough to get your dog to move on. If they can do this easily on leash, try off leash. Definitely try the same exercise outdoors, at the park, etc., basically anywhere you go where your dog might find fun stuff on the ground to sniff, but should not pick up. This is a wonderful exercise for dogs of any age, but keep in mind that puppies will likely pick up everything they encounter the first few times you do this, so definitely keep them on leash, have high value treats to trade, and make sure that the objects you are using for the game are too large to be swallowed!
2. Where's the cookie?: Put your dog in another room or in their crate where they can't see what you are doing. Take a good sized dog cookie or treat and hide it in plain sight in the room. Bring your dog back to the room and tell them to find the cookie. They should be able to quickly find it the first time using their eyes and nose. Be sure and verbally reward the find. Each time you hide the cookie, make finding it more difficult; placing under dog beds, in toy bins, in the sliding door track, etc. which means your dog has to work harder to find the reward. If you want to add another layer to the game, start giving your dog hints like "you're getting warmer!" or "you're getting colder!" as you redirect them in the general direction of the treat. They will learn to look to you for those hints if they are having trouble finding the cookie. Make it even harder by taking this game outdoors and putting the cookie under a piece of patio furniture, under a soccer cone, inside your kids' playhouse, etc. There are so many great smells outdoors, this will be a much bigger challenge!
3. Interval Training: Dig out those old soccer cones as you'll need about 12 for this exercise. Six of the cones will be set up in one part of your yard, with cones spaced about 2-3 feet apart. They can be in a straight line, or wavy, your choice. In six other areas of your yard, place a single cone. Label each of those six cones (Station 1, Station 2, and so on). Now, grab six solo cups and a bunch of scrap paper. For each solo cup you will want 5-6 different tasks written on paper and tossed in the cup. Some stations should be harder and/or more active than other. For example, Station 1 might be ask for a sit then a down. Pretty easy, right? When you get to Station 2, however, expect the activity to ramp up as this station's cup is filled with tasks like "do a circle left around the cone, then circle right." Station 3, is your goofy station, so the cup should have ideas like "march with your dog," "get your dog to jump in place while you do jumping jacks," etc. Head to Station 4, for a controlled exercise like a distance stay. Station 5, is all about tricks so make sure those pieces of paper in the cup have things like rollover, shake, high five, etc. or more advanced tricks if your dog can do them! The cup at Station 6 is filled with new things you'd like to teach your dog. Maybe you want them to offer their foot for inspection; do a loose leash heel; pick up a dropped item; etc. From this last station, you can move to the "weave cones" and guide your dog through them saying "weave" or "through." Start out on leash doing it with them, but move up to being able to send them through the cones on their own. Big praise and rewards at the end! Be sure and mix up those ideas you've written on paper and placed in those solo cups and change them up regularly as well. And no cheating when you reach into the cup for your task; do the task on the first piece of paper chosen!
4. Silence is Golden: This is just charades for dogs. Start out inside your house, but work up to doing this outdoors where there are other distractions. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. During that time, and until you hear the ding, you cannot use any words with your dog. You must use your body language, hand signals, and facial expressions to convey your messages. Start with the easy stuff like sit, down and stay, since I'm sure you have hand signals for those things already! How about come? Do you pat your legs, snap your fingers, or whistle to get your dog to come to you? Try them all to see what works best, getting the fastest recall. If you haven't been using hand signals for other behaviors, go ahead and use a treat in your hand to lure your dog into the behaviors, but quickly move past the lure to an actual hand signal. Use your hands to guide your dog to stand at your left and then come around behind you to the other side. Signal a good job to your dog with a thumbs up gesture and a big smile on your face!
5. Backyard Parkour: You can use almost anything for this exercise, but these items are my favorites: hula hoops, picnic table benches, foldable chairs, adjustable beach umbrellas, large sturdy buckets, cement blocks or bricks that can be stacked on two sides with a broom, large PVC pipe, or 2 x 4 positioned across them. Spread out your parkour items in your yard! Hula hoops can be laid on the ground for practicing sit/stay and down/stay in place or you can teach your dog to pick up an item and drop it inside the hoop. Your other hoop can be held up so your dog can jump (or walk!) through it. For the picnic table bench, teach your dog to put their feet up, and then to climb up and walk across the bench, stop and then hop down. Once they can do this, see if they can turn around on the bench and move back the direction they came. Can they walk the bench backwards? Add in a bow? For the foldable chairs, either spread them out for weaving between, or leave them folded and lean them against each other or a wall and have your dog walk through/under them them without knocking them down. For the beach umbrellas, have your dog crawl or walk under the open umbrella stuck into the ground. If they are afraid of umbrellas, start by moving around them first and build up to going under them. For the buckets, teach your dog to balance with their front feet on the upside-down buckets. Little dogs can be taught to jump up on a bucket with all four feet, and maybe even sit up on it! For larger dogs, just the front feet is fine. You can also use the buckets to play a larger version of the shell game. Put some treats or kibble under one bucket so that when your dog get to the bucket, she realizes there is an added bonus for turning that bucket over! Play the limbo game with the broom/PVC pipe/board across the cement blocks. Keep lowering the broom to see how close to the ground your dog can crawl without knocking over the broom. Now reverse it! Start raising the broom on the blocks for jumping over without knocking over the broom! If you don't have any of these objects, or your yard is too small for parkour, get creative at a community park, using playground equipment when the neighborhood kids aren't there, picnic tables and benches not being used, weave around trees or bushes, crawl under tables, and plant feet on art in the park, water fountains, trash cans, etc. See a large rock? Have your dog put his feet up on it! Found a stump? Time to get your dog to balance up there! Hey, there's a puddle! Let's jump over it! I'm sure you get the idea.
Each of these five exercises allows your dog to use their brains and their bodies to solve problems, stay active, and have fun. They can be customized for puppies or for senior dogs as well. These exercises are also great for building confidence in a shy dog, or for bonding with a recent rescue. And remember, the goal of these exercises isn't to do them all in five minutes flat. Rather, it's to do something fun with your dog that challenges their mind and body for five minutes each day.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.