I used to be a lazy trainer.

Not lazy in that I skipped steps…

Or jumped to less than ethical methods to reach my goal quickly.

No, not lazy like that.

I was a trainer that never finished what I started.

You see, I liked teaching new things…

I did NOT, however, like logging the reps.

As soon as things became methodical…

As soon as they lost their “new” trick smell…

As soon as they became a bit mundane…

I was over it…

And I’d quickly jump to the next “new trick”, never really finishing everything unless it was absolutely crucial for everyday life.

I did this so often that I used to beg those trainers who loved precision to teach me their ways.

Not their techniques (although I’m always down to learn a new approach)…

I wanted instead to learn how they maintained motivation…

How they continued pushing forward…

Doing the same thing day in and day out…

While I consistently got bored and jumped ship.

It’s funny how much things have changed over the years. In fact, when I reflect back, I often laugh at how scattered my training was because these days, I log the reps every day without fail.

Now, I do the work.

Now, I enjoy the journey far more than the destination.

And now, new isn’t as exciting as finished.

So what caused the shift?

How did my mindset do a complete 180?

I implemented one single life hack that changed everything.

I made training a “lifestyle”. Not just another “to-do”.

Think about it. Ever heard those fitness coaches that say “It isn’t a diet…it’s a lifestyle?”

Well, listen. The same can be said for dog training.

And the thing is, while one could argue that dog training IS my life, I would have fought you tooth and nail if you told me that training my dog needed to become my lifestyle…

Because I LOVE my dog training time…

But I’d much rather go for a hike with them…take them swimming…or embark on some other adventure that does NOT include logging reps to get a flashy focused heel that…let’s face it…isn’t going to do them any favors in the living life department.

I train my dogs because sometimes it’s a necessity, but mostly it’s simply a fun and productive way for me to spend time with them.

So no…I don’t want teaching advanced tricks or playing dog sports to be a “lifestyle”.

Yet, even with that attitude, I made it so…

And I did it without sacrificing the hikes, the beach time, and the time I spend without my dogs (because this is important too!).

I did it while still keeping my house clean…

And keeping up with my chores…

And with time to spare at the end of the day.

So how did I do it?

One simple technique.

I created habits.

I know, I know. You’re thinking “Easier said than done, Meagan.” Or “Tell me something I didn’t already know…”

But stay with me for a minute.

You see, creating habits is hard. I get it.

It’s not like one day you’ll wake up, get motivated, decide to create a new habit and it will just…stick.

It doesn’t work that way.

Sure you might be successful for two or three days…maybe even for a week.

But pretty soon, life will get in the way…

Your shiny new habit will get interrupted…

And you’ll find yourself back in the same old patterns of not training your dog…

Or not doing your chores…

Or not exercising.

You can’t create habits haphazardly. For them to stick around, you have to get strategic.

Here’s what I did…

I used old habits to make new ones.

First, pick a habit you already have. Something you do every day without fail. A habit that’s bombproof.

Next, create an If -> Then scenario in your head. Even better, write it down and stick it on your fridge (or in my case, on a whiteboard in my office).

Then, practice.

So for example, every day, I let Shank out in the morning. When he comes in, I wipe his feet (we live in a VERY muddy part of the world) and then feed him breakfast.

So my If —> Then becomes “If I wipe Shank’s feet, then I train him.”

And I write this on my whiteboard.

By tethering the new habit to an existing habit that’s pretty much set in stone, you’ve created a daily reminder to train your dog.

And if you really want to get creative and jumpstart your motivation, you can tether training your dog (or any other healthy habit you want to adopt) to habits you want to change, habits that aren’t doing you any favors OR to limiting beliefs you might have.

Check it out…

If I have a habit of saying “I’m bored”, and then replacing my boredom with a snack (90% of the time, I snack because I’m bored), I can flip the switch on that habit by tethering my boredom to something more productive.

I can create a new scenario that looks something like this…

The old habit:

If I say to myself “I’m bored” —> I grab a Snack

The new rule:

If I say to myself “I’m bored”  —> I walk the dog.

Or if I spend too much time on Facebook (Guilty!), I can create a new rule that says…

If I open Facebook, I must train the dog for 5 minutes. Then, if I still feel like scrolling afterward, I can.

By creating If-> Then scenarios, and writing them down, I can create simple reminders that help me establish new habits and patterns, making me more productive with little effort.

Here are a few more tricks that will help.

Keep your sessions short

You will NEVER find me training for an hour straight.

But a few short sessions each day is completely do-able.

Convincing yourself to practice for 2 minutes is easier than carving out an hour of training once a week.

Not to mention, by practicing for short bursts daily, you’ll make more progress more quickly than you would if you entirely ignored your training during the week, and only tackled it in that big chunk of time you have scheduled on the weekend.

By practicing my training in small bursts, my new habit is easier to adopt, and far less overwhelming (your dog will think so too!).

Create a reward system

Listen, we as trainers are awesome at motivating our dogs.

I mean, if you are anything like me, rewards come often and there’s motivation a-plenty. In fact, I’d argue we are experts in keeping our dogs motivated for training. So why can’t we do the same for ourselves?

The answer…it’s easy.

We don’t use (or even think to use) the same training techniques we use for our dogs…on ourselves.

So I’ll challenge you to start rewarding yourself for sticking with your habits.

Pick a training goal you have…Keep it simple, and achievable, and clearly defined.

For me, it was finishing my retrieves.

Then, create a plan to reward yourself when you hit that goal.

To be effective, make sure the reward is something you really want. And make sure that it’s not something you gift yourself with regularly.

For example, I said, “When I finish Shank’s retrieves, we’re going to go to my favorite restaurant for dinner and drinks.” Boom. Motivation to keep going.

Just make sure you keep your promise to yourself.

And make sure you don’t reward yourself before you’ve earned it.

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit, it can be easy to neglect logging the reps in favor of those shiny new training tricks…

But if you get strategic about creating new habits around your training, you’ll see far more progress and you’ll become more effective. Not to mention, your training will become significantly more satisfying once you start seeking out the finish line, above the “shiny” and “new”.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    18 replies to "Shiny New Tricks: A simple life hack to build better dog training habits"

    • Karen Holley

      Ooooo I lurve this Meagan, never really thought about ‘If’ statements like this. I can see this making a real difference in my training. Thank you for sharing 🐾

    • Debi

      These are great ideas. I so need to put them into practice for myself. I know what I should be doing, and have great intentions, but like you said life always seems to get in the way. Thanks for this and cheers to a great 2019!

    • Kathy Weaver

      You just inspire my new diet plan … instead of grabbing a snack, grab a dog and spend a few minutes training. That should add three or four short training sessions during the day! Thanks for the suggestion. Happy New Year.

    • Kee van Deurs

      This is SO true !! I had an “habitual day”: until 11:00 a.m. – dog run, house stuff. Then to workout. 1:30 – errands. Loose-leash, e.g. dog park/field… Home. Dog rest./train. 6:00 p.m. Dinner. 8:00, 9:30 – another reason loose leash gallop in field, and, last “business” around 11:00 p.m..
      Since surgery a year ago : there’s at least one romp, anytime backyard “business” while I read about all the things that I could be doing 🤔
      My goal is to “restart” – once I get workouts habitualized, all my dog activities will fall into place 😃

    • Patricia

      When I started reading, it’s sounds just like me I want to chunk everything and move to next trick or train something new without probably finishing one thing correctly. Thanks, now I have a reactive dog I need to follow thru with one thing at a time

    • John & Dobbie

      Thanks Meagan, another great article and I must admit I am guilty of all these traits.
      However I/ we are working on changing our approach. The old saying “slow and steady wins the race”.
      Anyway I hope you and your team have an awesome 2019, and hope to see you back in Australia soon.
      John & Dobbie

      • Meagan Karnes

        So good to hear from you John (and Dobbie!). Happy 2019! Be sure to keep in touch! And I hope to see you very soon 🙂

    • Melissa & Merlin

      The facebook one would be good for me, so much time spent on there. Hopefully 2019 is the year for Merlin & I to take a step forward in our training fun journey.

    • Maureen Khoo

      Love your article. Good one to keep me get up to do the training as I do admit as I;m one of them. Hahaha.

    • Brian Viola

      well said! and thank you for sharing

    • Craig C

      LOVE this article – thanks Meagan!

    • Lisa

      Can I just ask – what do you mean by ‘logging the reps’?

      • Meagan Karnes

        We mean, practicing the behaviors you teach your dog and reinforcing your training 🙂

    • Glenda

      Oh my this so resonates with how I have always been in everything I do and I’m 58 and still scattered. I have done this with every dog in my life. I get a Behavior about 75% and move on to something that is more exciting or new to me. It’s really a vicious cycle for me. I do the same thing in my learning new training methods. For me it’s a feeling of never enough time to accomplish all that I want to accomplish with my dogs so I get distracted by the bright shiny new thing. I truly feel unable to change myself and this article gives me a bit of hope that I’m not the only one. Thank you for sharing this article.

    • Glenn

      I love this, as I struggle with motivation a lot.

      How do you prevent yourself from taking the reward before it’s earned? I find that when I succeed, it actually becomes easier to forego the reward because I’m feeling good about myself and in control, whereas if I fail, I’m likely to just go get it anyway because I already feel awful about myself.

    • Danielle

      I just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying this blog. I found it just a couple weeks ago and I’m hooked.

      I trained bird dogs for 10 years at a well known training kennel. I had to leave due to knee injuries requiring me to get both knees replaced. I am recovered enough to take my own dogs hiking and hunting but can’t quite handle the 6 days a week field training multiple client dogs. I miss it. Recently I began thinking about getting another breed of dog….my original interest had always been in working breeds; I begged for books about Schutzhund training when I was a 12 year old and my interest in anything related to the world of working k9 training just skyrocketed. When I came upon a chance to apprentice with a pro and learn to train dogs, I was in a part of the country where bird dogs are big business, but people here leave their keys in their cars and leave their doors unlocked….protection dogs of any sort do not have a market where I live. I ran with the chance to learn and work with dogs and I loved it.

      But since I’ve been out of the hunting dog gig for a while, I got to thinking about going back to my roots, and getting a dog who is wired for a different style of training. Because I knew from early experience that a lot of work can be done in short sessions, I can train during day to day activities, and I can mostly stay on flat ground with short grass if I need to. Ive been feeling like this is exactly what I need to get my groove back and feel like a dog trainer again, instead of a failure.

      So I got a chance to get a Shepherd/Mal mix puppy (she is light brindle, and I am still confused on the Dutch/Mal thing where some people call a brindle Malinois a Dutch Shepherd and other people consider it a distinct breed….I don’t really care all that much about that, all I know is she’s got a lot of potential but shouldn’t be so incredibly tight wound that I regret my entire life, lol). She is 4 months old and arrives Saturday.

      I’ve had moments of second guessing myself, worried maybe I didn’t know enough to train a dog like this, worried that my hunting dog techniques wouldn’t carry over, and I’d be in over my head.

      Your blog has reassured me that I’ll be just fine…so many of the basic principles you talk about, like playing, making a training lifestyle and letting a puppy be a puppy, are exactly the foundations of developing a bird dog. And the different stuff that didn’t happen in our training, like using toys, tugs, building drive….you explain your concepts simply and they make a lot of sense. I never got overly complicated with bird dog training. And I worked with dogs that ultimately went overseas for European hunting trials, so I understand that great results can happen from simple solid ideas. I’m so glad to know I’ve got half a chance at doing well with this dog, and I’m grateful I found this blog to refer to, if I run into any problems. Thank you so much for the work you put into this blog!!!

    • Susan

      Your comments about working only a few minutes at a time & multiply short sessions a day reminded me of how we encouraged our puppy class owners to train. I called it “commercial” training: since no one really likes commercials on TV, train for those 2 minutes at a time. Have a plan for the exercises you need to practice that evening. Have your treats & other training items ready, then sit down to enjoy your favorite show or sitcom. Every hour train 3-4 sessions during the commercials. Make it short & exciting for you & your dog. They never know when you’re going to get up to ‘play’ (ie train) so that also keeps their attention on you! Win-win 🙂

    • Colleen

      This sounds amazing, I’m going to try it! I’ve always had trouble getting stuff done if it’s not related to the dog OR not training a skill because we are struggling with it. This sounds like a great strategy to becoming more productive. ❤️🐾

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