Ask the Dog Trainer: Dad Despairs of Training Time

Dear Kendal,
I feel frustrated about training our dog Buttons. I understand the importance of practicing the skills learned in training, but between work, being a parent, husband, maintaining a household and a meager social life, it is impossible for me to devote an hour a day to training . I’m afraid to drop Buttons and would appreciate your insight.
– Desperate Dad,

Dear Desperate Dad,
It’s a wonderful goal to set aside an hour a day to work with Buttons, but don’t feel frustrated if you struggle to achieve it. While it is important for Buttons to practice the skills he has learned in dog training, I find, as a professional dog trainer, that it can be very difficult to set aside large periods of time for this purpose. . In fact, over the past decade, I’ve stopped asking clients to train for a set amount of time and instead suggested that they incorporate the review of skills learned in the classroom into their daily lives.
For example, if Buttons is learning to sit, you can practice asking for the behavior throughout the day. Ask to be seated before opening the back door, before meals, whenever Buttons wants to get attention or get in the car. The more repetitions he receives in a wide variety of distractions and situations, the better, thus making “sit” the magic word for receiving treats, affection, or starting adventures.
In addition to using my daily activities to practice the day’s lessons, I strive to turn a mundane, monotonous walk around the block into a review session. During your walk, stop at random mailboxes and ask Buttons to sit down.
Have him lay down whenever you see a blue car, practice hugging on street corners, and rolling over every flowering tree. Strengthen your heel by walking slowly along several aisles, then picking up your pace, zigzagging or doubling, for the next aisles. All this to help him learn to reflect you and focus, as well as to make walks more exciting.
When you incorporate training into your daily lifestyle, you will find that you are given many treats as you demand more behaviors and want to reinforce their occurrence. To help preserve Button’s size and your wallet, I suggest setting aside a portion of his total food allowance to use for training throughout the day. You can also use low calorie snacks such as baby carrots, blueberries or green beans. If Buttons doesn’t appreciate food as a reward, you can also use meaningful, quality petting or fetch play.
Also, if you don’t feel like working out that day, skip it. A frustrated and exhausted mindset won’t make a workout productive, or make you or Buttons want to repeat the experience the next day. So if you want to sit down and work with your dog for a while, wait until you’ve had a glass of wine, finished your errands, or sent that last work email. You will find that even if you don’t train on some days, the days you train will be more productive and enjoyable.
I hope my insight as a professional and dog lover will take you from a desperate dad to a fantastic dad.
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For more information, visit or email

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