How Often Should You Train Your Dog?May 20, 2020 2020-05-24 16:04
How Often Should You Train Your Dog?
How Often Should You Train Your Dog?
I get messages every week (sometimes every day) asking for training schedules. They always make me happy – those messages are written by owners who cannot wait to get started in their training journey and want to have the best training structure possible for their dog.
If this is you – awesome. It really is great to read the messages of such motivated owners ready to jump into training.
The answer to the question will probably be a bit disappointing though …: it depends.
Be Ready For Short Attention Spans … Very Short Ones
A dog starting out in training will most likely have a rather short attention span. Whether you have an 8 week old puppy who just joined your family or an 8 year old rescue dog that is going to train for the first time in his life – you will probably not get a ton of focus right from the start.
This is why it is crucially important to only train as long as the dog is able to pay attention.
Every time you are working with your dog, you are not only training the behavior that you picked for the day – sit, down, heel, etc. – but you are also establishing a long-time attitude towards working with you.
I actually think that whether or not a single training session goes well in terms of how much did the dog progress with the new behavior is irrelevant compared to how much you instilled a love of training in your dog.
Every time you train you get a fresh shot at training a behavior – but you only get one (very long) shot at establishing the training mindset.
It is not too difficult to “overwrite” an incorrectly learned behavior – such as for example a dog who pops up out of a sit as soon as he sat down and got a treat. It is much more difficult to overwrite the associations dogs make with the training scenario in general.
In particular this means: If you keep training with a dog that is tired, a dog that is bored, a dog that is distracted – then the mindset your dog associates with the training scenario will not be very positive.
For many dogs just starting out with learning, attention spans of a minute or two are very common.
A really distracted beginner dog might only be able to give you 60 seconds of attention.
There is nothing you can do to instantly increase your dog’s attention span – this will happen over time.
What you can do right away however is to make sure to only train for as long as you have your dog’s full attention. This way he never rehearses to check out and disengage from you.
Whether your dog disengages after 1 minute, 2 minutes or even after 45 seconds – you always want to train for less than his expected attention span.
This way you can be sure that he will be able to pay attention throughout the whole training session (no matter how short).
It is much, much more important that your dog pays attention and is engaged and enthusiastic to work with you throughout the whole session than that the session lasts for 5 or 10 minutes.
How You End Is How You Start
As we already said, your dog is building a “training mindset” every time you train him.
If you end the session with a tired, disinterested, bored dog – then this is how he might start the next session.
You never want to make your dog apprehensive to training by asking for more than he can do.
Definitely stay below your dog’s maximum concentration time when you are training.
That means that if your dog can focus for 1 minute – train for 45 seconds.
If he can focus for 45 seconds – train for 30 seconds.
And so on.
Every Dog Improves Their Attention Span
If you truly only practice as long as your dog is able to focus and make the training engaging and fun, I promise that your dog’s attention span will improve.
Especially for puppies it is astonishing how drastically their focus increases with the right approach.
I have been working with a family recently who has a puppy of a Northern Breed (definitely known for their independence and not really having an inherent will to please). They started out with a pup who could barely focus for a minute, so we began with 30-45 second sessions.
At our latest check-in they told me that it now is them that end the sessions because they are done – the pup (at only 4 months old) trains with perfect attention for 15 minutes and more.
This is exactly what you are going for – the dog should be a bit bummed that the great training session is already over! When he looks at you like “What? What?? We have such a good time??!” when you get up and tell him “all done” – you have done it just right!
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How Many Times Should You Train?
Now that you know for how long you should train your dog – how many times a day (a week) should you plan for training?
Ideally, you should try to train every day. Since you already know that these training sessions are going to be very short, don’t worry – this won’t require you to put in endless hours.
If you are able – a short morning session, a short afternoon session and a short evening session are fantastic. But even just one single short session every day will be very successful if you can consistently commit to it.
It is easiest to build the training units into your daily schedule: For example, take a couple treats and run through some exercises as your morning coffee is brewing.
You can rehearse waiting in front of the door whenever you take the trash out. You can even train in the commercial break while watching your favorite TV show!
If you notice that your dog seems less motivated, you might have overdone it. In this case – dial back a bit in your training frequency. But nearly all dogs do well with fun and very short training sessions a couple times a day.
When training, make sure to pick the times of the day that your dog is generally alert, well-rested and ready to go. After your dog has just romped with his doggy friend in the yard is not a good time to dive into training.
The Biggest Mistake
And here is the #1 mistake that I see when it comes to scheduling training:
There is no consistency.
Nearly all owners start out highly motivated and their dog trains and learns a ton during the first week or two of training.
Then training lapses for a day, maybe because it is a long day at work. The next day there is no training because of the soccer game of the kids. And the day after because …
As long as you train most days – your dog is going to make really nice progress if you use effective and rewarding methods.
Unfortunately it is very easy to not train for a couple days, and then a couple weeks, and suddenly the dog hasn’t been trained in a month or two.
So – whether you train once a day or 4 times a day is not going to make any difference in the long run if you stop training after a couple weeks.
Make training a fun and brief part of your daily schedule and stick to it – if it is easier to stick to once a day, then do once a day!
If you don’t enjoy training, your dog is probably not going to enjoy training either.
If training is a drag and boring and you are dreading working with your dog, it is time to take a break and rethink the approach and frequency.
Training should always be the most fun part of your dog’s day. That means that if you have a bad day – take a break. If you have a headache or stress at work – take a break. But once you feel better:
Don’t forget to come back to it and dive in again.
And now – happy training!
(Big thanks to Feedspot for featuring us in the Top 100 Dog Training Blogs On The Web!)