You’ve decided to train your new (or existing) dog. You’re going to a weekly class. Or you have a trainer coming to your home. Or maybe you’re watching YouTube videos and working on your own. But how much time should you devote to training each day? And how much time should you devote to training your dog during each training session? How many times each day should you stop what you’re doing to train your dog?
These are excellent questions that most new pet parents ask. And the answer is a resounding: It depends.
There are some standard practices, but there are also a lot of caveats. It’s important to remember that training should be fun for you and your dog. If the dog is struggling to learn a skill, or if you or your pup are getting frustrated, then both of you will dislike the training process. So, no matter how you organize your training over the course, the main thing to ensure is that training is fun and engaging for you both.
How Often You Should Train Your Dog
You may hear a wide variety of suggestions on this. Research indicates that daily training is not necessary and may actually be less effective than twice per week training sessions (Helle, et al., 2011). Even if twice weekly training showed a greater speed of learning (fewer overall repetitions of a new skill), daily training had the same retention of learned skills after 4 weeks. So, if you like to train daily that’s still OK. I usually encourage clients to do short training sessions of just 2-5 minutes, or 10-12 treats. You can do this a few times per week or twice per day. The important thing is to keep the sessions short, fun and that you end on a high note. That means if the dog does a particularly good job, stop there and let the dog process that success. Don’t push your luck for “just one more repetition.”
For more challenging skills or to generalize learned skills, I often encourage clients to do what I call single-trial-training sessions. This is where you ask for the skill one time, get success and then move on with your day. This might be asking for a Sit before putting the leash on to go for a walk. Or asking for Drop, Sit and Focus in the middle of a game of “tug” before throwing the toy to restart the game. By interrupting the training with real life, or building training moments into games, we help create solid responses that will happen in many locations and with a variety of distractions, not just in our quiet living room.
Every Interaction is a Training Interaction
This means that every time you’re engaging with your pup, you are telling your pup how to engage with you. This is especially important for young puppies who will grow up to be large dogs. Most people like when cute little puppies jump up to greet them. But when that puppy grows up to be 80 lbs. and she’s still jumping up to greet, that will likely be unpleasant for many people, and could be dangerous with small children or a frailer people. So, from the day your pup joins your family, you want to be consistent in how you interact. If you want to ensure that your adult dog sits politely for greetings, make sure you’re asking (training) your 8-week old puppy to sit for greetings.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and be playful. It just means that you have some structure to how games start and end (special toy comes out and then gets put away) for excited play. Or perhaps, fetch/running games only happen in the yard, but inside is where brushing and cuddling occurs. This will teach your dog to keep her high energy antics out of the living room.
Now that you know training is always happening, but formal training sessions can be quite short, get to practicing with your pup today.
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.