Updated: Jan 13, 2022
Do you train for the same amount of time every day? Every other day? 3X a week? What's the "right" duration per session? Are you burning out your dog's mind or body? Let's talk about training sessions; how long, when, why, how often, and where training should be taking place.
by: Danielle R. Pellicci Jan 2022
Q; How Much Time Should I Be Training My Dog?
The answer to this question is a simple one ... and it is also, NOT a simple one.
THE NOT SO SIMPLE ANSWER: ALL DAY EVERY DAY.
Above all it is important to recognise that we are training our dogs even when we are not doing any type of formal training session.
To prove this point, as I started to sit down to type this blog post, My 15 lb Jack Russell terrier (A.K.A. "terrorist") was bouncing at my lap and working his hardest to get my focus on him. The dog was trying his best to convince me to participate in some activity or, in general, offer HIM attention. I DID NOT submit to his demands. I ignored him entirely. Had I engaged; perhaps pushed him away, or, even "reprimanded him" he would have WON his battle for my attention. When that happens a behavior in this case jumping up on my while I sit at my desk would not only not stop ... but it will get WORSE over time.
In dog trainer terms: Any behavior that is partially re-enforced becomes worse not better. In this scenario the training lesson he learned was that I was going to IGNORE the bad behavior. THIS made the behavior change. Now as I type this message to you; he is laying on a mat in the sunshine and behaving like a true gentleman.
Hold on ... I need to go pet my dog for being a GOOD BOY ... I'll be right back ... I ignored the behavior I wanted to change and it changed. NOW ... I have to praise the behavior I want him to repeat and this will be the one he chooses more often until the old behavior becomes extinct.
OK ... Im back ... Let's continue: SO, training happens all day every day. if we want to live with dogs and not be constantly frustrated with their "dog behaviors" we must always be aware of the message we are sending them. THIS IS DOG TRAINING even if it is not a "formal" dog training session.
I will give you one more example before moving on the more complex part of the answer. Actually, let's call this an experiment:
Walk to your front door/back door/ garage door etc ... with your dog where you usually let your dog outside. Put your hand on the handle/knob. DO NOT SAY ANYTHING .... (in a different blog post I am going to share about how we OVER TALK to our dogs). How does your dog react ? JUMPING around, excited to go outside? Or ... calm and patient? Does he/she offer a polite sit behavior, or .. jump up and bark at your face " LET'S GO OUTSIDE!!!"
If your dog is calm and patient awaiting to be released to go out ... congrats! You are a clear and consistent dog trainer. If your dog is a maniac at the threshold of the doorway, you have not been training your dog to only offer behaviors that "work" to everyone's benefit. Think of "calm" as the key to the door opening. If your dog does not have the key, the door stays shut. Resist the urge to give your dog any verbal commands in situations like this. In everyday / all day dog training it is MOST helpful to teach your dog to make good behavioral choices.
Put your hand on the knob or handle of your door ... and wait ... wait ... wait for it.... it might take a second or, 3 minutes ... your dog might be calm for only the count of one breath ... but that's IT. THAT is the key to opening the door. That is your key to all day every day dog training.
NOW, THAT SIMPLE ANSWER:
If you strive to achieve all the medals, trophies, and title certificates that you can earn with your dog in a certain competitive sport, your designated formal training sessions must become a scheduled priority.
If you goal is to simply have a well behaved pet dog, of course you still have your work cut out for you. Your sessions may allow for some wiggle room and be less structured in terms of a syllabus.
Train your dog/puppy as soon as he/she becomes a part of your life always keeping your end goal in mind. If you are not sure how to get started or what you need to be working on, team up with a great trainer to help you lay out a plan for your sessions!
No matter your end goal, I recommend starting with 2 sessions a day (the duration of those sessions will vary based on some factors) but, with 2 sessions a day to start you will be able to document (keeping a journal is helpful) your successes, struggles, progress, and setbacks ...
Young pups (8 weeks - 6 months): keep sessions SUPER SHORT for youngsters less than adolescent age. 5 - 10 minutes. Strive for 2 X a day, but maybe 3 or even 4 of these short sessions for younger pups!
Adolescent dogs (6 months - 1.5 years): tend to hit a mental trouble zone (as did we all as teenagers right?). Keep this is mind and pay attention to that "burn out" mental state. Trust me ... you will know it when you see it.
With mature dogs (2+ years) I personally work them 1 - 2 X a day in a 15 - 20 minute range or 3X in shorter duration depending on the behavior or task we are focusing on.
Our dogs (even mixed breeds) have evolved and developed over generations to possess certain levels of drive (desire) to satisfy their specific inner needs. Retrievers and herding dogs like border collies tend to have a very high "prey" drive. Many dogs have a high "food" drive, some thrive on the "fight" and others want nothing more than the approval of their pack leader (Pack drive). Once you can identify your dog's drive hierarchy it is important to use that to your benefit as a training tool. Use your dog's drive response to reward for a job well done during your training sessions.
Admittingly, dogs with lower levels of drives may be harder to initially get started. There are techniques and tipos your trainer can help you with in order to help you build your dog's drive in certain / all areas. Don't be frustrated, it is only super important to recognise early when it comes to lower drive dogs that your sessions might need to be SHORTER (especially at first) in order to keep them more meaningful for your dog.
At home, in your own yard, and anyplace your dog is comfortable and familiar, you will typically get more engagement and focus when training ... especially with the younger/ novice dogs. In this case your sessions will probably extend a little longer.
In new (exciting / strange / perhaps intimidating) places you need to be fair and adjust both your standards in training as well as the expectant duration of focus for your dog.
Set your dog up for SUCCESS when practicing your training in brand new environments.
Example; if you are at a park for the first time and practicing your "sit / stay" exercises. Don't walk as far away from your dog as you typically would in your home yard while training, and/or don't work on long duration stays. Do multiple shorter stays and reward the dog more frequently for the correct behavior at a lower threshold than you would typically expect.
No matter what, when it comes to ALL DOGS (and people) we all need. day or two "off" a week. Remember, training happens all day every day so, I'm talking about days off in terms of "formal" training sessions with structured behavioral goals & commands being taught and polished.
Training can be both physically and mentally taxing on your puppy or dog. Have patience, and have FUN in each session. I always tell my students to "climb out" of every training session. This means to END your session on the best note possible. Even if you have to make a task a little more simple or reward a little sooner, end each and every session with the dog in a positive emotional state. End every session with your dog still desperate for ONE MORE TREAT or ... wanting one more chance to TUG or earn the chase of the ball...
I sure hope this blog post made a light bulb or two shine for you! When it comes to training dogs we are all in this together ... I appreciate you being here and reading the words i took time to put down on the subject. I hope you will come back to read more next month!
~ Danielle R. Pellicci