Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.
Making the Most Out of Your Dog's Training
If you recently got a puppy or rescued an adult dog, you are likely interested in training him or her and many questions may be popping up in your mind.
A frequent question is: How often and for how long should I be training my dog?
This is a very legit question, and an important one too. There is such a thing as over training and this can have several negative effects that you may want to be aware of.
Negative Effects of Training a Dog Too Much
Yes, too much training can cause more damage than good. Just think how you would feel if were forced to stay all day stuck in school and then just go to bed and start all over the morning after. Or imagine going to school and having no weekends off or maybe no summer break. In any case, you get the idea!
If we train for too long, we risk our dogs getting tired and distracted. This can put a big dent into how they feel about being trained, and it may even negatively impact the relationship we are trying to build with them.
Sooner than later, you would start seeing signs of your dog tiring. He may stop responding to you, or may engage in some type of displacement behavior such as scratching an imaginary itch or yawning. He may even just take off to sniff and look for something more interesting to do.
With time, when it's time for training, your dog may go missing in action. He may be wandering away or he may stick to your side a few seconds just to please you, but is eagerly anticipating when the session is over.
Not to mention, overtraining can lead to poorly-learned skills and poor performance, on top of being a tedious experience for the dog.
The Importance of Knowing How Much to Train
You may assume that knowing how much to train a dog is something for those folks who are engaging their dogs in advanced training, such as becoming a police dog or a service dog, but this elementary knowledge can turn helpful to virtually anyone interested in training their dogs.
Asking the important question of how long and how frequently a dog should be trained demonstrates a willingness to do what's best for the dog and concern for his or her mental wellbeing.
Coming up with the perfect number is obviously a challenge considering that, there are many factors to consider such as the dog's age, breed, health, temperament and owner's approach to training.
However, a study has focused on how the frequency and duration of training sessions impacted how easily dogs learned tasks and the effect on their long-term memory.
How Long and How Often Should I Train My Dog?
When evaluating the duration and frequency of training, it helps to categorize different training schedules.
Massed training involves a compressed training schedule, whereas, spaced training involves a training schedule with long intervals in between.
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Earlier research had found that dogs do best with spaced training, allowing better acquisition and retention. Basically, the dogs trained to perform a target behavior once a week (spaced training) performed better than the ones trained daily.
The spaced training, therefore, allowed quicker learning, requiring fewer training sessions and granting higher success rates.
A study on ponies provided similar results, with ponies trained once a week performing better than ponies trained seven times a week.
In rats, massed training encompassing 16 consecutive trials in one day, negatively impacted the rat's ability to retain the learning compared to rats trained using spaced training consisting of 4 trials a day in 4 days.
In this study, dogs were trained daily or 1 to 2 times a week. The results revealed that dogs trained 1 to 2 times a week performed better than dogs trained daily.
Dogs also did better on shorter durations of training (one session) compared to longer durations (three successive sessions).
The study also revealed that, once the dog learns a task, it is remembered for at least 4 weeks regardless of how often and for how long the dog is trained.
Why Is Less Better Than More?
The next question that comes naturally is why do dogs seem to learn and retain more effectively when trained once a week, and for shorter sessions compared to dogs trained daily and for longer sessions?
The answer comes from other past studies, proving that intervals allow for better memory consolidation.
The Role of Sleep in Memory Consolidation
Just as it happens in humans, allowing your dog to catch some sleep, after training, helps consolidate what he has learned. It's the canine equivalent of "getting a good night's rest before a big test. "
In the study, dogs performed better at sitting and lying down upon hearing cues in a different language after taking a nice nap.
Actually, to be more precise, peak performances were seen in dogs who were given the opportunity to nap beyond an hour.
The study also examined the effects of sleep on dogs' memory. Researchers observed changes in EEG patterns in dogs after learning a new task. The findings, therefore, showed that sleep and learning are related.
The Role of Play in Memory Consolidation
Another recent study has found that playful activities between a dog and a human taking place 30 min post-learning positively affected long-term memory.
This likely occurs courtesy of increased synaptic plasticity and long-term potentiation, two amenities taking place during the memory consolidation process.
A further study found that how acute exercise being offered after learning improved memory retention in senior dogs.
- Demant, H., Ladewig, J., Balsby T.J.S. and Dabelsteen, T. (2011) The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 133, 228-234
- Kis et al. (2017). The interrelated effect of sleep and learning in dogs (Canis familiaris); an EEG and behavioural study. Scientific Reports 7, 41873.
- Snigdha, S.; De Rivera, C.; Milgram, N.W.; Cotman, C.W. Exercise enhances memory consolidation in the aging brain. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2014, 6, 3–15.
- Affenzeller N. Dog–Human Play, but Not Resting Post-Learning Improve Re-Training Performance up to One Year after Initial Task Acquisition in Labrador Retriever Dogs: A Follow-On Study. Animals. 2020; 10(7):1235.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli