Once you’ve learned the basics of positive training and have picked up enough ideas from blogs and books to keep you busy for the rest of your dog’s life, you may still feel like you’re falling behind.
This is especially true if you’re disorganized, lazy, or just inconsistent with keeping up the same amount of training from week to week. Like me, for instance.
Last week, we had global-warming style warm weather. Me and Matilda and Cow went out for a walk almost every day, and I was impressed at how great they’ve been doing at loose-leash walking – not the easiest feat when you’re walking two dogs at once.
This week, it’s rainy, windy, cold and gloomy. Yeah… we’re not going out there.
Our dogs deserve our best efforts at providing training, exercise and mental stimulation. I know my dogs need to learn more tricks and to practice their skills. It’d be ideal if I could work on their training each day, but even as a dog blogger, I haven’t been perfect at it.
And yet, we’re still making steady progress despite my lack of consistency.
It’s Easier To Learn Without Daily Training
Are you feeling guilty about not training your dog every single day?
A study of 44 laboratory beagles showed that dogs can retain skills whether they practice three times per day, once a day, or just 1-2 per week.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that, the less frequently the dogs practiced, the quicker they mastered the obedience task. Daily training was more effective than 3x daily training, but dogs who were trained just 1-2 times per week were the fastest at picking up the new skill.
The study does not delve into why this happened. Maybe the beagles who had three training sessions per day were getting bored and demotivated. Maybe, after so many treats and commands, their attention span faltered.
I’d also like to know if it makes sense to work on loose-leash walking just twice per week, then spend other days working on other tricks. It’s unclear if these Beagles were only trained for one task for the duration of the study, or if they spent any time working on anything else.
Mealtime As Training Time
If you’re still a fan of daily training, you may use your dog’s meals as motivation. At times, I use my dogs’ entire meals as rewards for super-long training sessions. We might work on fetch, heel and other tricks until the entire bowl is gone.
However, this doesn’t actually seem to be the most effective idea. When I take out the food, my dogs are laser-focused on the meal and have trouble concentrating on the task. It’s not until the middle of the session that they are at their brightest.
A 2012 study showed that hungry dogs have a harder time with tasks. The dogs had to search for a treat – some were fed 30 minutes before the task, some, 90 minutes, and some were hungry.
The dogs who performed best had eaten 30 minutes before the search.
Hungry dogs and those who had eaten 90 minutes before performed with about the same level of success.
So, it turns out that the best time to train your dog might be after breakfast or dinner.
This makes using food rewards a bit more complicated, because you don’t want to overstuff your dog.
However, you can feed your dog a small meal a short while before training. If you use high-calorie training rewards, you can cut back on meal portions to avoid letting your clever dog become obese.
Don’t Worry About Consistency Or Time
When it comes down to it, dogs are resilient. Even if I keep training my dogs at mealtimes, they’ll still learn, even if they don’t learn at their best when they’re hungry.
Even if I don’t stick to perfect 15-minute sessions, they’ll still learn if we train sporadically during a 1-hour walk, then spend 5 minutes here and there throughout the week.
By keeping training-related gear in sight, training is on my mind more often. When I keep leashes, sweaters and harnesses in a convenient spot, it’s easier to get out for a walk.
Do whatever it takes to train your dog more often, but don’t worry if you’re not perfect. Nobody is! Your dogs will still learn and they’ll love you all the same.