How long should dog training sessions last?

Did you know it is better to practice short training sessions and stop when your dog still wants more? This strategy will keep training interesting and you will avoid over training.

I have always known this, but this was reinforced even more when I did sheep herding with my dogs a few summers ago. I am always trying to add more skills to my training repetoire, and thought my two Collies and Shetland Sheepdog would enjoy the experience. My wife Cassy and I got up at 5am to avoid the traffic and drove 90 minutes to our weekly training sessions at the sheep herding farm.

I am glad the trainer, Shannon Wolfe, (I love that name!) informed me ahead of time that sessions could last anywhere from 15-60 minutes, or else I would have been surprised. The first time each session with my dogs lasted about 20 minutes before Shannon cut us off. "That's enough!" What? I was told that it is critical that the dogs WANT to work. If you get them to a point where they are either tired or bored, it is counter productive. You want each dog to be able to work for long periods of time and if you over burden them at the beginning it can make it harder to motivate them later on.

This was evident as each week my dogs got more and more excited as we drove up the long driveway to the farm. Their energy remained at a high level throughout the entire sessions as Shannon allowed us to work longer each week.

You can use a similar strategy when you are working with your dog. It is important to do really short sessions throughout the day, and use "Life Rewards".

The overall strategy is to keep your dog interested. You want your dog to be SO excited that you ask him to do something that he hears you say, "Down", for instance, and he does it quickly because it means that "the game has started". On the other hand, an overtrained dog might say, "Come here? Again, are you kidding me? I am tired!"

Have the mindset that your dog is so lucky to be training and make it into a game. Use toys, treats, petting and belly rubs as rewards. Make it FUN! "Sit Oh, good boy! Come over here . . . .Nice! Down! . . .. Great job! (Treat) "Ready? Want to play some more? Down, Stay . . . . Good . . . Good. . .OK (Treat)." "We are done, thank you."

Then, take a short break and call your dog: "Come!" As you do more practice, your dog will anticipate all of the fun during training and will be so excited to do more work! One of the major benefits of this strategy of doing really short sessions is that your dog will be "on the clock" anticipating when you will call him again. This is more like a working dog lifestyle and he will be more tired and content then a dog that is trained for 15 minutes in one stretch and then is bored the rest of the day and left to entertain himself.

One really smart strategy is to use a "jackpot" at the end of the training session when your dog does something spectacular (faster sit, faster come when called, more downs in a row without a treat, a long stay next to a bouncing tennis ball, etc.) and give a long-lasting reward such as a mac and cheese stuffed frozen Kong! Yummy and long-lasting.

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