Less May Be More:
We've all heard expressions like, "Hard work never hurt anyone." There are hundreds of quotations that implore us to, "give it our all."
But there are just as many sayings that advocate otherwise. We are told to, "Work smarter - not harder." Or how about, "If hard work is a virtue, than mules would be saints."
When it comes to dog training it appears that less is more. Research shows that dogs learn faster when given breaks.
It makes sense that dogs might need mental breaks. After all - so do people. We take regular breaks at work. It energizes us. It prepares us to take on the rest of the day. Students are encouraged to take breaks while studying. It can clear one's head.
And so it seems that dogs benefit by getting regular breaks. They think better and do better.
Owners benefit too. They achieve more with less effort during the teaching process - leaving more free time to relax.
The following training strategies can help you get more out of training sessions with your pet.
Set aside a specific time for training and stick with it. Ten minutes of quality time can get you far. To put things into perspective...educators recommend that children do 10 minutes of homework per grade. So a grade 1 child (6 year old) would do ten minutes. A grade 2 child would do 20 minutes of work...and so on. Dogs are often mentally compared to three year old children. They can learn to work for longer periods of time. But don't stress them out with training sessions that are long and onerous.
End on a high note. When dogs do well, owners are often tempted to push the dog to do even better. Here's the problem with that strategy. When a dog has a break-through, chances are it will be some time before another epiphany comes along. When a dog gives you brilliance, take it. End the session on a positive note. Let the dog finishing working while it still wants to do more.
Use television commercial breaks. Rather than hunting down a bag of chips, use commercial breaks to do miniature sessions with your pet. When the show resumes, end the session until the next commercial. Give your dog a busy toy or bone so they learn to occupy themselves while you watch your show. Television shows will naturally pace you and provide breaks.
Look for moments of brilliance in real life. Training should happen in real life. If your dog does something good - reward it. If you don't have treats or a clicker handy say, "Yes!" and go get a treat. Your dog will learn that you've got eyes in the back of your head and obedience time is any time.
Work at an appropriate level. Many owners complain that their dog won't obey when faced with distractions. The dog knows sit, but jumps on visitors. The dog knows leave-it, but won't listen when kids are tossing a ball nearby. Remember that basic obedience classes are like kindergarten level skills. Ignoring squirrels and bouncing balls are like university level exercises. In between those two are many levels that owners should practice. If your dog is struggling check to make sure you are working at the right level.
Give play breaks. Kids get recess. Adults get coffee breaks. Give your dog a chance to blow off some steam when they've been working hard. It increases blood flow to the brain helping your dog learn better at the next session.
Don't work when frustrated. There are times when dogs struggle to understand what is expected. It can become frustrating when the dog just isn't "getting it". If this happens, or you're just having a bad day - take a break for yourself. Come back when your head is clear. Dogs are exceptionally good at reading human body language. If you look frustrated, the last place your dog will want to be is with you.