5 Things You Should Do to Manage Training Sessions Like a Pro

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Updated: February 2019

If you’re new to dog training you’ll soon find out that training sessions run deeper than clicks and treats.

So what’s the deal to get the most out of your training sessions?

It’s all about management.

Managing training sessions will do two very important things…

  1. Firstly, you’ll have a dog that’s fully engaged and ready to work.
  2. And secondly, you’ll squeeze the most potential from every session.

And as dedicated pooch parents, that’s what we want. So although these 5 things are simple, they are very powerful.

5 Tips to Manage Training Sessions like a Pro

T.R.A.I.N

To help myself, and you keep these 5 things in mind when working with our dogs, I made a super simple acronym to follow.

But first, here are those 5 things you should keep in mind…

  1. Train in a distraction-free environment.
  2. Keep training sessions brief.
  3. Use high-value rewards.
  4. Pick the best time for your dog.
  5. Train when your dog is hungry.

So the acronym breaks down into:

environmenT, bRief, vAlue, tIme, huNgry.

Digging Deeper into T.R.A.I.N

Environment

The environment is the first thing to consider. If the environment is wrong, then everything else will become more difficult.

So when you start out training a new behavior, work in a distraction-free environment.

The last thing you want is to be competing with other dogs, people, scents or anything else your dog might find more interesting (like squirrels!).

That’s not to say you should never raise the criteria. As your dog becomes fluid in a behavior, you should take it on the road and make things more complicated.

Practicing in areas with more distractions is essential to a reliable dog. But to begin with, you want to train in an environment you have control over.

Neutral training environment for dog training

Always train new behaviors in a neutral environment with little distraction

Brief

In dog training, less is always more. And that definitely applies to the length of your training sessions.

If you make them too long, your dog will check out and learning will take a nosedive.

How long sessions should be, depends on your dog. You know your dog best, and it’ll be obvious to you when your dog is no longer engaged.

The rule of thumb here is to end a session while your dog still wants more.

Don’t wait until your dog is bored. End on a high note so that your dog is still engaged.

Value

The reward you offer is payment for a job well done. But if your pooch thinks the reward is not worth working for, they will check out of training.

Most dogs will work for food. But if your pooch prefers a toy or belly rub, that’s perfect too. It’s a total myth that you can’t train dogs without treats.

All you need to know is what your dog is willing to work for.

You can check out this article to learn how to get your dog to show you how they rate food rewards.

Want to know which toys are your pups favorite?  You can use the same method to find out which toys your dog rates the highest.

Timing and Duration

Keep Sessions Brief and Pick the Best Times to Train

Time

Just like us, our dogs have their ‘ideal’ times during the day where they are most alert and eager to be productive.

And this is great for you to capitalize on. Watch your pooch for a few days and note when they are busy. Then you’ll know exactly when to slot training sessions into their day.

As an example, my crew is super busy in the mornings until after breakfast time. Then again at around 4 pm, their energy levels increase.

So this gives me plenty of room to set up training sessions for the best results.

Hungry

If your pooch is hungry, they are going to be more invested in the training. This is important if you’re working with a doggo that’s not into working for food.

Update: The beauty of constant development in the field of dog training is that we as owners learn more about how to help our dogs function optimally.

Recently I came across a small study that suggests hungry dogs are not necessarily more motivated to train. In fact, for some dogs being hungry will affect their ability to focus and concentrate.

So what does this mean for you and training session? Well, if your dog eats a mainly kibble based diet, I recommend offering them a fresh, low-carb meal an hour or so before training.

Something like scrambled eggs will do the trick just fine. It’ll give your dog the nutrition and energy they need to perform well during training.

If your dog eats a raw diet like my crew does, then play it by ear to see whether they need a pick-me-up meal an hour or so before training.

And if you’re keeping an eye on your pooches weight, just give them a little less food during mealtimes.

Bottom line is we want our dogs to be motivated by food, but we still want them to have the sustenance they need to focus, perform optimally and above all enjoy training.

Manage Dog Training Sessions Like a Pro

Take your dog training to the next level with proper management.

Wait, There’s More!

Before I go, I want to highlight two small things that changed the way I approach training…

The first thing is to always go into a training session with intent. Ask yourself; “What do I want to achieve with the session?” And then set your sessions up with your goal in mind.

It helps to have a training journal to keep track of what you and dog have accomplished. And what’s planned for the future.

Next, if you find your dog is not invested in the session, or there’s no enthusiasm, cut the session short and try again later.

There’s no point in trying to force a session if it’s just not happening. All it will do is disengage your dog, and frustrate you.

Conclusion

Actively managing sessions with my dogs has bumped up training to new levels. It’s not brain surgery, so it’s super easy to implement right away.

I hope these tips will help make your training sessions more fun and engaging.

Happy Training!

Image Credit: Flickr via CC 2.0.

  • Mike

    How to train 2 at a time

    • Hi Mike,

      It’s tough training 2 dogs at the same time. I recommend working with each one individually for better results. Once each dog has learned the new behavior, you can start working on the behaviors in a training session with both. So basically teach new behaviors separately and once they’ve learned then you can working on practicing the behaviors with both of them in training sessions together.

      You’ll likely find that once they have learned and mastered impulse control behaviors like wait and leave it, you could teach new behaviors together. But personally I like working with my dogs individually also.

      Hope this helps! :)

  • Deva kissun

    I have a GSD born 10-04-18 a male

  • Esther Baniewicz

    My GSD is still a puppy with lots of energy. I am not satisfying her energy level and I’m very frustrated since I never had a GSD so hyper. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Esther,

      Thanks for your comment and welcome to the world of high drive dogs! It’s super fun but I know it can be tricky too.

      You’ll be happy to know that scent work it a great way to help satisfy your pup’s high drive and you can start playing scent games with simple things like a bunch of plastic cups and treats. There are also some great puzzle toys specifically for scent work.

      Check out this article and specifically the video on how to teach a dog how to play a puzzle game. I got our puzzle game off Amazon, but you can follow the video with the plastic cups as I mentioned above. Just use the video as a guide to teach your pup how the game works.

      Also, I suggest checking out an online dog training program that I highly recommend and also use for my own dogs to keep them stimulated. It’s different to other programs since it uses games as a way to train dogs. This taps into their natural intelligence which is extremely stimulating and helps them to learn faster.

      I wrote a full review of the program and also share an in-depth interview with the dog trainer who developed the program. You’ll find plenty of games that will satisfy your pup and help her to learn the kind of behaviors you want her to. I have 2 high drive dogs and they have benefited greatly from this style of training.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. :)

  • Eyvonne

    I have a German Shepherd with Border Collie an she is almost 5 moths old an very energetic what is the best way to train her. it also seems like no matter how much we play or walk her she never seems to calm down.

    • Hi Eyvonne,

      Thanks for your question.

      I know exactly how you feel! My Lexi is a German Shepherd and Border Collie cross – you can meet her here. They are high energy dogs with a drive that seems never-ending.

      Here are a few things I do and have done to help Lexi get the stimulation she needs…

      First, teach your girl puzzle games and scent work. I have found that these kinds of games give her what she needs to tire out and become calm. Puzzle games can be bought or made with things around your house like plastic cups and containers. Check out this article and watch the video to see how I teach my dogs how to play puzzle games.

      Things like snuffle mats are also a great way to stimulate them and you can pick one up off Amazon. Or check out this article and scroll down to the Snuffle Mat to see a video of how to make your own Snuffle Mat at home. Dogs love these mats and burn a lot of energy working to ferret the treats out of all the nooks and crannies.

      There are also a bunch of other games you can play with your high-drive dog to burn excess energy. I have used an online training program to teach my dogs these kinds of games and they have been extremely useful. These are Brain Training games and work with your dog’s natural intelligence to burn energy and teach behaviors all at the same time. Things like Nose Targeting, Hide-and-Seek, Leg Weaving, Tidying up toys and also Playing the Piano. These are all things that will burn energy while your training her and also once she’s fluid in the behaviors. I think it’s totally worth checking out, you can read a full review of the program here.

      Hope these suggestions help. Let me know if you have any other question. :)

  • Nancy Holligan

    Ive had my dog since a puppy he’s 18 mth now . He barks if a new person visits so we have to put him in room let visitors in sit them down before letting Riley back out and he’s fine . Also we can only walk him at night as he barks at people but looks aggressive due to his size . I’ve tried treats ignoring him . Hrs such a good dog when just round family he’s so loving and clever . But running out of ideas over barking

    • Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for reaching out with your comment.

      German Shepherds are renowned for their territorial behavior but there are steps you can take to help Riley be more comfortable with welcoming new visitors. Also, if he didn’t have a lot of socializing around people and dogs in his territory when he was younger, this could also be a reason why he’s more likely to take time to adjust to visitors.

      The first thing to note is that barking is a self-rewarding behavior, so even if you totally ignore it, Riley still gets rewarded merely from the act of barking. In the same breath though, doing anything like trying to quiet him will also be a reward.

      So with barking (which is something I dealt with extensively when I adopted my GSD Charley) is to have an understanding of triggers and thresholds. I wrote about these two concepts in this article and also share training tips on how to teach focus. Focus is a great skill for dogs to have because it teaches them to look to you for guidance.

      Once Riley has mastered focusing on you, you can start working on desensitizing and counter-conditioning. The essence of this is to teach Riley two things. One is that his triggers (visitors) are not bad. And two, is that good things happen when his triggers are around. This article on barking has a graphic what explains this well. Just replace the mail van with Riley’s trigger (visitors).

      So the way I would approach this kind of training is to have visitors come over. As for a focus and then practice this desensitizing and counter-conditioning at a distance when he’s calm and not reacting. Then put him away and let your visitors in to sit like you normally do and then let Riley out to greet them. The idea is that you want to interrupt the behavior and not let it happen. So work at a distance first. If he reacts, then increase the distance to a place where he’s calm.

      It might take considerable time to help Riley un-learn this behavior, but it is possible with persistence and patience. I highly recommend getting into the clicker method for this kind of training. It’s a great basis to teach a dog anything. Here’s an article to get you started, if you haven’t already tried it or if you just need a refresher.

      And if you want to dive deep into clicker training and see what is possible with it, check out this training program I recommend. I used it with my rescues Charley and Lexi who both ad a lot of problems especially around other dogs and people and I still use it today. The program taps into the natural intelligence of dogs and teaches them how to behave in a calm manner by using games to learn. You can read my full review of the program here.

      Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions. :)

  • Stella

    Hi Gabriella,

    As an active participant in Dog Working Trials I found your article on dog training really helpful. As a result I now split my training sessions so I do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
    These shorter periods are working really well and my eighteen month old German Shepherd x Dutch Herder is responding enthusiastically.
    I am having a problem teaching her to speak on command though. I have taught this to all my previous GSD’s but despite trying everything you suggest plus ideas of my own I’m really struggling. The irony is that she is the most vocal dog I have ever had, which I believe is a common trait in Dutch Herders.
    Have you any ideas please.

    Stella.

    • Hi Stella!

      Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m so pleased you’ve found this valuable.

      In terms of barking on cue, some dogs don’t feel comfortable barking “at” their owner in the initial training stage. And it’s difficult to move on from there. Is this what’s happening?

      Ze my male GSD isn’t a big barker as a rule. He saves his barking for when he thinks there’s a real threat! So baking “at” me was totally foreign to him. I found that using the highest value treat in his eyes helped a lot. for Ze it’s cheese, for your girl it might be something else. Check out this article and skip to the section “The Power of Food in Dog Learning”, there’s a little experiment you can do so your girl can show you which treats she values the highest above all.

      In the training session start by giving her a few nibbles of her highest valued treat just so she knows you have them. Then ramp up the excitement with your voice, body language (movement from you will work well here) and of course a treat in your fingers that she can see, smell but not have – yet!

      Also, you know her really well so you’ll be able to pick up on the most subtle cue that she’s thinking about barking. Look for cues like an open mouth, ears moving back, head slightly raised. And even jumping behavior. If it looks like she’s thinking of barking, click or give your verbal cue and reward. Sometimes dogs just need that extra step so they learn it’s actually okay to bark “at” us for this training.

      Also, listen for very slight vocal cues. Playful throat growls and even little grunts. Anything that sounds like she’s thinking of or wants to vocalize, mark and reward that. Again, it’s just that extra step she might need.

      I hope this helps! Let me know how you get on with it.

      Chat soon,
      Gabriella

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