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…
- Firstly, you'll have a dog that's fully engaged and ready to work.
- 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.
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…
- Train in a distraction-free environment.
- Keep training sessions brief.
- Use high-value rewards.
- Pick the best time for your dog.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 your 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Image Credit: Flickr via CC 2.0.