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  • Courteous K9

How to Structure your Training Sessions

Formal Training Sessions: 

How you structure your training sessions can make training your dog more effective and more enjoyable. Generally speaking, dogs do best with frequent small training sessions vs infrequent long training sessions. You will see better results if you train your dog 5 minutes a day Monday-Friday, than 30 minutes on Saturday. 


I generally recommend that people shoot for 5-15 minutes of training, once or twice a day. When I say that, I mean formal training: teaching new skills and/or refreshing the skills they already know. 


During your training session, try to keep it fun and interesting. Typically this means training skills for only 30 seconds to two minutes and then switching to a different skill. You can always come back to a skill your dog is struggling with later in the session. This way you can work on a variety of skills in a short amount of time. You also avoid over-drilling the skill where your dog loses motivation. 


It is important to consider the skills you would like to work on for that day. For example, if your dog struggles with relaxation skills (stay, place, etc.), you may want to practice those skills at the end of your session. If we do that, we are setting our dog up for more success because they will be more likely to settle.  Keeping that in mind, be mindful of what time of day you do your training session because your dog's energy level will change throughout the day. If you are wanting  to work on the beginning steps of relaxation or greeting skills, you may want to have your training session after a walk or play time.  However, if my dog is doing really well with relaxation/impulse control skills like greetings, I might want to try testing them when they are still very excited to see if they are able to do the behavior with arousal- which if you have a dog who is very excited about visitors you have to teach them to be calm even when they are excited. If I am practicing behaviors that I want more speed and enthusiasm (ex. coming when called) I would do my training session before a tiring activity!


Informal Training: 

With all this being said, it is also important to note that consistency and training throughout the day is equally as important to maintaining reliable behaviors. This means that throughout the day you are enforcing what you want and don't want in your dog. If they are demonstrating behaviors that you dislike and you don't have the time or energy to train them in the moment, then it is important to utilize a management system where they are unable to practice those behaviors. 


In addition, I utilize contextual cues as much as possible. 


For example, at every door we are going to practice door etiquette where your dog needs to sit and wait until released through the doorway. If you practice this every time, your dog will generally start to do this automatically or if you ask it is easy and quick because they are used to it every time. 


Another example is when I am relaxing or doing certain activities like cooking, eating, reading, working on a computer, watching tv/movies, etc. I want my dogs to relax. I will never encourage high-arousal activities like playing fetch inside the house while I am doing these activities. It will be much more difficult for your dog to relax in the house if you enable their desire to engage with you. If they struggle with relaxation, I may work on being in the kennel, on a place/bed, or relaxing at my feet while on a leash to help them relax during these times. 


Another time I utilize contextual cues is that every time I get the leash, I expect my dogs to sit and stay still while I put the leash/collar on and off. If this is practiced routinely, it becomes habit. 


These are just a few examples, but working 'training' in a natural format like this everyday makes behaviors become automatic or very easy to achieve and thus making living with our dogs more enjoyable.

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