If you’ve ever exercised a lot or trained for a big event, you’re familiar with interval training. This idea of mixing high intensity practices with periods of rest or easier practices is a concept encourage my clients to use when training their dogs, especially separation anxiety or fearful dogs. Nobody can or should always work as hard as they possibly can all of the time. Everyone, even dogs, need periods of rest.
When I work with my separation anxiety clients, these intervals are very intentionally built into their daily training exercises, alternating more difficult steps in training with easier ones but also built into the overall arc of their training. While the long-term goal is to increase the dog’s threshold for longer durations alone, we need to be very careful to not structure training so every absence is always longer than the previous one, or that in and of itself can cause anxiety. My training plans are very carefully crafted to build in this type of interval training and toggling of difficulty.
Occasionally clients struggle with understanding why we’re not pushing, pushing, pushing all the time. Of course, as humans we want things to move as quickly as possible in training. I gently remind them that training pace is set by the dog. Always. We live in a fast paced, immediate gratification world but lasting behavior change requires time.
With fearful dogs (like those who are afraid of strangers), we also build in a variety of difficulty, scaling the difficulty but not always making it as difficult as possible. A screaming child running towards a fearful dog is usually much more scary to a dog than a person standing completely still at a far away distance. We wouldn’t make much progress if everytime we did training, we employed the screaming child so we need to vary different scenarios and parameters in training.
This is easier said than done and knowing how to juggle these parameters and when to make things easier or more difficult is my job. If we make it too easy all of the time, then the dog will not make progress as efficiently as possible but if we push the dog too quickly or too often, that can cause a regression in training. Working under the guidance of a qualified trainer will give you the benefit of a professional who knows how to make those judgement calls and who knows how to write a structured, incremental plan that incorporates interval training when needed.
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