How Long Should Training Sessions Be?


A while ago I wrote about the importance of interval training in dog 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.

But perhaps even more basic and critical is how long you train for in a single session. People are usually shocked (and pleasantly surprised!) when I tell them their training sessions should be 5-10 minutes long, on average. Separation anxiety training and some other desensitization training is slightly different but for basic skills, resource guarding and many other training tasks, 5-10 minutes is really the sweet spot for most dogs.

Of course, if you are training a cat, your sessions will be significantly shorter (1-3 minutes usually) or if you have a teeny tiny dog, their stomach may just not be able to train for even 5-10 minutes. Food crazy labs or high drive working dogs like malinois, might be able to go for a slightly longer period of time without filling up or losing interest.

I’d love for dog training to be part of the anti-hustle movement, where training your dog is compassionate and that people understand the process of behavior change and building a relationship with your dog based on love and trust (not fear or intimidation) takes time, consistency, investment (monetarily and otherwise), focus, understanding, compassion and ensuring you’re meeting all our dog’s needs. This is the basic process for building anything that is truly valuable, whether it’s a relationship, a business or training your dog.

Not only do we want training sessions to be short because of your dog’s stomach size and motivation but I want training sessions for my clients to be fun. If training your dog is a chore or something you dread or have to carve hours out of your day for, I know the human learner will get discouraged and likely not follow through, and then we won’t get the results we’re looking for. It’s easy for people to get overwhelmed by training tasks, especially if their dog has multiple issues that need attention. Dog training is not your life so it’s important to remember, any effort is better than no effort. 2 minutes is better than 0 minutes of training.

Short training sessions not only make things more realistic for the human learner, but allow for us to structure easy wins for both the dog and the human. And easy wins provide motivation for both to keep going. If you have a successful training session, you’re going to be more likely to want to train again, which sets your dog up for success because now he’s getting consistency and more practice. Long training sessions often result in frustration (dog and human) and then quitting because the dog has lost motivation or doesn’t understand what you’re asking him to do. That doesn’t leave either of you wanting more.

Shorter training sessions are effective and efficient. This can be hard for overachievers to wrap their head around and those clients often try to push the boundary little by little. I understand – you want to make progress as quickly as possible but I’m always reminding people to move at their dog’s pace. Clients who constantly push – maybe they do 10 minutes of training one day. Then 12 the next. Then 15 – are often the same clients that experience regressions. I see this pattern emerge in some separation anxiety clients where I will give instructions to do a 25-30 minute absence and then their notes say they stayed out for 32 minutes. Sometimes this is fine and doesn’t backfire, but constant pushing, can and often does, backfire and cause a regression in training.

Let’s make your dog training part of the anti-hustle movement instead of the rise and grind movement. There are no quick fixes. Slow and steady wins the race in dog training. Breathe deeply, enjoy the process, meet your dog’s needs and love your dog for who he is.

I’d love to help you and your dog. Be sure to grab one of my one on one sessions today. There is hope for your dog and I can help you! Book today!

Did you know I have a self-paced separation anxiety foundations course? Grab it here!

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Happy training!

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