I think that many times this gives dog owners the idea that they need to do a one hour training session each day. And, this probably works better in their schedules. They can go to work, get home, eat dinner, train the dog for an hour and then not have to worry about it the rest of the night. Or maybe they get up early to train before work.
However this can make for a tired and frustrated dog and handler. It can also make training less appealing. If you are tired, an hour can feel like an eternity. You may skip training your dog altogether if you “only” have 30 minutes, or 15 minutes, thinking you need that whole hour.
Longer Doesn’t Mean Better
Do you remember pulling all-nighters in college and realizing in the morning you didn’t answer half the questions correctly? Or how you felt after doing an hour of calculus homework? Working that hard on something for that long, can actually hurt your performance, not make it better.
Or maybe you remember trying to get that free-throw basket. After an hour, did you find you were actually further from making the basket then when you started? That your aim was actually worse? Of course – because your body was getting tired and your mind frustrated.
But then, after a few hours break, or even the next day, you came back and nailed that first shot.
Your dog feels the same way about training, especially a hard, multi-step behavior. Your dog is having to use both his mental and physical strengths and asking him to continually do it for an hour can be too much.
How long is too long?
Notice how tired your dog is after your weekly one-hour lesson. Not only is he tired, but you may have noticed of these other common issues:
- He stops being interested in rewards (he’s full of treats, the toy isn’t that exciting after 30 minutes, etc.)
- She starts to pay more attention to other things around her (a sign she is mentally or physically exhausted)
- She walks away from you (another signs she is mentally or physically exhausted)
- She is slower to respond to cues
- He makes more mistakes
- He stops offering behaviors
All of these are “side-effects” or signs that your training session has gone too long.
Shorter is Better
Do you remember that not-so-nice saying about “beating a dead horse?” Well, a long training session can be exactly that if your dog is not getting what you are asking him at that moment – continuing to try and do it can just make it worse, not better.
Which means, if you hit a wall – STOP. Your dog doesn’t get what you are asking of him! Take a break, give him something to chew on, and come up with another plan. Otherwise you are beating the dead you-know-what.
In addition, short sessions with a break in between give your dog time to process what he has just learned. This will help him retain it and you will progress a lot quicker than if you were doing hour-long sessions.
So How Long Should You Train?
It will depend on your dog, but on average 10-15minutes at a time is best. So, do this 4 to 6 times a day, and you are still getting your hour in, but you will be much more productive.
You can work on the same behaviors each time, or different ones, the main thing is to not do too much of one thing, either. That would be the same as working for an hour. So don’t spend the entire 10 minutes on sit – would you want to get up and sit, get up and sit, get up and sit, for 10 minutes straight? Probably not.
In addition, if, during that short session, your dog displays any sign of fatigue, frustration, or reactivity, end the session. It’s okay to end on a not-so-good note. Give your dog a break and try again in an hour or two. Then, note the time and next time, work a few minutes under that time frame.
The main thing about training session length is to be flexible and pay attention to your dog’s signals. If he is cooked, it’s time for a break.
About the Author
Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of, A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.