Wednesday, 2 May 2012

How Often Should I Train My Dog?

If you want a well-behaved dog, you have to teach it how to behave. It's often advised to train the dog frequently, for example to have three short training sessions a day. On the other hand, if you go to training classes, they are usually once a week (though of course you can practise at home). But how often is it advisable to train a dog? Is it better to train frequently or less often, and should the sessions be short or long? This is the question posed by Demant et al (2011).

How often should a dog be trained for the best results?
Photo: dezi / Shutterstock.com

For the study, they used 44 dogs that lived at a laboratory, so that they could control extraneous factors. The dogs were all the same breed (beagles), were housed and fed in the same way, and were trained by the same trainer (who they had not met before the study began).

The dogs were trained to go to a basket and stay there.  This is a complex task, and for the purposes of the training, it was broken down into 18 steps, starting from habituating to the trainer and basket, progressing through going to the basket and putting all four paws in, and gradually increasing the time in the basket and the distance of the trainer from the basket. All of the dogs went through the same training sequence, and in order to progress from one stage to the next, they had to get it right eighty per cent of the time.

The dogs were divided into a group that was trained 1-2 times a week, and a group that was trained daily. In addition, some dogs received one training session at a time (made up of six trials at one stage of the task), and others received three at a time (i.e. three stages of the task, with six trials at each); in other words, the duration of the training varied. At the end, the dogs were tested on their ability.

The results showed that it is better to train once or twice a week rather than every day. In addition, it was also better to train for a shorter duration than a longer one. Four weeks later, all of the dogs were tested, and regardless of the group they had been in, they were able to recall the command.

The authors suggest several reasons why training once or twice a week is better than daily. One idea is that it gives more time for rehearsal; it's known that sleep is important to learning, and having longer gaps between training sessions allows for more rehearsal during sleep. It allows more rehearsal during wake time as well. Another idea is that the shorter infrequent sessions require more cognitive effort, and hence lead to better retention in long-term memory, whereas during daily, longer sessions the behaviour can be almost automatic.

Of course, the results might be different for different kinds of task. But this result ties in with other animal learning studies that suggest that shorter, less frequent sessions are better for training. This is perhaps counter-intuitive, but it seems that the answer to how often you should train the dog is once or twice a week.

You might also like my user-friendly guide to positive reinforcement in dog training and my post on how to choose a dog trainer.

Reference:
Demant, H., Ladewig, J., Balsby T.J.S. and Dabelsteen, T. (2011) The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 133, 228-234.


1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm not really a professional but I train my dog 3 times a week, teaching him new tricks and command. I must say my dog is a really smart one because he picks up immediately.

    ReplyDelete

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