Dear Sarah,

We’ve just brought home a new dog and we want to make sure we do everything right, especially with regards to training. How long and how often should you train a dog for?

Terry M

Hi Terry,

That’s a really great question, and one that I get asked a lot.

I often find that people are quite enthusiastic when they first bring a new dog home, and in the interest of having a well trained dog, will often spend literally hours training – which is great in theory, but in reality, can actually have a negative effect on your relationship with your dog.

Think about it this way – you go to the gym for the first time with a personal trainer. You’re not fit or in any kind of shape – and they work you hard. The next day it’s the same. And the next. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to get fitter quicker. In actual fact, you’re more likely to overdo it, injure yourself, burn out and HATE exercising from then on.

The same goes for your dog. And while it does depend on the individual dog, generally speaking spending an hour (or even half an hour for that matter) on training in one sitting is too much. Infact, the latest research has shown that taking a break after a 60 second training session with your dog helps them to retain the information for a lot longer and recall it a lot quicker the next time. Another way to do it is count out 5 treats and practice 5 times – and then take a break. In this way, you are taking a break BEFORE the dog’s brain gets tired and stops retaining information. Of course, this does depend on the complexity of the skill you are teaching. The harder the skill, the more breaks required.

The truth is, every interaction you have with your dog is an opportunity for training – whether it’s learning to sit politely to have their lead put on, learning how to play fetch, or learning how to relax and settle beside the chair at the café. But the more that you weave it in to your every day life, the less it becomes a “training session” and the more that it becomes “normal behaviour”.