Think back to when you were going to school. Were you one of the people who was very excited to attend school every day or where you one of the kids that; sometimes you were into it, and sometimes you weren’t?
I was one of the kids that could either take it or leave it. I loved to learn, but only what I was interested in learning. So it was hard for a teacher to be able to pull my focus from things I wanted to know about. Any species that can learn will have an attention span. Once you have reached the end of that span that’s it, your done.
A dog is the same. It can only hold focus for a period of time and then he will walk away. That’s the dogs way of saying “I’m finished!”. So how long should I train my dog for?
The answer to that question is variable. Some dogs have a really long focus and can stay on task for a long time, others who are more motivated by play, may have a shorter attention span and will lose interest quickly. The key is to be observant to your dogs behaviour while training. Some of the signs of a dis-interested dog are:
- Barking after issuing a command
- Walking away
- Laying down
- Looking away
- Excessive panting and drooling (although this could also indicate focus)
If your dog has been focused for a long time and starts to lose interest, I would call it a day. However if your dog loses interest too quickly you may not be offering a reward that is worth the trick. You will have to step up the reward offering and see if you are able to keep your dogs attention for longer. This is only ever a short term solution, you don’t want to keep increasing the value of the rewards too much, or you will have a more difficult time removing the treats/rewards when the trick is learned. The goal is to use a reward while teaching, but not as a reward every time your dog completed the task. So it can be a difficult balance of maintaining a high reward for the effort, while weaning your dog off treats at the end of the learning process.
If you push your dog too hard when training you will find that they may associate training as a negative experience. This is detrimental to your bond and your friendship and you should end the training when your dog shows signs of loosing interest. I am sure that there would be some trainers that disagree with me and tell you that you should force your dog to do the commands on command regardless of their feelings, but I prefer a more gentle approach. After all, training is supposed to be a bonding experience between you and your pet. If you are training a guard dog or guide dog your approach will be different, but if you are training for fun, just have fun. When it’s over it’s over. Try again in a few hours.
My goal with training is to strengthen my bond with my dogs, not to teach them anything specifically, the learning process is the tool I use to forge that bond. And we have a really good time. So go out and have fun with your dog, be open to their communication queues with you and when it’s over celebrate a job well done.