How much training is too much training?
We’ve all been there. You are on a training day and you and your dog have worked your socks off. It is 4pm. There’s an hour to go in the session. You’ve paid a fortune for it and taken a day off work for it. You want to squeeze every last drop of learning out of it.
You reach for a coffee to keep going. You look at your dog and they look back at you with glazed eyes that say, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I cannot eat one more piece of hot dog sausage. Please don’t make me.”
Boom, massive guilt.
Boom, no quality learning happening here.
It is time to be your dog’s guardian. Be the best trainer you can be for your dog. Recognise that it is time for your dog to go back in their crate, ideally in your vehicle so they can get some proper chill out time, and don’t be shy or embarrassed about doing so. You know your dog. You can grab your pad and pen, sip your coffee, and take notes as the others continue to work.
And when tomorrow comes, your dog will be fresh and ready to go. They will be keen to work with you because they know they can trust you not to work them to the point of absolute exhaustion.
But what if overtraining isn’t always so easy to spot? How do you know if you are overtraining your dog?
Have you ever experienced the following:
- Failure to engage - you dog simply does not seem keen to work with you/begin the session
- A reduction in your dog’s speed - mental or physical - whilst working with you
- A drop in focus - your dog was working happily with you but you can now see that their attention is wandering
- Total disengagement - dog sniffing, running off, investigating the training environment
If so, chances are that there is some overtraining going on.
A common problem
Overtraining is a common problem. We love to work with our dogs and our dogs love to work with us, and it can be very easy to accidentally tip the balance into overworking. Life is busy and we are keen to squeeze as much learning into each training session that we can, and as much training as we can into every day.
The “mega-session” is also a commonly encountered issue - we don’t train for ages but we have a half day on Thursday, so we reason, we’ll catch up then. Cue a mega-session where your dog is expected to concentrate for four solid hours having done no training for three weeks. Even armed with the best of fun games, that is going to be a big ask of your dog. No judging - we’ve all done it! Life is busy and fitting everything in is hard.
Too much of a good thing
Training, even good quality training, like everything, feeds into your dog’s Bucket (remember, both positive and negative interactions feed into the Bucket) - each dog will have their own limit and even a short training session can be too much if your dog has had many other interactions that have fed into their bucket. Each dog will have their own capacity and it is up to you as their training partner, guide and guardian to recognise where their limits are.
Is my dog keen to engage?
Are they consistently focussed on me?
Are they driving into the game or exercise?
Do they bound back to me on recall?
Do the look like they are having a good time?
If the answer is no, it is time to review your training game plan
Aim for quality, not quantity
When it comes to training, little and often is the way to do it. Aim to make training something that happens throughout the day, rather than having long, set sessions. In the life of a Gamechanger, every moment is a chance to train, to bond, to connect, to learn with your dog.
“But how can we do this?” we hear you ask, “Life is just so busy! How can I train throughout the day when I barely have time to train once a week?
Bake training into your day.
Ditching: the key to dog training success
Weaving dog training through your every day living activities is much easier than you think.
And it all starts with Ditching.
Start by Ditching the Bowl. Your dog starts the day with a pot of value ready and waiting to be used for training and that pot of value is their daily food allowance. We waste so much opportunity for learning by putting that pot of value straight into a bowl!
Use your dog’s food throughout the day to capture those every day training moments. Postman knocks the door? Scatter feed on your dog’s bed for maintaining boundary. Want to get your dog past the neighbour’s gate as their dog barks madly at yours? Magic hand with part of your dog’s daily food allowance will do the trick.
For more info on how to Ditch the Bowl, check out our ebook here. Raw fed? No problem. Check out our Ditch the Bowl: Raw edition.
Then Ditch the Routine. Those carefully planned, structured training sessions with a pre-determined outcome, worked to the clock. Out they go. Embrace the day and look for opportunities to learn throughout the day. Making a cup of tea? Play a game. Ad break on TV? Time for a game. Door goes? Reward calmness. Look for those moments throughout the day that present an opportunity for real life learning.
If you do want to incorporate some more structured training sessions into your day where you work on specific training issues, that’s no problem - just keep them short and sweet. They should be fast and fun. You are aiming for a fun time, not a long time. 3 x 3 minute sessions per day is plenty.
And always, always avoid the temptation to keep going just because it is such fun. We Gamechangers know that games are the best - but, like chocolate, everything is best in moderation. No game will remain fun if you play it for hours a day.
Don’t work your dog until they are done. Stop while it is still fun. Leave them wanting more. If you think you have done too much, you definitely have!
Less is more
Ditching the routine of lengthy, formal training sessions with pre-determined outcomes can be hard. But we Gamechangers know that games get real life results, and nothing turbo charges your training more than real life learning. Baking training into your day and working on concepts as you go about your daily living activity, ditching the bowl and using that pot of value, gets real life results every time.
Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who breaks into playing games throughout the day? Your dog will be focussed, see you as a fun training partner, will be driven and want to work with you, and will see you as someone who is just fun to be around. No exhaustion, no boredom, just a lot of fun and real life results. Sounds like a training game-plan to us!