Leave Them Wanting More: The Power of Short Training sessions

"We Want More! We Want More!" the crowd chants and stomps as the house lights come on.

Any great concert ends this way and every good performer knows that you always want to leave them wanting more. Back in the day, I used to go to a lot of concerts. There were plenty that left me feeling satisfied, some that I was glad to see end, and many that I left early to avoid the traffic. Then there are those rare  etched-in-my-mind forever concert experiences. Those bands left me and the rest of the crowd screaming for more, but made us wait until the next tour to get it.

Why the heck am I talking about rock concerts? I want to make a point about the importance of knowing your audience and avoiding burn out. In your case, the audience is your dog. Just like a musician doesn’t want the audience talking amongst themselves or leaving the show early, you don’t want your dog to go lay down in the shade while you stand there holding the ball. You need to find the things that motivate your dog and then always leave him wanting more. 

Keeping training and play sessions short is the key to successful motivation training. If we keep our dogs interested and motivated, they will enjoy working with us and be much more apt to snap to it when we ask something of them. Short, fun, controlled sessions will keep your dog coming back for more and can help you avoid having an over-stimulated “ball crazy” dog with no impulse control or a dog that easily blows you off because he thinks he can get things whenever he wants. 

Treats, tennis balls, tug toys, praise and affection are all like gemstones; they become more valuable when rare. They are also like sugar or wine, best if used in moderation.  

Combining play sessions, obedience and exploration creates impulse control and stability

I have noticed that most people don’t think of training their dogs as fun and hence don’t do much of it. This is unfortunate, because training can and should be fun. Rather than grind away at obedience commands, keep things interesting by  using combinations. For example: 

Jane takes Rover to the local park every day. They play fetch until he collapses under a tree, then they go home. “Rover is absolutely bonkers over the ball,” she says. “He doesn’t care about anything else.” 

In this scenario, Rover is getting a fair amount of physical exercise but is getting mentally over stimulated and possibly even possessive of the ball. Jane could balance things out by using it as a special plaything rather than Rover’s main outlet. She is already taking him out every day, which is great, so she could simply tweak how the time is spent. What if it went something like this? 

  • Walk in heel position to the park with the ball out of sight, having Rover sit at every corner. Throw in some right and left about-turns and maybe a short down stay. 
  • Arrive at the park and allow Rover to sniff and check his pee mail.
  • Walk around the park doing a combination of 50% heeling and 50% allowing him to sniff around and explore his surroundings. If he obsesses on the ball in your pocket, just ignore him and walk around as if you are looking for something. 
  • When Rover least expects it, call him to you and then whip out the ball! Play fetch for only five throws. In between throws, have him do a “sit” or “down” before releasing him to chase the next throw. 
  • After the fifth throw, put the ball out of sight and do some heeling, then put Rover in a down stay. Walk away and come back to him. Calmly say “good boy” and pull out the ball again. Oops, that does not mean he is released. If he gets up, put him back in the down stay. Walk around him with the ball in plain sight until he settles into the stay. Now release him and throw the ball another five times. Continue these combinations until it’s time to go home. 
  • Walk home from the park in the same calm and controlled manner discussed earlier.

This is just one of endless combinations, but the idea is that Rover is getting trained while having fun. Everything is happening in short spurts and he never knows what trick Jane will be pulling out of the hat. He is also learning impulse control and maintaining mental stability without losing his drive. He loves the game, leaves wanting more, and is not obsessed or bored. Even though he did less running than with Jane’s previous method, he will be more relaxed overall because he received mental exercise as well.   

OK, you may be saying, I get it but how short is short? Is there a time limit? 

There is no one-size-fits-all formula, but it is safe to say that multiple short sessions are better than one long one. This avoids burn out and builds drive. Dogs, just like people, have individual stamina levels and attention spans. You will have to experiment a little to find out what motivates your dog and how much he can handle. The more you work with and play with your dog, the better you will get to know his limits. You will begin to notice signs of boredom, fatigue, obsession, etc. and learn to stop before these problems really kick in. 

If you are training with food, then the dog should be hungry before you start and you should quit way before he gets full or bored. If you are using a tug toy or ball as a motivator for training or just playing with your dog, again, quit while you’re ahead. End the session by putting the ball in your pocket and closing your treat pouch with the dog following you as if to say, “Come on, one more time, pleeeease!” 

If we make it fun and don't overdo it, our dogs will look forward to the next time, just like I did with those special concerts.

 

Chad Culp–Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Consultant, Certified Holistic Chef for Animals

Copyright 2005-2013 Chad Culp, Thriving Canine. All rights reserved. Chad@ThrivingCanine.com