What’s your training schedule like? How often do you train? How long do you train? How many exercises do you work on at once?
I have always treated training like homework- you sit down, do what you need to do, and then go to the next task. So, I’ve always trained in one daily chunk, generally about 15 to 30 minutes. And in that daily chunk, I’ve worked on an average of four to six items. This has always worked well for us, although sometimes it's hard to get my lazy butt off the couch.
Then, my dog training “crush,” Patricia McConnell, posted in her blog about a book about people who had strokes, and how they made more physical progress when they were immersed in their therapy than when they did the more traditional daily chunks. Learning by immersion has long been considered the best way to learn foreign languages, and based on the science, it makes sense: you can form new neural pathways better if you’re immersed in what you’re doing. And why wouldn’t this been true of our dogs, too? After all, their brains are very similar to ours. Trisha decided to set a learning immersion goal for her and her dog: she would work with her dog five times a day.
Call me a hanger-on, but I decided to try it, too. I thought it would be really difficult at first. How do you find the time to train your dog five times throughout the day? At 30 minutes a pop, well, you don’t. Plus, Maisy hates drilling, so I decided to do very short sessions: two minutes.
I’ve done this a couple of days now, and I’m surprised by how much easier this is! Before, it was a struggle to find 15 minutes all at once. But two minutes? That’s the length of a commercial break. It’s easy to fit in while cooking or doing the laundry. It only adds marginally to a bathroom break between chapters in the book you’re reading. Before you know it, you’ve done five sessions!
And the learning seems to be faster, too. Maisy and I have been working on heeling. We spend one minute on attention heeling, and then one minute on right-side heeling. I throw a few right finishes in there, too, to help her understand the difference between a right finish and a right “get in heel” command (which I desperately need a cue for- any suggestions?). In only a matter of a few days, Maisy has almost mastered the “get in heel” on the right side- my body movements are less extreme, and she’s almost sitting straight every time now. Her attention, on both sides, is much better! And she seems to get the difference in my hand signals for right heel and right finish.
Maisy seems to be enjoying this new schedule, too. She loves training, and now she gets to do it five times a day instead of just once! Could life get any better? She still needs to entertain herself between sessions, but stretching it out like this seems to be more stimulating, even if we’re spending the same amount of time (or less!) actually training. Plus, it’s so much easier to keep her attention the entire time and end on a good note when the sessions are so short!
I’ll report back in a couple of weeks, but I think we’ll keep working like this. It will be easy to add in fronts, moving downs and back up in heel. Of course, the more I add in, the less time we can work on each skill, but I think I could easily increase the session length to three minutes while simultaneously reducing the amount of time on each skill to 30 seconds or so. After all, 30 seconds is really quite a long time.
So… what’s your training schedule like? Are you ready to take the Five Times Challenge?