Share This Article
Whether you have just adopted your first puppy or are a long-time dog owner, you may be feeling a little confused about how often you should train your dog. This is because you’ll see different answers from different trainers, and most classes you can take your dog to last around an hour.
We’re going to try and answer this question for you once and for all by explaining a bit about how dogs learn as well as sharing information from relevant scientific studies on the topic. By the end of this article, you’ll be set to have successful training sessions that fit into your schedule.
Before we get into how often you should train your dog, we need to briefly talk about positive reinforcement, which is also known as reward-based or force-free training. This is a training method that rewards your dog for doing something right.
Positive reinforcement is the best training method you can choose for your dog because it is both humane and effective. It makes training sessions fun and rewarding so that your dog will be eager to learn the skills you’re looking to teach.
It does not rely on intimidation, leash jerks, force, or any other types of aversives. Though some people do make progress with aversive training, it does not matter how often you train a dog with aversive training; it is usually not as effective or efficient as positive reinforcement training and can damage the bond between you and your dog.
Therefore, you should set yourself up for success by using positive reinforcement to train your dog. All of the advice we give in this article will assume that you are using positive reinforcement and may not apply to other training methods.
Less is More
It’s important to consider both the frequency of training (how often you do it) as well as the duration of training (how long you do it). Believe it or not, in many cases, less is more.
Short Attention Spans = Short Training Sessions
Let’s talk about a dog’s attention span. How long a dog is able to focus will depend on the dog. Puppies tend to have very short attention spans, whereas older dogs may be able to pay attention for longer.
The rule of thumb, if you will, is to train for no longer than five minutes because most dogs will not get bored within that time. Some dogs will be able to stay engaged in training for longer than five minutes and vice versa.
So, pay attention to your dog and make sure they are eager to work with you. If they seem bored or disinterested, then your training sessions may be too long.
Luckily, you can work your way up to longer and longer training sessions. It’s best if you can end a session before your dog gets bored, though, so that they will associate training with fun and will be eager to participate in future sessions.
Should You Train Everyday?
You’ve probably heard that you need to train your dog every day, possibly even multiple times per day, but this isn’t necessarily true. Dogs are capable of learning skills even if you only train them once per week (more on this in our next section).
This will mean it takes longer for them to master the skill, but it doesn’t mean they cannot learn it. Therefore, it’s okay if the frequency of training sessions revolves around your own schedule.
You may have also heard that you should do several five-minute training sessions per day. Once again, even if you only do one five-minute session per day, your dog will still be perfectly capable of mastering the skills you are teaching.
How often you train should be based on your own availability as well as your dog’s attention span and willingness to learn. You do not have to force yourself to train your dog if you’re in a bad mood or if your dog is tuckered out from a long day at the park.
What’s more important is to make training part of your lifestyle in that you keep doing it over time. Don’t train your dog for a month, and then stop. It’s better for your dog to have training sessions throughout their entire life, even if they only happen once a week.
Another important thing to note is that dogs, just like humans, also need time to rest. Just as cramming before a test is ill-advised, so is forcing your dog to work on difficult skills without breaks.
If your dog is having trouble learning a certain skill, take a break from that skill for a few days to a week and work on other, easier skills in the meantime. Think of the brain (both yours and your dog’s) as a muscle: it needs time to recover after strenuous activities.
Studies on Training Frequency
After living alongside our furry friends for centuries, you’d think that we’d know everything about them. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and there are still many studies to be done on dog training.
The studies we do have, though, suggest that dogs are actually better at learning and retaining skills when their training sessions are infrequent.
In one study, titled “The relationship between number of training sessions per week and learning in dogs,” beagles were trained to perform a certain task. One group was only given one training session per week, whereas the other group was trained five times per week.
Each training session included 15 repetitions of the task being trained. Surprisingly, the study found that the dogs only getting one session per week were able to learn the task in 6.6 sessions on average, whereas the dogs being trained five times per week took an average of 9 training sessions to learn the skill.
On the other hand, the dogs being trained weekly took 6 to 7 weeks to master the skill, whereas the dogs being trained five times per week mastered the skill in about two weeks.
A similar study called “The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs” looked at the frequency and duration of training sessions to see what effects these factors had on a dog’s ability to learn a skill.
Just as with the previous study, the dogs (also beagles) that had fewer training sessions per week outperformed the dogs that had more training sessions per week.
However, the same tradeoff from the first study remains. Less frequent sessions mean the dogs will take longer in calendar days to learn a skill, even if their retention and performance are technically better than dogs given more frequent training sessions.
What Do These Studies Mean for Dog Training?
While studies are necessary to help us learn about dogs, they aren’t the end all be all. This is especially true when there are limited studies available, and those studies have only been performed using a specific breed (in this case, beagles).
It’ll take a lot more research before we have a definitive answer to the question of “how often should we train our dogs?” However, these studies can be a good starting point and can perhaps also relieve some of the stress of frequent dog training as they suggest that you do not need to train your dog every day if you don’t want to or don’t have time.
Based on the studies, you should consider factors such as how fast you want your dog to acquire a skill. If you want your dog to learn a skill within two weeks, then you need to train more frequently.
Meanwhile, if you’d prefer to spend less time training, even if that means it may take six weeks for your dog to master a skill, then that is also a valid option. What is most important is fitting training into your schedule consistently, whether that be one day per week or five, and making sure your dog is having fun during each session.
How Often Should You Train Your Dog?
So, how often should you train your dog? There really is no definitive answer to this question. This is because the answer depends on factors like how quickly you want your dog to know a skill, your dog’s attention span, and your own availability.
You should train your dog as often as you are comfortable. Because studies suggest that dogs actually learn better with less frequent training, it is perfectly okay should you decide that you only have time for one training session per week.
On the other hand, if you want your dog to learn skills faster in terms of how many weeks it will take, then you’ll want to invest more time in training and do so more often.
Rather than stressing about what the perfect frequency of dog training is, you should focus on making the sessions fun and engaging for you and your dog. As long as you remain consistent and do not go months without doing any training, then your dog can learn any skill you teach them.