Mental Games- Part 2
Now Pay Attention!
As a professional retriever trainer who provided training grounds for many different amateur trainers and groups, I would frequently get asked what length of training sessions I would recommend for their dog.
For the sake of this article, we are going to be talking about retrieving dogs and their specific tasks. Those of you running pointers, hounds or obedience dogs may wish to modify these concepts for their benefit. As always, what I say may not be gospel or apply to every dog, but it is an opinion formed over years of dog observation.
The amount of time that I think usually recommend for training is somewhere right around 15 minutes. That may seem short, and a person who has driven an hour or two to their training grounds may not feel like it is a good use of their time. When I say 15 minutes, I do not mean that after a 15 minute session their day is done, it just means 15 consecutive minutes at any one time. A dog’s, especially a young dog’s, window of peak learning is fairly short. It is important to keep training manageable for your retriever.
When clients book an hour long private lesson, I tell them we will work on a concept for about 15 minutes, talk about it for a few minutes, analyze what’s happening, then hit it again after the dog has had time to de-compress. Although this is not ideal, when someone drives a couple hours to see you for training, you want to try to cram in as much as you can without overwhelming the dog. I have had break through sessions where, after 10 minutes or less, I was finally successful getting through a concept the dog was struggling with, and told the client we were done for the day (usually I felt bad about doing this and gave them credit for the next session).
Fifteen minutes is normally about right and it seems like the 2nd to the 12th minute are the best. I have found that those ten minute periods are where we have good momentum, rhythm, dogs were feeling fresh and the learning curve was steepest.
When I was starting out as an amateur, with only one dog to train, I would leave my truck, do some sort of drill, that I would invent on the spot, as we walked to my main drill, do my main drill, and then walk back to my truck doing some other drill. Often this extra drilling would ruin the gains I had made, sour the dogs attitude, make me angry, and get us nowhere. As I gained more experience, and more dogs to train, I was more than happy to get my point across and then move on to the next dog.
Now like I said before, these rules do not apply to all dogs, nor even all retrievers. As dogs get more advanced, their attention span increases and their tests may take longer. I am mostly referring to drills, like forcing, baseball, wagon wheels, water handling drills. Things of a more mentally taxing nature. All dogs are different and you may find you may be able to push longer with one dog than another, so again, these times are very approximate. It all depends on your beast and it’s drill for the day.
Next time you take Rex or Lady to the field, think about where you were on your last drill, where you want to be, and how to get there. Be creative, make your point and be done. Several short sessions a day will prove far more productive than one big long grinder.