How Long Should Puppy Training Sessions Be?

January 01

--by Julie Morrill

How long should training sessions be with my puppy? We get this question fairly regularly, so I’ll answer it here in this month’s blog. We train our young puppies only a few times a day in various sessions. For example, I take puppies for a walk, calling them with both my voice and blowing my whistle. This is considered a training session and it can last anywhere from 10-30 minutes. After that, I put the puppies in crates and, one at a time, remove puppies for training sessions that last anywhere from 5-10 minutes, depending on how much a young puppy of eight-14 weeks old can endure at one time. (A puppy's attention span is typically no longer than 5-10 minutes at a time.) I'll crate the puppy again for 10-15 minutes and perhaps remove her for another mini session of 5-10 minutes if she does not appear mentally fatigued.

We also want to make sure we end on a positive note, which means we do not want to wear out a puppy physically or mentally. You can tell when your puppy is getting tired when she suddenly gets distracted and can no longer follow a simple command that she clearly knows. (Sounds a lot like a human kid, right?) If you continue a training session for more than ten minutes at a time, the experience will quickly deteriorate and become negative. Your puppy will make more mistakes and disobey, leaving you irritable and your puppy frustrated. You may also find that your puppy won't obey as easily the following day, so it's important to keep training sessions brief, fun, and rewarding, always ending on a positive note with a few extra kibble treats and lots of hugs, pats, and cuddles.

The crate training counts as another session in the puppy's day. We usually start with 30-60 minutes of crating and, over the course of our 6-week "Super Citizen" program, we gradually increase the crating time with the goal of reaching anywhere from 6-8 hours in a block of time. The hope is that your puppy will eventually remain in her crate without whining or having incontinence accidents overnight.

As your puppy matures and her attention span increases, you can extend training sessions, but we seldom go over thirty minutes at a time with even a mature dog for the same reasons stated in the first paragraph. Remember, we always want to end on a positive note before a dog shows any sign of mental exhaustion or boredom. If we notice the slightest hint of fatigue or distraction after a good session that is under thirty minutes, we complete one more quick, easy command we know the dog will easily and willingly obey, reward her with kibble snacks, extra petting, and lots of verbal praise, and end the session right away. We read a dog’s cues and understand that she’s either done for that session or perhaps finished with training for the entire day.

Oh, and one more thing, every person and dog has their "off" days. Sometimes a puppy will perform amazingly well for days on end and suddenly act as though she has forgotten everything you ever taught her. It happens and it's no big deal. On these days I have learned (and am still learning) to stop all training and just play, have fun, and quit training early. She'll do better tomorrow. We've also found that a break of 1-3 days of no training actually recharges young puppies' brains so that they perform better than ever. It's my experience-based, yet uneducated theory that rapidly-growing puppy brains often need a rest in order to process all that they've learned so that they can perform better when they return to training. (As a mother and teacher, I rather think this is similar for growing children, as well.)

Happy training to you!

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