Friday, August 12, 2011

How often to practice? How many sessions?

In the September 2011 Journal of Applied Animal Behavioural Science is a paper called, "The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs."   

From a first read-over, it looks fairly well done.  The researchers looked at four groups of dogs.  One group that trained 1-2 times per week for one session.  Another 1-2 times per week for three sessions in a row.  Another trained daily for one session and the last group was daily for three sessions in a row.

Interestingly, the group that trained 1-2 times a week for one session had the greatest progress rate.

All groups retained the task when tested four weeks later.

Now..How am I going to use this information?

My current recommendations for students are:

  • Work on only one tiny skill per session (stay for steps away. Stay for duration.  Walking past distractions.  Etc.).
  • Do a lot of repetitions per session.
  • ONLY do each behavior 1-2x if you have a bad day at work and want to see your dog succeed. This is not considered "training."
  • Training sessions should typically be 2 minutes or less.
  • If you want to do more, take a short walk around, play, or petting break and then have another session.  
New emphasis will probably be placed on doing different skills on different days (so, more time between working on behaviors x, y, z).   Obviously though, daily routine things have to happen every day and if you get a chance to see lots of people, polite greetings/etc. will happen. You have to use what's available!

How will my training change?   I tend to only work on one thing for a few days and then I do something else. I'll probably pick 2-3 skills per week and rotate which ones we're doing every day. Again, more time between the specific skill.  Not to say we won't ever be doing multiple sessions or work on behaviors daily. It will really depend on our schedule and what we're doing.

While there is quite a bit of knowledge on spaced practice/massed practice for humans, there isn't so much for dogs. I'm going to try to utilize this as best as possible, while realizing it's only  just a start to what we will be learning about how dogs learn.

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