Signs Your Dog Needs A Break from Training | Pupford
January 9th, 2024
Filed under Training
We talk all the time about the importance of consistency in training. But too much of a good thing can sometimes be, well, not such a good thing.
So while it’s important to be consistent with training, it’s also important to recognize when your dog needs a break, and how to honor that without losing hard-earned progress.
Today we’ll take a closer look at this topic and cover the following:
- Why it’s important for dogs to take breaks from training
- Signs your dog needs a break from training
- How not to lose training progress while giving your dog the breaks they need
Taking a break from training when your dog needs it is a great way to keep the training experience positive and help your dog better respond to what they learned.
However, this isn’t an excuse to skip training sessions or take shortcuts. It’s to shed light on the importance of knowing your individual dog and recognizing signs that they would benefit from a break – which is what we’re going to get into now!
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR DOGS TO TAKE BREAKS FROM TRAINING?
Again, you’ll usually hear us talking about the importance of training sessions as part of your dog’s routine. So why are we also saying they should take breaks sometimes?
The short answer is that training is hard work for your dog! The long answer…
- They need downtime to process what they have learned. Did you know that the brain strengthens long-term memories while resting? Taking breaks lets what your dog just learned “sink in” which allows them to retain the information more effectively.
- Rest ensures that your pup does not risk straining muscles. Some behaviors are just as physically taxing to practice as they are mentally. Overexercise can damage muscles and joints and put your pup at higher risk for injury.
- Since training is both mental and physical work, it’s a LOT of stimulation for your dog. Too much stimulation can result in stress, especially for dogs who are prone to stress/anxiety or are reactive.
- If you’re working with a younger dog, they may not be emotionally or mentally mature enough yet to learn extra difficult tricks. In that case, doing more and more reps can just lead to fatigue and frustration for your dog. Taking breaks and working at a pace that meets your dog where they are both physically and emotionally is a better approach.
This should sound pretty familiar. If you have ever been a student, worked, took care of a family, etc., you know all too well that it’s a lot of work and can take a toll on us – let’s treat our dogs the same way too!
SIGNS YOUR DOG NEEDS A BREAK FROM TRAINING
Since our dogs can’t just say “hey Mom, I could really use today off,” how are we supposed to know that they need a break?
Well, they do tell us, just not with words.
Here are some ways your dog “tells you” they need a break:
- Their energy levels drop. If your dog isn’t moving as quickly or doesn’t seem as excited about what they’re doing, they’re likely really tired.
- Their focus wanes. Struggling to pay attention is a sign that your dog has done too much mental work at once or is physically tired.
- They are not as motivated by their reinforcement. High-value training treats should be really enticing to your dog. If they no longer are, it could mean that they are no longer engaged in the training session.
- They seem physically restless. Panting, scratching, shaking, etc. can all be signs that your dog is restless and antsy to be finished with training so they can go relax.
- They are not succeeding with behaviors they know very well. If your dog is struggling with the basics that they typically have no issue with, they just might be in need of a break to recharge their body and brain.
- They seem to be in pain or discomfort. Pain or discomfort should always be taken seriously and definitely warrants a break from training and other taxing activities.
If you notice any of these signs during a training session, that’s your sign that a break is very much needed. End the training session for the day and evaluate the situation the following day.
Important note: If your dog seems physically uncomfortable or in pain at any point and it doesn’t improve shortly after stopping the activity, please contact your veterinarian to get an assessment for possible injury!
HOW TO NOT LOSE PROGRESS WHILE GIVING YOUR DOG THE TRAINING BREAKS THEY NEED
But if consistency is important for training progress, and you’re giving your dog breaks from training, how are they supposed to make progress?
It’s definitely possible! Follow these tips for honoring your dog’s need for a break while keeping them on a successful training path:
- Keep sessions short and focused. Dogs have shorter attention spans, especially puppies. Having more short, focused training sessions (5-minute sessions) per week is less likely to fatigue your dog than fewer, longer sessions.
- Slow down your pace. Progress slowly, focusing on one step at a time rather than trying to progress through an entire behavior in one session. That will help control session length and reduce mental fatigue.
- Learn your dog’s body language cues. Reading dog body language can help you identify when your dog is tired, uncomfortable, or stressed out during training. On the other hand, it can also help you understand when they’re happy and focused, so you can make the most of training sessions that are going well.
- Follow a training program. Getting started with a program like the 30 Day Perfect Pup course is a great way to make progress without over-training. These types of programs help you focus in on one task per day, so you can make progress without overdoing it!
Like with everything, training your dog is all about finding the right balance.
Is there anything else you do with or for your pup to keep making training progress without overworking them? Tell us how you find balance in your routine in the comments!