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A 2008 study done by the Department of Large Animal Science, at the University of Copenhagen, set out to find the correlation between the number of training sessions per week and how quickly the dog learned a given task.
The test used clicker and shaping training in a group of 18 Beagles, half of which received training five times a week and the other half once a week. Their results found that dogs who were trained once per week learned the new skill far more quickly than dogs who were trained five times per week and they also had higher success rates at each step of the new skill.
The researchers looked at factors including:
- Gender. The stud consisted of four females and five males, making it nearly even.
- Age. All the dogs were aged 1-3, so they were kept relatively close in age.
- Breed. The eighteen dogs were all Beagles, keeping the breed uniform.
- Housing. The dogs were all housed in single or double units for comparable living conditions.
- Training. All the dogs were trained by the same person, in the same room, with the same clicker, for consistency.
The Basic Findings:
- The two groups of dogs were both tasked with learning the same skill, walking over to a mousepad and touching it with their paw. Prior to beginning this training, all the dogs were given the same basic clicker training and “paw shake” training so that they were as close in base skill as possible.
- The skill was broken down into 4 steps, 0-3, and a dog could not progress to the next step until they were 80% correct in their response. At the beginning of each new training session, the dogs had to repeat the step they learned in the prior session and get at least one out of three trials of that step correct to proceed. After that, each training session consisted of 15 training trials of the step that dog was currently working on.
- In the end, all of the dogs successfully completed every step, but the dogs in group 1, who were trained once per week, learned the steps more quickly than those in group 2.
- These results find that when learning a specific skill, dogs seem to benefit from a few training sessions to learn that skill.
- The sample size of this study was quite small at 18 dogs, resulting in potentially less accurate results than if a larger group had been used.
- The dogs used for this study were all laboratory animals, and so they grew up in a much more standardized environment than most privately owned dogs. While this isn’t a limitation for the study itself, it can affect how this information can be applied to the regular domestic dog that we call our pets.
- The trainer was aware of which dogs were being trained once per week and which were being trained five times a week, which could influence how they train. This bias was combated by creating a very standardized and detailed training manual to follow and detailed criteria for passing each step.
- Only one breed was used, so results can vary widely depending on the predisposition of a breed or dog.
- Post study, it is important to look at the potential effects of habituation (dogs who only came once per week were perhaps not as habituated to the space, trainer, etc. than dogs receiving training five times per week), exercise and other events between training that could impact a dog’s energy and focus during training.
How This Research May Help You:
Training is one of the biggest sources of reward, and headache, for many dog owners. Teaching your dog how to behave properly is essential, and teaching them new tricks can be a fun way to bond. Training lies at the heart of both of these and so it is an important aspect of pet ownership. Plus, many pet parents will be thrilled at the idea that their dog can learn something new more effectively through fewer training sessions.
The biggest takeaway is that even if you do train your dog less, it is still important to be consistent with your training method, frequency, reward, and the other aspects of training.
If you run into any behavioral issues or other training problems with your dog, we have a wide breadth of resources on our website as well as the opportunity to book sessions with certified dog behavior consultants to help you and your dog live to the fullest.
I’m a good ol’ Midwestern transplant that moved to Colorado for mountains and adventure. I love rock climbing, writing, and eating cookies. When I’m not on the side of a cliff you can find me walking my dog, Peanut, playing piano, and blogging about my climbing adventures on The Gobi Gazette.
Well done for calling out so clearly the limitations in the study: small sample size, wasn’t double-blind, based on a specific breed, etc. I say this because in my experience (amateur ‘trainer’ that I am) this doesn’t seem to fit. I definitely agree that consistency is key, but so long as that consistency is maintained I’ve found that increasing frequency does seem to help with speed of learning. This is mainly with poodles and cooker spaniels.