New study: more isn't better when training

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Postby TheRedQueen » July 14th, 2011, 3:35 pm

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/ ... -your-dog/

Give Buddy a Break: More Isn’t Better for Training Your Dog
By Danielle Venton July 14, 2011 | 1:29 pm | Categories: Animals

Dog owners teaching their pooches to sit, come when called, and stop the shoe-chewing are better off giving their dogs breaks, rather than daily drills.

Beagles trained once or twice a week for a short period learn more between sessions than those taught every day in long lessons. The results are partly based on the brain’s need to consolidate and cement what learns during sleep, says animal behavior researcher Helle Demant of the University of Copenhagen.

“It’s an important study for setting the right expectations for owners and some trainers,” said James Ha, a certified applied animal behaviorist in Seattle, not associated with the research team. “This is a very clear example that learning takes time. The brain needs to process what it has received.”


The pathways of neurons that fire when an animal learns a task, are re-fired during deep (slow-wave) sleep. Prior studies show human learning benefits from breaks, in particular short rests for simple tasks and long rests for complex ones. Likewise, ponies learn to clear hurdles or move backwards in fewer sessions if they are trained weekly, instead of everyday. And rats trained to navigate a water maze perform better if they are trained once a day over eight days, instead of eight times in a row.

To find the sweet spot in dog training, Demant’s team divided 44 laboratory-raised beagles into four training groups. Training involved tasks like jumping into a basket, sitting down, and staying put while the trainer moved away and came back.

By the end of the experiment, each dog had the same total number of training sessions, but those taught once or twice a week for a short period performed much better by the final session, than those trained several times a week for a short time, or those trained one to two times per week for a long time. The dogs coached daily in long training sessions fared the worst, the scientists reported June 15 in Applied Animal Behavior Science.

All dogs were taught by the same person, ate the same things, and had roughly similar motivation levels, to make the experiment as uniform as possible. Dogs too lazy or nervous to take an offered treat, for example, were left out. Though this study looked only at beagles, the same study done with other breeds would likely give the same results, Demant wrote in an email.

“This study builds on and confirms earlier work,” said Ha. “But it does it in a very clean, very elegant way. We can be really confident in these results.”

Despite the near-ubiquity of dogs in our daily life, their behavior isn’t as well studied in the lab as other animals, such as rats. And in some circles, said Ha, trainers base their work on poor and out-dated science.

Even though spaced training clearly helped dogs learn, it was no help in long-term retention. Each beagle, regardless of how it was trained, performed essentially as well at the last training sessions as they did four weeks later. However trained, what your dog knows, it knows.

"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » July 14th, 2011, 4:15 pm

I love it! That makes me feel less guilty for only training once or twice a week! lol
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Postby TheRedQueen » July 14th, 2011, 6:13 pm

pitbullmamaliz wrote:I love it! That makes me feel less guilty for only training once or twice a week! lol


Yup, I'm really lazy when it comes to actual training...but my dogs always "get it" pretty quickly. See, I was right all along...lol
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby mnp13 » July 20th, 2011, 8:41 am

Interesting. I've always been told that two or three 10 minute sessions a day was optimal. Though maybe that helps me keep track of what I'm supposed to be doing!

I definitely agree with the long session though, by then end of the hour classes I used to teach and take, the dogs were way too tired to pay attention.
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Postby furever_pit » July 20th, 2011, 1:27 pm

I always heard that two or three 5-10 minute training sessions was the best way to go about things and that's how I approached my dogs in the past.

With Gigz, we train once or twice a week and he only does protection work about once a month (twice if we are lucky) and he holds on to what he has learned sooo well. His sire and his aunt are the same way. They don't really need much maintenance training as they naturally pick up where they left off. I had chocked it up to a genetic quality with this family, but maybe I'm wrong.
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Postby TheRedQueen » July 20th, 2011, 7:57 pm

Puzzle gets flyball training *maybe* once a week, if I remember...and that's not even on the box...but on the back of the futon. She went in last week to practice and GOT IT...
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby amalie79 » July 21st, 2011, 10:13 am

This is making me feel much better about the future of my household (and sanity) now that we have 3 young(ish) dogs to work with. River and Robin have most of the basic household manners down, but we're still working on other things-- River starts rally in a few weeks and Robin is still working on stranger-danger (but improving). Luna, though. Cripes. Luna needs everything. :neutral:

This makes me feel sooooo much less overwhelmed. :D
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Postby CopperCoin » August 5th, 2011, 12:00 pm

Well, it makes sense that long drills don't work as well than shorter training sessions, but for the rest of it, I have to say there is not enough information. It would be best if we could see the original report documenting all the aspects of the study. With video footage would be even better.

What is the background of the trainer (what work/sport does he have experience with, for how long and what kind of results)?
What exactly was he training the dogs to do?
What was he using for motivation? Only food?
What was the criteria for a learned/well-performed behaviour?
How were the sessions built up, both longer ones and shorter ones?

I think a lot of people competing with their dogs at the top level (just competing in SchH 3 for example is not the top level) would never have gotten to where they are, if they only trained once or twice a week.

“This study builds on and confirms earlier work,” said Ha. “But it does it in a very clean, very elegant way. We can be really confident in these results.” - I don't think so.
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