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