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Hi everyone! My spoo girl Siouxsie is 20 weeks old now, and we've been working more and more on training. We've been going to a weekly session at the local AKC club, and it's been great to learn the techniques related to training. One thing I'm still unsure about is how to put it all together into effective training sessions at home. I feel lost.

Should I be training all the behaviors equally? Or focus mostly on the ones that are not as strong?
How many repetitions should we practice before moving on to a different behavior?
How long should my training sessions be, and how frequent?

So far my puppy hasn't shown any limitations in training, but I feel like we are not as far along as we could be, given her age. I get quite envious when I see people on YouTube with their 3-month old puppies doing so much more than my puppy. I don't blame the dog, of course, she is great. I'm sure if I worked a bit smarter and a bit harder, then we could make more progress.

Can any of you share what a typical training session consists of with your dogs? I'm sure all dogs are different, but I'm trying to get a general sense of how an effective session should be structured.
 

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I presume your training class has been working on Sit, Down, Come, and Stay (or Wait). At home you simply do tiny sessions (about a minute) on one of those commands at a time. You can, for example, ask for a sit just before feeding time. Be sure you have your reward in hand before issuing the command. It won't take long at all to graduate to no reward other than a "good girl/boy".

The absolutely critical thing is to NEVER follow a command to come (or any other command) with something unpleasant. Training should always be positive and happy. This is especially important for a little puppy.

If it's time for a bath, grooming, toe nail trim, or other unpopular item, just pick up the puppy with no comment. During the unpopular procedure reward good behavior with verbal praise.
 

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I weave training into everything! My dogs have a routine we do before they eat. They each have to do some sit/down/stand position changes. I often have Lily and Javelin each do something different. Their food is on the floor near them. When they finish the position changes they have to offer me eye contact before I release them to the food. This does a number of things: enhances impulse control; improves attention; reminds them they aren't a synchronized swim team and refreshes the most basic of behaviors. When I train performance work I generally do three to five reps and make sure to stop on an excellent execution of the behavior I want (so if the 3rd recall is excellent I stop there). After the last rep I play a little game and then do a different exercise. I might only work on two different things or I might do all of the exercises of one level of performance obedience. I do not train formally more than three or four days a week.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thank you both for the detailed replies. It sounds like short, frequent sessions are working for you. I might be boring my dog with too many repetitions - I usually go on for 5 or 10 minutes at least, and I thought I wasn't doing enough.

I free-feed per recommendation from the breeder, so that's a training opportunity that I'm missing. I suppose I could do the same with some high-value treats instead, maybe some bits of chicken in the food bowl?
 

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I grab a handful of treats and do dedicated 1-minute sessions a couple of times a day. But mostly we just practise at mealtimes and during play.

Lately I'm actually finding playtime to be the most productive. Peggy turned 6 months old today and she's definitely starting to challenge me on some behaviours I already thought were bombproof, and sometimes she just flat out refuses basic commands. But during playtime, she's very open to repetition! She'll easily sit or trade or drop it or wait a hundred+ times during a game of fetch. I'm usually the one that is done first!
 

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I would suggest sticking with short sessions at intervals through the day. I find that much more successful than one big session (although sometimes I do long sessions). Even with only 10 minutes I would still throw in a couple of play breaks (which actually are also training opportunities of course). For example a couple of recalls and then toss a ball where you will teach her that to get you to throw the ball again she has to bring it back and hand it to you. Go back to something more formal like stays then play tug (teaching her to let go of the toy politely when you say to). She will find that fun and you will be teaching her that you are fun, but that fun also has some rules.
 

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Mine is just a bit younger than yours. Training during play sounds like a great idea. Actually it just occurred to me yesterday to have my dog sit for me before I throw the ball again. She's definitely more motivated for the toy than she is for the treats, and it'll keep her from leaping at my hand to get the ball!
 

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Mine is just a bit younger than yours. Training during play sounds like a great idea. Actually it just occurred to me yesterday to have my dog sit for me before I throw the ball again. She's definitely more motivated for the toy than she is for the treats, and it'll keep her from leaping at my hand to get the ball!
Yes!! Such a great opportunity. And fun for you, too.

In addition to practicing commands, I like to let Peggy offer up behaviours when we're playing. So while I've got the ball in my hand, I won't say anything. If she jumps or starts demand barking, I just calmly look away, like "doo doo doo doo dooo, I'm in no rush, la la la la...." Now she offers up a sit much more quickly.

I'm not a dog trainer, but in my personal experience I've just found it's important to let them choose how they ask for things, at least some of the time. If I'm always saying "Sit! Sit! Sit!" sometimes she'll sit and then pop right back up again, whereas if SHE offers the sit, it seems to click better in her brain that sitting = a great way to get what she wants, and she just naturally holds it. I'm not really sure why that is but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Whatever works!
 

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I don’t free feed. Does free feeding interfere with toilet training? Usually you like to feed meals so you can time potty breaks. I read where you limit water, I always have water accessible. You never know when they will be thirsty. If they get active/hot they may need to drink more than if they are laying around snoozing. For a puppy I remove the water in the late evening/overnight during toilet training

I use my dog’s breakfast and dinner as training treats. We have short training sessions at meal time. Like Catherine we do several repeats then move onto something different. Sometimes I use all her food in training, and sometimes there’s leftovers so that gets put on a plate for her to eat. I do require my dog to lay quietly on her dog bed in the kitchen while I prepare the pets food.

I will also randomly train for a short period, maybe while we’re out shopping or in the park waiting for my friend etc. We have longer training sessions - we take several classes each week for our various dog sports. Now that my dog is older she can easily work for an hour but that’s too much for a young puppy. In that hour we work on several different items and sometimes there are breaks in between.

I’ve been told that several very short training sessions are more effective than one long one. Puppies don’t have long attention spans so even doing something during commercial breaks while watching TV can be very effective.

Do train in many places. For example, after my dog learned to sit in the kitchen, I trained sit in the family room, then on the couch in the family room, then living room and upstairs in the master bedroom bed, in the car, driveway, park, inside a store etc. Repetition and training in different places along with increasing distractions builds a solid behavior. If you only train in the kitchen, then that is the only place you will get a reliable sit.
 
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Free feeding doesn't work well if you ever plan to travel (with or without your dog). It also makes it very challenging to keep track of how much they're actually eating, which I think is important for the first year. Peggy came to us underweight for this exact reason. The breeder didn't realize just how little she was eating. We switched her food and she quickly gained.

Now we do a modified version of free feeding, in which we portion out her food and remove it before the next mealtime, just to try and keep her on a loose schedule, but we give her extra in the evening if she eats her whole dinner and leave that out until her bedtime. I do this because some days her appetite is so much bigger than others. I want to ensure she's getting all she needs, rather than rigidly sticking to a serving size.

Also, when she was younger, we did a lot of hand-feeding. This is described in-depth in Ian Dunbar's "Before And After Getting Your Puppy," and teaches a gentle mouth. It also gives you the opportunity to make your puppy work for their food.

Kibble-stuffed chew toys are another way to make them work for it. It teaches them to settle and satisfies their natural chewing urges. Can also scatter kibble in the grass or portion out some kibble as a training reward. All of these opportunities are lost with free-feeding.
 

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Well, maybe I should switch to feeding on a schedule. But I have to admit, free feeding works very well when my wife and I are both at work, especially with a puppy that needs to eat more than twice a day. I can just put her food and water in the pen with her.
 

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I am going to dissent about free feeding. We used to free feed when our dogs were on a kibble diet. Everybody grazed with no problems and I traveled with them free feeding with no problems too. I used kibble as training treats and never had to measure portions, except for Javelin when he was very young and eating a separate formula from the adults. Since he was from a litter of nine he had gluttonous tendencies when he first joined our household It took him a little while to figure out that he had no competitors. We had no potty training problems since we were dedicated to taking whoever it was out after eating, on waking and after play and quickly trained all of them to potty on command.
 
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Thanks, Catherine, it's actually working well for us too. Our older, smaller dog eats very lightly, and free feeding just works better for him. And even though food is always available to our poodle, she doesn't really graze, she eats at intervals, and I can hear when she's finished so I can take her out. I don't know how much she eats at each trip to the bowl, but I know how much she eats in a day, which is good enough for most purposes. I try to give her just enough so that the bowl is empty by 7pm or so, and then I leave it empty until the next morning.
 

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I free fed my last dog, and it worked out great for years. But then I unexpectedly had to leave her with family for an extended period and she got really panicky around their dogs at meal time, wolfing her food and becoming food obsessed. It was just too dramatic of a change for her. She remained food obsessed for the rest of her life, even after she was back with me.
 

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Well, maybe I should switch to feeding on a schedule. But I have to admit, free feeding works very well when my wife and I are both at work, especially with a puppy that needs to eat more than twice a day. I can just put her food and water in the pen with her.
I think whatever works best for you and your household is always the way to go ?
 
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