It’s easy to lose track of time when you are engaged in learning a new, fun skill with your best friend. Your dog is constantly communicating to you with his body posture and gestures. Read on to learn how your dog may indicate to you that the training session is over.
“Training sessions should be short and have a specific goal in mind. You want to leave your dog wanting more training fun! Overtraining can lead to a lack of interest from your dog,” says professional dog trainer Kirsten Holt, Certified Canine Fitness Trainer and owner of Wycked Fit K9 in Beavercreek, Ohio. “Fatigue may occur in a pet obedience session, during a canine fitness workout, or in an everyday life situation - such as taking your dog out to eat at a dog friendly restaurant patio.”
Watch for these common signs of fatigue:
He cannot perform the skill as well as he did earlier. You see a pitter patter of feet that should be still or your dog steps off of canine fitness equipment. Your dog is unable to hold positions as long as he could earlier in your session. You see him shifting his weight differently – perhaps his rear end is tired, and you see him shift body weight forward to his forelimbs. In short, he gives you subtle or strong clues that he is done doing this skill, needs a break, or is done with the session.
His interest in the treats or the way he takes treats changes. For example, he spastically takes treats despite taking them gently earlier. Signs of “short-circuiting” may include this deterioration of his bite inhibition or his ability to make slow, deliberate movements, such as taking treats gently from your hand. Conversely, some dogs stop taking treats to indicate they are physically full (no room in the stomach to consume more treats) or simply not interested in working for any more of that paycheck – the treat!
He vocalizes frustration at you despite being quiet earlier in the session. Your dog gives you a frustrated, bossy and piercing bark or grumble. This may indicate tiredness or may indicate that he is confused by what you are asking. If he’s confused by what you are doing, read this blog on how to be a clear communicator.
He acts too busy to do what you are asking him to do. He yawns several times, offers multiple sneezes, scratches, pants, or sniffs at the ground. He is essentially communicating to you that he cannot do the task you are asking. This could be due to weariness or because you made the skill too challenging – if so, you may need to go back to an easier version of that same skill.
His form deteriorates. “During canine fitness training, a change in the proper form is an indicator that the training session should end. The dog is now using the wrong muscles to attempt to do the task, which could lead to injury,” continues Holt. “A canine fitness training professional can help coach you through the signs of proper and improper form, such as a widening hind limb stance, sprawled sit, or even turned out elbows.” Form may also decline in non-canine fitness training – keep your eye on your dog and realize when you see his body posture changing due to being dog-tired.
He actively looks for an escape route or actually retreats from the training session. His eyes search the room for an exit, he flicks his tongue or offers other calming signals, or he wanders off. In some cases, your paycheck may not be valuable enough so perhaps you need a better reinforcer – treat - during your training session. In other cases, your dog is exhausted and is done training.
What to do when fatigue strikes:
“Listen to what your pup is telling you and end the training session,” advises Holt. “Look for your dog’s signs of fatigue sooner in your next session. You may reduce the sets and/or reps of exercises to give your dog a chance to build strength for progressions. It takes time for muscles to rebuild, recover and to become stronger before progressing in an exercise program.”
Often owners are advised to do one last skill so that the dog and human end the session feeling successful and happy. If your dog loves doing an easier skill such as the nose touch, ask for a nose touch and give a treat. Some dogs may be so fried at this point that they cannot even accomplish a nose touch. Thus, in many instances, it may be best to just end the session with a fun game instead of a skill. Scatter some treats on the floor so that your dog may play “sniff and eat.” Put some kibble in a dog puzzle toy or snuffle mat. If your dog enjoys playing with toys, consider a quick tug session.
How long is a training session?
The saying “quality is better than quantity” applies here. It is often better to do multiple, short sessions in one day. Your training session may only be 10 seconds to two minutes in duration! Over time, some dogs are able to focus for longer periods of time, such as up to 15 minutes. A puppy will have an even shorter attention span than an adult dog.
“Keep your human state of mind and human energy level in mind. You may need to take a training break due to your own fatigue to keep your dog’s success rate high. You can always do another session later,” advises Holt.
Where can I learn more about canine fitness?
Stay tuned for more fitness blogs! In addition, to find classes near you or to learn more about how to safely do beneficial calisthenic choreography for your dog, find a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT). A CCFT can guide you in program design and in the proper number of repetitions and sets per exercise. Besides being a hoot, doing canine fitness helps keep your dog at an appropriate weight and physically fit. Doing fitness exercises with proper form can help prevent injuries and ensure your pup recuperates faster when he does get injured. Just as humans check with their doctors before engaging in new fitness routines, dog owners should check with their veterinarians before proceeding. If you ever see any changes in your dog’s health or notice any discomfort, stop the activity and contact your veterinarian.