I frequently write about the importance of daily training sessions for all dogs. Pet dogs are happier, healthier and more obedient if training is reinforced daily. Sessions don’t need to be lengthy or intensive every day. Even five minutes of working on tricks before breakfast can make a big impact. However, there are times when it’s better to skip a day of training than to train and risk being counter-productive. Let’s look at some of those situations.
Unless you’re remarkably level-headed and able to shrug off stress easily, skip the training sessions on days when a major family conflict has occurred. If your kids are acting up and upsetting you, you’re likely to react with unreasonable frustration when your dog doesn’t behave in the way you had expected. If your spouse just asked for a divorce, your dog’s back-talking during training will make you angry rather than encourage you to examine why the dog is giving you that type of feedback.
Even if you think you’re up to it, you may want to avoid training or at least focus on simple behaviors when you are ill. Training dogs requires impeccable timing, whether you’re reinforcing the dog (preferable) or punishing him (not desirable). When you’re running a fever or have a bad cough, your timing won’t be perfect.
You shouldn’t train a sick dog, either, unless the illness is very mild and the dog will need to be capable of performing learned behaviors while mildly ill in the future. That means only service dogs and possibly police K-9s should continue training while under the weather. Pets and show dogs get the day off.
It’s a good idea to train your dog when she’s a little bit hungry, but not desperate for food. You, on the other hand, should eat a meal or healthy snack before training. Like illness, hunger pangs throw your timing off. Low blood sugar can make you dizzy and cause your hands to shake, interfering with cues and reinforcers.
Most owners find that training a dog provides stress relief and relaxation. But when your stress levels spike, it’s a good idea to indulge in a long, relaxing walk or a grooming session with your dog rather than practice demanding learned behaviors.
During training sessions, your dog will absorb your mood and attitude. If your body language says, “I’m tense and nervous,” your dog will also become tense and nervous. You owe your dog your best effort during each training session in order to help her learn quickly. If you’re not able to offer a positive attitude that she can imitate, save training for another day.