Occasionally we get a call from someone with a new puppy who has gone off the deep end. In their excitement, they are training their 8-week-old puppy like it is an adult – multiple sessions a day, working on perfection of obedience commands and trying to steady this little pup on retrieves. Calls like this beg the question; can you train a dog too much?
Calls like this aside, in my experience, it is rare that someone trains their dog too much. Usually, people don’t train enough. But there are occasions where an owner is overdoing training in one or more areas. And this can cause problems.
Can you overdo obedience training for dogs?
When training your dog for obedience, there are several factors you need to consider.
Age of your dog
First and foremost, you must consider the age of your dog. This is an area where I will often see overtraining. Some owners are so excited to get their puppy they simply can’t wait to get started on training. They are so anxious for their dog to grow up and become the hunting or competition dog they dream of, that they go all in. But an 8-week-old puppy is not ready for long training sessions. They don’t have the attention span, the understanding, or the energy.
You must start training slowly, with one simple command like SIT and then add in other commands as the dog gets older and can understand more.
Learn more in How to obedience train Labrador puppy.
For a month-by-month training plan for hunting or competition pups, check out this post.
Length of obedience sessions
You can start training a puppy at 8-weeks-old, but you need to tailor that training for a young dog. Short sessions with only one focus. With young pups you can do multiple sessions a day, but each one should be very short. And keep your expectations low. Remember that the dog is just a puppy, and you should not expect perfection. Expect, and be okay with, mistakes. Let the puppy be a puppy.
Even with older dogs, you must keep in mind the length of the session. If you are working on obedience, most dogs do not particularly like obedience, so you might need to keep your sessions short. Five to ten minutes of obedience is usually enough for one session. If you are working on other skills such as retrieving, sessions may be longer but always watch your dog’s attitude.
How is your dog’s attitude?
Dog training is a constant juggle between progressing on training and keeping your dog’s attitude up. Some breeds like to do obedience work, but most don’t, so frequent breaks can help. With working dogs, like retrievers, you can do fun retrieves to break up the session and keep the dog’s attitude up. For other breeds, you need to find something that you know your dog loves to do and use that to maintain a good attitude.
What is the weather like?
Another consideration when training is the weather. If you are working your dog in extreme heat or cold, this can make a difference in how long and hard you can train. Heat will quickly drain a dog and pushing him/her in the heat can be very dangerous. Heat exhaustion is a very real thing.
Working a dog in the cold can also be a problem because it can give you a false sense of security. Yes, the dog is unlikely to get hot, but the dog may work too long and get exhausted or dehydrated just the same. Be sure and tailer your training to the weather.
How do I know if my dog is exhausted?
Some signs of exhaustion are obvious. If your dog slows down and his/her head is hanging, he/she is tired. But there are other signs that are not quite as obvious.
- A tongue hanging out the side of the mouth
- Your dog is constantly seeking shade or a place to rest
- Your dog is getting more and more disobedient, or his/her SITS are getting more and more sloppy.
- Excessive panting or drooling
These are all signs that you are overdoing your training and working your dog too much.
Can I do too much retrieving with my dog?
While few people over train on obedience, I have found that many retriever owners do over train on retrieving. Yes, retrievers love to retrieve. But too much retrieving can cause problems, especially if you plan to use your retriever for hunting or competition.
Too much retrieving can decrease your dog’s desire to retrieve. If you throw a bumper 10 or 20 times every time you take your dog outside, you are going to dilute your dog’s retrieving desire. Instead, use retrieving like a treat. One, two or three retrieves at a time. Leave your dog wanting more. This will build retrieving desire and make it stronger.
Can a dog play fetch too much?
Too much fetch can lead to the following problems:
Decreased desire to retrieve
Playing fetch too much and too often can lower your dog’s natural desire to retrieve. Some dogs actually stop retrieving when it is done too much. A problem that can be difficult to fix if your plans included hunting.
Learn to love of the chase but not the delivery
If your dog is a working dog, a hunter or competitor, be sure and only use bumpers, Dokkens, or birds for the retrieves. Never use balls or frisbees. The bouncing and rolling of a ball or frisbee add excitement, and dogs love that, but it can cause problems in the field since shot birds rarely roll or bounce when they fall. Using balls, toys or frisbees can teach your dog to love the chase, but not the delivery.
Stiffness and sore muscles
Just like people, dogs can get stiff and sore muscles from overtraining. And the older the dog is, the worse this stiffness and soreness can be. Be mindful of your dog’s age and keep your expectations in line with that age.
Need for recovery time
All dogs need recovery time. You should never train 7 days a week. Let your dog have some down time, some time to rest. Like humans, dogs’ muscles need time to rest and repair also.
Preparing for the hunting season
While the focus of this post is can you train your dog too much, I want to remind you that not training is not the solution. Especially if your dog is a hunting or competition dog. You must put in the time to condition your dog for the hunting and competition season. Just be sure to do it in a manner consistent with the age and ability of your dog.
Hunting season if the Olympics of a hunting dog’s life. And you do need to prepare your dog for this time of extreme exercise. So don’t wait until the week before a 10-day hunting trip to start training and exercising your dog. Work up to it over weeks and preferably months of training. You need your dog to have endurance to last through a hunting trip. Hunting season for some people is a marathon, and just like most people cannot wake up one day and run 26 miles in one sitting, neither can your dog be expected to retrieve 30 ducks a day for a week with no previous training.
Final thoughts on can I train my dog too much?
You can train your dog too much, but if you take into consideration the factors discussed in this post, you should be able to plan your training and be successful training your dog. If you are new to training, consider following a professional’s plan for training. This will help guide you along the way and make sure that you train for the right things in the right order.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting or competition this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.