Most of us like to be well rested and fresh when we are learning something new. We make sure our kids eat well and get plenty of sleep before school, so they are rested and ready to concentrate. But for many dogs (and some kids!), this can actually hinder learning.
Is your dog trying to run in circles, initiate play or gets easily distracted during his training sessions? If so, he may need exercise! Playing a game of fetch, going for a run, or even just a walk around the block to sniff and explore can really help a lot of dogs settle down. After you have removed some of that pent-up energy, your dog will be more calm and focused for mental exercise during training.
Some dogs just have too much energy to sit still for long. If you have one of these dogs, here are some tips to make training easier.
1- For these dogs, you may find it better to train at the end of the day, versus first thing in the morning when they are full of energy and ready to go.
2- Keep training sessions short, and then take exercise breaks. For example, practice your sit 10 times, and then play fetch or tug for 5 minutes. Then, go back to practicing sit. (This also teaches your dog to refocus on you after getting “amped” up!)
3- If you don’t have time to exercise, give your dog an interactive toy to play with for a bit before you plan on training, so he can burn off a bit of that physical and mental energy.
4- Mix up your training so you aren’t doing a whole bunch of non-movement behaviours in a row. So, maybe you do sit and then work on heeling so your dog can move a bit. Then work on stay. Then, work on come so he can move again.
5- Save the hardest behaviours that require stationary activity last. This is not true for all dogs, but sometimes saving “stay” until the end of your lesson, when he is both physically and mentally tired, can help – he will be glad all he has to do is not move! This is not the case for some dogs, but it’s worth testing if you are having trouble.
Is Exercise Before Training the Best for ALL Dogs?
Of course not! Just like humans, different dogs learn and behave differently. They are unique individuals. For some dogs, getting exercised before amps them up even more, especially if they haven’t learned how to refocus on you (as mentioned above). This is just something you will have to try.
Then there are the dogs that can’t sit still and are easily distracted because they are anxious or fearful. For these dogs, exercise will not make their fear go away. This is a different issue altogether that needs to be addressed before any other training can happen.
However, if you have a high-energy dog, or one that just won’t focus, it’s worth trying the “exercise before” method, especially if you have ruled out fear or anxiety as a possible cause of the restlessness.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that you need to find what works for your individual dog. Learn that, and training will be much easier for both of you.