How often should you train the animal?

In this post, I’m sharing a chapter from my extensive online course Getting Behaviour! The video below is one of the 108 similar chapters from the course.

The video discusses why training sessions should be shorter rather than longer, and why training more than once a day may in some cases actually hurt your training; sleep consolidates memory, so a second same-day training session may interfere with the consolidation of the first training session.

I had one great question to this chapter: “If sleep is important to consolidate learning, is it only extended sleep (overnight sleep)? Many animals have short sleep periods during the daytime. Don’t naps contribute to learning consolidation?”

Here’s what the research says:  “After a comparatively brief sleep episode, subjects that take a nap improve more on a declarative memory (knowing what) task than subjects that stay awake, but that improvement on a procedural memory task (knowing how) is the same regardless of whether subjects take a nap or remain awake. Slow wave sleep was the only sleep parameter to correlate positively with declarative memory improvement.”

Extended sleep is also needed for procedural memory consolidation, though..!

There are three sleep stages.

  • Stage 1: eyes closed, easy to wake.
  • Stage 2: light sleep. Heart rate down, temperature drops.
  • Stage 3: deep sleep – this is when declarative memory consolidation occurs – and we typically don’t get to this stage during short naps.

How to end a training session is another hot topic, and one that I discuss in another chapter of the course! 😉


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Positive reinforcement training in rhesus macaques: Training progress as a result of training frequency.

The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs.

6 Replies to “How often should you train the animal?”

  1. How long does it take for a puppy to go to a deep sleep cycle? So a half an hour nap won’t do it but would an hour and a half to two hour nap help to solidify learning?

    1. Michele, great question and one that I don’t have a good answer for. Assuming the same is true for dogs as for people, that memory consolidation occurs during deep sleep, it would depend whether that stage is reached or not during the nap. I haven’t found any data on whether dogs reach deep sleep during daytime naps.

  2. Hi – I’d think that when we add cues, that would be more of t memory (knowing what we call the behavior) versus knowing how (procedural).

    If that’s the case, then maybe when we’re working on something like proprioception or new physical skills, that needs deep sleep to consolidate, but just adding cues to behavior they already know how to physically do can be consolidated with just a nap?

    Or is that not borne out by the data?

    1. Oh, interesting question! I wouldn’t really know where to put cues: are they explicit or implicit? We humans might think of the cue as semantic (meaning it’s explicit, focusing on the word and what it means), but to the animal it might be more emotional (classically conditioned; implicit).

      As to the two studies I discuss, none of them seem to have done any stimulus control training; rather the animal responding to visual cues, such as targets, present in the environment.

  3. Hej Karolina
    Min egen erfaring med min gamle Bouvier (konkurrence hund/lydighed) var helt tydeligt at når jeg var ved at opgive indlæringen af et specielt moment så skulle vi ikke træne det i et par dage og pludselig ud af den blå luft så kunne hun det, så jeg plejede at sige “hun skal lige sove på det” …men altså mere end en nat …
    Er den viden man har nu ikke den at leg efter træning i stedet for ind i bilen og hvile som man sagde før i tiden det giver bedre indlæring end hvile?
    På KU/Københavns Universitets Hospital 2010 lavede biolog Helle Demant sit speciale med 44 Beagles (til topkarakter) som handler om noget ala samme

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