I see it all the time, people who spend months, and even years on a behavior. I have to give them credit. It takes a lot of dedication to put all that effort into a single behavior. One common example is people who have dogs that are nervous around people. I watch many of these people force everyone they meet to greet and treat their dog. For some it works, some, not so much. It makes me wonder, are they trying too hard? The answer to this is; sometimes, depending upon how the dog perceives the time spent!
Time is one of those things that does not care who we are or what we are trying to accomplish. It passes for everyone. Though time is a control monger, it is not a total control monger.
Time will not allow us to choose how much we have of it but, it does leave us options. The first option: we get to choose what we do with, and how we allot the time given. There are people out there who are experts at allotting time. They turn allotting time into an art. They spend time mastering how to be the most effective manager of schedules. Me, I would not say… I’m one of those.
The second option time leaves us is: quality. In general, if you are truly good at allotting time, to keep on track, the quality is likely to follow.This is not always the case with stock dog training. The interesting part in stock dog training is; the better you are at allotting time the less likely you will be to fill it with quality. More often than not this is because of focus; our focus and the dogs focus not being equal.
The people that manage time well often are focused on what they are doing so they can get it done in the allotted time. We have a limited amount of time and want to accomplish the training so we focus hard to get it done. This focus will often cause cramming and drilling which is often counter productive in stock dog training. With our dogs trying to figure out the livestock, what you are asking, and lastly the task you have decided to teach, they will not likely be able to focus for all the time you have allotted. If you do heavy focus work beyond the time they can focus you go from quality time to just quantity.
This is not to say that you can not work for extended periods of time, but, that you will not be able to train new things for extended periods of time. It is actually important to work you dogs for those longer times to build endurance. We do not want to create ten minute dogs. The more you work extended periods of time the longer your dog will be able to be focused within them.
So, to be sure time is not just time spent, we need to look at how we are using it. When the dog is able to focus we train new things. When the dog is going beyond being able to focus hard we move on to working endurance; where even though they are not learning new things they are learning to maintain their quality of work when tired. As the dog regains its ability to focus, we can then push their endurance farther by training new things again in that same session; if time allows.
Time spent well is sometimes training, sometimes just experiencing (which is actually training in its own right with just a different focus). If your time is spent building relationship, experiencing, or training it is time well spent. In all of this the ability to remain focused (either handler or dog) set the length of training time.
If you feel you are spending way too long getting your dog to understand something; look at how you are spending time. It may be time for a different approach or you may find it is just about to pay off. It takes time to properly train a stock dog so… don’t just spend time, spend time well.