Dog Training from an Athlete's Perspective - When to Rest & Periodization

Training is training, right? Work at it, keep going, and you’ll get better, stronger, faster. Nice! …..Its not quite so simple though. If you’re training for a marathon you can’t go out every day and simply run one more mile each time. Nor can you become a faster cyclist by just riding two hours as hard as you can every day. To reach your athletic goals, there must be a base period of endurance training, then working on adding speed and power, with rest between. The key to reaching goals is rest and recovery! For training our dogs, we need to think in this same way. ‘Train smarter, not harder’ is a well known mantra for successful athletes. Who doesn’t want to work less, and make bigger improvements? The key to all of this is to not only train hard, but rest hard as well. This allows the body to be pushed further, but heal and recover fully so the next training session or block of sessions can be done with higher quality work

Think of working in phases, a style of training call ‘periodization.’ This is where training intensity and duration is broken up into cycles. While training, intensity/difficulty will increase within each session, and from session to session. Rather than continuing this constant, upward trend, by taking breaks and dropping off the demand, we can actually ensure long term continued progress, and help avoid plateaus.


Applying this to our dogs, we can structure our training sessions in just the same way. We all have long term goals in our dog training. Don’t just plod away each day working on the same routine of things. Push and be patient for high quality behaviors, then reward big! Those rewards are part of your dog’s recovery to get ready to do it all again. Check the previous blog post for more about the wide range of what rest can look like to our dogs.

To get specific, I’m a competitive cyclist. My biggest races are usually in August. When October rolls around, I start working on getting in ‘base miles.’ These are long, medium paced rides. For three weeks, my rides will get longer and longer, then I’ll do one easy week - this is a microcycle. Within each week, I take 1-2 easy or off days. Weight lifting, single leg pedaling drills, and other exercises to be sure all my mechanics are smooth and even start getting incorporated more as winter comes. By spring, I have the physical ability to ride for hours at a steady pace without tiring. From this solid base, I can start doing harder efforts that get closer to the effort required to race, bringing me into a new macrocycle. However, total length of training rides decrease so the intensity can increase. as races begin, weeks of big races will include a taper - or much shorter rides with a few high quality intervals, so I’ll be well rested but primed to go fast.

Back to our pups lets keep these micro and macrocycles in mind. Within each training session ask for harder behaviors, but also mix it up with easier ones. No one likes going hard, harder, hardest! Lets say you and your pup go to the park one and do some really great training with all kinds of hard distractions; kids running around, BBQ cooking and squirrels all over - the next day shouldn’t push it to the same degree. That next day might be best to work on something your dogs knows well and loves to do, but isn’t too stressful. 

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If you are working on a behavioral problem, say a dog who goes over threshold and reacts to seeing other dogs, working this daily may very well be too much. Within the week, consider also spending some days only doing scent/nose games, obedience moves in the backyard, or just playing. after a few weeks of doing better and better in the behavior modification work, you might then try going to a new park that will be a harder situation. To be successful, be sure to have a taper, easy days right before, and then allow for recovery afterwards.

When you and your dog rest is as important as the work. Don’t forget to work in mini rests between exercises, days of rest during the week, and to have a long term plan. If you have a trial or specific goal in mind, think about your timing. Divide up your time so you have a longer recovery period at regular intervals, and short rest times each session. Throughout sessions, the overall intensity will be able to increase With this type of periodization training in mind, you’ll be able to better achieve steady improvement and avoid plateaus or burnout.