What Should I Do in a Dog Training Session?

what should i do in a dog training session

When you are starting to train your dog yourself, or even going in-between one-on-one lessons with a professional, knowing what to do in each session can feel like a lot. Understanding how to start, how to structure a session with your dog, and what to cover while training your dog from home can make dog owners feel out of their depth, even with in-person guidance.

Luckily, we at Lugaru K9 Training have put together a few guidelines for at-home training with your dog. So, whether you are working with us one a one-on-one level, maintaining training for a board-and-train situation, or going at it entirely on your own, here are a few things to keep in mind while self-training your dog.

How Do You Start a Dog Training Session?

When you start a training session with your dog, it’s a good idea to begin training time with a “recap” or warm-up based on what you’ve been working on recently. Regardless of whether you are maintaining reactivity training or moving your dog up the ladder in obedience, giving your dog a chance to review and get in the zone is going to be helpful in setting the tone for the rest of the session.

For one example, let’s assume you are teaching your dog a new command, such as down. Maybe your dog did great last time you worked on it, and was doing down with just the verbal command pretty consistently during your previous session.

This time, instead of throwing your dog immediately into repetitions of DOWN with verbal cue only, consider dropping down a step and offering a hand signal as well at the beginning of the session.

You don’t need to stay at that reduced level. Just give it a few repetitions to help your dog tap in to what they’ve been working on and get into the swing of things.

asian boy training yorkshire terrier on urban sports ground

How Do You Structure a Dog Training Session?

How each trainer, or even each dog owner, structures a training session may vary wildly between individuals and even within the same individual but between different dogs, goals, and situations. However, there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind when considering how to structure your own training sessions.

Dog and Handler

Unless your dog is getting into much more advanced training, it’s usually a better idea to focus on one dog and one handler at a time. This is especially true of training any brand-new behaviors (like introducing a new command).

Keeping it to one dog and one handler during a training session, without distractions from children, roommates, or other pets will help your dog connect to and focus on you and what you’re asking of them.

Environment Control

When teaching new behaviors to your dog, such as a new trick or command, it’s always best to begin in as sterile an environment as possible. A quiet room is one great example, because it will have fewer distractions than, say, trying to teach a new command at the park.

For training behaviors, especially behaviors dependent on specific environments (like dog-dog reactivity, car anxiety, etc.) consider factors you cannot control and weigh out what you can do to minimize the risk of putting your dog farther than you intend to into a training progression.

If you’re very new into training a behavior, see if you can “set it up” instead of going out seeking the real-world version, such as (based on the examples above) having a friend walk a dog at a safe trigger distance or feeding meals in a parked car before thinking of jumping up to road trips.


Consider what else is going on in the environment, and plan your controlled motivators appropriately. If you’re asking your dog for a more difficult behavior, a nicer reward will be helpful in those situations.

Also consider if any competing motivators should be removed for where you are at in your training process.

If you’re training PLACE for duration, for example, and are at the point where you want to train your dog to remain there while you walk out of the room for a moment, make sure you clear up any competition. Having a tempting plate of food on the coffee table or their favorite toy lying out on the floor while doing that is not going to help.

Keep Track of Progress

Knowing where you are in your training process can help move things along faster, and keep you from inadvertently confusing your dog because you forgot how much you’d accomplished last time.

Keep a dog training journal (a basic composition book does fine!) and record what you covered in your sessions, marked with the date and any extra notes from the practice.

At Lugaru K9 Training, we use these handy printable sheets that we put into folders for our board-and-train dogs. We also have them 100% free for our email subscribers, so if you need help keeping track of your dog’s progress while training you can sign up here to download the free dog training tracker.

printable dog training tracker download

How Many Hours Per Day Should You Train Your Dog?

There is really no straight answer to how many hours per day a dog should receive training. This is because dogs are always training, all the time. Because they are always learning, all the time.

In this way, dog training is really more of a 24/7 process than it is a series of structured sessions. What happens in-between those sessions is very important, at least from a behavioral standpoint.

When it comes to obedience training, giving your dog a couple hours of work each day is sufficient. Break these hours into a few smaller chunks, and ensure that your dog gets time to rest in-between.

How Long Should a Dog Training Session Be?

While dogs are always learning and therefore, in some way, always in training, designated training sessions tend to do well in short bursts.

Five minutes up to half an hour is a good window in which to work on new tasks and behaviors with your dog. This includes not just obedience like learning sit and down, but also any new behavior such as reducing unwanted behaviors or public access/walking behaviors.

Understand that dogs benefit from getting a chance to process new information, and should ideally be resting after a training session. This could be crate time, lounging in the yard, or a nap on the couch. As long as your dog has time to relax and process after a training session, anything goes.

This is especially helpful to keep in mind for activities that are definitely “training,” even though they might not feel like “training.”

For one example, a reactive dog going for a walk and getting new structure and feedback during that walk is training through that whole walk. Therefore, consider what your dog is currently learning and what they have down when deciding on activity duration. For this example, the reactive dog in training might benefit from a shorter walk, or a longer route where you know you’ll get considerable breaks from any triggers.

happy young couple in sportswear playing with dog in park in spring

How Should You End a Dog Training Session?

How you should close out a training session is going to get a different answer based on which dog trainer you ask, even among the pros.

Some trainers would gladly die on the hill that you should always end a session on a good note (meaning, after a successful repetition of a command or behavior). In this train of thought, it’s believed that ending on the good note improves a dog’s ability to process the information covered during a session.

Other professionals claim that ending on a good note is actually detrimental because the dog will associate the ending of the fun training session with their best performance, and therefore the dog will avoid doing their best. This train of thought claims that training sessions should end on a poor note so that the dog will give more effort in the future to keep the training going.

Others yet simply go by a schedule, deciding on a simple plan for a session and not deviating from it. When the plan is complete, so is the session, and they close off at that point regardless of whether the dog ended on a high note or a low one.

At Lugaru K9 Training, we are of the mindset that a training session should end before it becomes boring to the dog, especially when tackling the teaching of new behaviors. We set goals for a session and do what we can to meet them, without focusing too much on whether the final repetition was successful or poor.

When the training session is up, we like to close with a short game or some affection for the dog, to keep them feeling good about the closure of a session.

Our advice for dog owners training at home is to keep the sessions brief and engaging. Stick to the goal of progress over immediate perfection, keep track of that progress, and advance in the correct order when you and your dog are ready.

Do this, and you will surely see results as well as a happy, balanced dog.

Author: Kimberlee Tolentino

Kimee has worked hands-on with dogs for over ten years, and today serves the role of head trainer and owner at Lugaru K9 Training in Port Orchard, Washington. Kimee has been a shelter volunteer, a dog walker, dog behavior intern, a dog trainer, and now specializes in behavior modification for pet dogs.