With my own dogs, and client dogs for that matter, I will sometimes start a training session by saying, “Do you want to train?”. There has not been a time that they have not gotten excited by this statement. They are eager and more than happy to do a training session. Why? Because it is fun and rewarding for them, to say the least. It could also have to do with the fact that I have a big smile on my face when I ask.
Although I do not always cue the beginning of a training session, I always cue the end of a training session. Why do I always cue the end of a training session? By marking the end of a training session with a cue word, I let the dog know that work is over (although no dog that trains with me likely thinks of it as “work”!). Marking the end of a training session lets the dog know that training time is over and that he is no longer on the clock, so to speak.
A dog can pick up on this cue after a few sessions, so long as it is consistently used. My own dogs usually grab a toy or wrestle each other when I give the cue for the end of a session. They know that “you’re free!” means exactly that – they are free to just be dogs.
How to teach/train it:
1. Have your session as you normally would
2. End on a positive note with the dog succeeding
3. Cue your end of session phrase – “you’re free!” is the cue I use but there are plenty of options to choose from like “all done”, “you’re done”, etc.
This communicates to the dog that is may now do as it pleases, so long as good behavior does not suffer. I really like using an end of session marker while out on a training walk as well. It gives the dog the all-clear that he can now be a dog after working on loose leash walking, ignoring distractions and so on.
You may also use the cue as a signal for a break in a session:
1. Train as usual
2. End on a good note
3. Cue your end of session marker
4. The dog gets a break (at least 3 minutes)
5. Get the dog’s attention and get back into training mode