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The Usefulness of Play in Training

A recent study examined the effects of playtime on a dog's training regimen.


A study published in Physiology & Behavior this year looked at how using play time can enhance a dog's learning and memory during training sessions.

The study was led by Nadja Affenzeller at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom. The impetus for the research project was the fact that release of stress hormones in humans and primates has been shown to increase learning and the same effect might be found in canines.

The project used 16 Labrador Retrievers between the ages of one and nine years. They dogs were trained to do an object discrimination task between two objects. After each training session, half the dogs were given a chance to rest for half an hour whereas the other half were engaged in play time. The results found that the dogs that engaged in play had better learning performance compared to the resting dogs. The play dogs needed less trials to re-learn the training task after a period of 24 hours. They took an average of 26 trials for the task compared to an average of 43 for the resting dogs.

So the next time you find yourself training a dog for an agility trial, consider ending training sessions with play time to see if you find any improvements in memory and learning in subsequent sessions.

The full study can be accessed at Science Direct: Affenzeller A, Palme R, Zulch H. (2017) Playful activity post-learning improves training performance in Labrador Retriever dogs. Physiology & Behavior. 168 (1 January), 62-73.

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