A group of researchers recently set out to investigate the effects of play after training, and the results of their study (published 2017) may have huge implications for dog trainers and owners alike!
Prior to this study, it had already been well-established that excitement around the same time or right after an event can help solidify memories of that event for animals and people. You're much more likely to have strong memories of a day at school if that day's lesson involved an exciting game, or if that was a day where you had to stand up in front of the class to give a presentation. The brain emphasizes the importance of excitement, and attaches that importance to the events surrounding that excitement. In this way, the brain highlights those memories as significant.
The goal of this study was to find out if positive, playful activities post-training would enhance dogs' memories of the task they were being trained to do. The researchers only tested Labrador Retriever dogs in order to control for breed differences in performance. The dogs were trained to indicate one of two different objects presented to them. Researchers included a control group in their study to compare performance between dogs who played after training and dogs who spent that time resting on a dog bed.
The study found that just 30 minutes of playful activity following a training session significantly improved dogs' memory and training performance, even when tested a full day after the original training session! The "playtime" in this study consisted of 20 minutes of walking on leash, and 10 minutes of off-leash play.
If you're looking for simple ways to improve your dog's training regimen, consider using just 30 minutes after training to play with your pup. The training benefits and the quality time with your pup are totally worth it! If you'd like to read the full study, CLICK HERE to see the article.
Citation: Affenzeller, N., Palme, R., & Zulch, H. (2017). Playful activity post-learning improves training performance in Labrador Retriever dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Physiology & Behavior, 16862-73.