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“How long is it going to take?”

November 10, 2008

“How long is it going to take for my dog to be trained?” This is one of those frequently asked questions I get from many people. Unfortunately there is no standard answer, no for sure guaranteed answer, no crystal ball, and no magic wands. These are just a few questions you can ask yourself to help give you your own answer: 

  1. How badly do YOU want your dog trained? Do you want it NOW??? 
  2. What behaviors are we talking about? Are you trying to get your dog to walk nicely on leash, or dealing with biting a human or other dog?
  3. How motivated is your dog to learn? Are you providing a happy learning environment that encourages your dog to want to learn with you? 
  4. How motivated are YOU to want to teach your dog? 
I often compare dog training programs to weight-loss programs. In that, the more you put into it, the more consistent you are etc… the better the outcomes. For instance, if you’re trying to lose weight and you start exercising, eating right, making better choices etc… the weight will come off. And, once you reach your short term goals, as long as you keep up some sort of maintenance regimen, you should have continued success. 
If on the other hand you join a gym or weight loss group, go to meetings, but then go out for pizza and ice-cream in between those meetings or workout sessions, then you’re sort of sabotaging yourself. You never reach your goals, and if anything you just become more frustrated. 
So, I say this: if you want your dog to behave a certain way, not only do you have to teach them, but then you have to be consistent with the training program. Rewarding the behaviors you want, and doing all you can to prevent your dog from performing (and practicing) the behaviors you don’t want! The more consistent you are, the better your dog will understand about making the “right choices”. 
I’ll address the questions I’ve written above:
  1. How badly do you want it? As I say in my classes: “Don’t wait to need a behavior to train a behavior.” I grew up in California. One of the “drills” we had in school were earthquake drills. Lots of “dress rehearsals” so to speak. Same thing with dog training. Don’t wait to teach your dog to come on command when you’ve taken him to an off-leash park with hundreds of other dogs! Be prepared and plan ahead. 
  2. Which path of learning? Emotional (learning by association) or Rational (learning by consequence). Good Manners behaviors are usually simpler to teach, than say, dealing with a dog that has dog-dog or dog-stranger aggression issues. Fear and aggression, or as I like to say, the “emotional path” is usually a longer road to head down. 
  3. How motivated is your dog? Sorry, but how “smart” your dog is really isn’t as important as how “motivated” your dog is to learn. Creating a fun learning environment for any animal leads them to want to participate with you. Encouragement, rewarding what we want with food, toys, petting, and praise enhance the relationship, while building their confidence. Threatening, yelling, or always pointing out when they’re wrong doesn’t do much for training the behavior your want, nor does it do anything for their well-being. 
  4. How motivated are YOU? It’s best to go into your training program with a positive attitude. Make it something you enjoy doing, as opposed to a chore. Even little bits of training worked into your busy schedule can help you achieve your goals. When you see your dog performing the little bits of behaviors you’ve taught them, this gives you the positive reinforcement you need to keep moving forward. Just think “baby steps”.
So, how long does it take? As little or as much time as you’re willing to give. How long does it take us humans to learn certain skills? We don’t learn math or english in one session. We don’t learn to ski, ride a bike, dance, swim, play soccer, or skate in one session. Just remember to have a realistic perspective and realistic goals. 

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