What do murders solved the day they are committed, complete recovery from catastrophe within two days, and huge, inexpensive NYC apartments have in common? They don’t exist. But TV and movies are great at convincing us that these illusions do exist. (It’s dramatic, I get it.)
The same goes for TV dog training shows. Again, it’s about drama and entertainment and I totally understand the motivation for the audience to watch. The problem is that these “dramatic” portrayals are painting a false representation and creating unrealistic expectations of- and for- pet parents.
The answer to a very common question I get, “How long will it take to train my dog?” depends on many factors. Sure, you can certainly teach dogs new tricks (or refine existing behaviors) in a matter of a few minutes. However, for these skills to become proofed, generalized, and habitual, it takes more time than one training session – even when there are no commercials.
If you complete your own online search asking how long it takes to learn a new skill, you’ll find common answers ranging from 20 to 10,000 hours — and this research is aimed towards humans. (Consider how long it might take someone to learn a new language or instrument.)
For dogs, the amount of time to learn something new is quite variable too. The length of time it takes for them to learn a new skill depends upon many elements including: the dog, the dog’s baseline and learning history, the human who is training, the number of people who are involved in the training, the teaching environment, the used for teaching, the methods and training philosophy, how the skill is taught, the type of skill, and the list goes on.
Dogs are ever-evolving sentient beings, which means to offer guarantees that he or she will be perfectly trained in any given amount of time would be unrealistic and downright fraudulent. Not only is it unfair to pet parents to promote guarantees, it could also be harmful for dogs who inevitably fall short of impossible expectations. Even inanimate objects have limited guarantees.
We, as living organisms, are constantly learning from our environments, our actions, consequences, and feedback we receive, whether it is active or passive. Our inquisitive canines are the same. Once they learn a skill, it is our responsibility to help them maintain that knowledge.
Does this mean you need to factor in an hour or more of training every day? Not necessarily.
When it comes to training dogs, the allotted amount of time one might need to devote can be doable and schedule friendly. Similar to us humans, especially younger folks, shorter training sessions can be quite productive (particularly with young pups!). Yes, carving out designated times is great, but working training exercises into your already busy schedule can be just as productive. As an example, consider setting aside just a few minutes before you head to work, after work as a way to wind down, or just prior to heading out for a walk together.
Schedules, structure, and having others to hold yourself accountable to are encouraging for us. Classes, whether online or live and in-person, can be great motivators for reaching your goals, as well as a productive way to keep yourself on track. Day Training is another solution for those who want help with their training goals. Day Training is like having a private tutor for your dog, where the trainer does the bulk of the work as far as introducing and teaching new cues, then hands off the training plan and instructions to the humans to help reinforce and maintain Fido’s newly learned skills between sessions.
Regardless of the formal training setup, an important key to success is how much time dog parents dedicate to training when the trainer is not around. Will they practice and keep up the skills? Will they manage the environment to help prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced in the first place? Will there be consistency?
It is unnecessary to carry an entire bag of treats and a clicker with you at all times, but to help support and keep important life skills conditioned, the positively reinforcing consequences need to be present and a part of your dog’s life.
For instance, house training is a very important skill for companion animals to learn and be proficient at. Can you really ever thank a dog too often for going outside to go to the bathroom, especially on a cold morning or late at night? (That’s a rhetorical question.) I am a huge proponent of thanking dogs profusely for this desired human-centric skill. Let dogs know you appreciate their cooperation – treats, petting, praise, access to something they want or somewhere they want to go…
We understand that life gets busy. We also understand that you want your dog to be trained. It comes down to the more often you practice, the better chance you have of reaching your overall goals. One way to keep up this pace of modifying your dog’s behaviors is to practice on a regular basis even for just a few minutes.
Consequently, more important than carving out time is developing new habits for yourself. I would consider this task more than simply “homework” since it’s not just learning a skill but trying to encourage both the dog and handler to create long-term, long-lasting habits — individually and together.
You can help train your dog by modifying your own behavior in other ways too. For instance, if you’re trying to decrease the amount of barking your dog engages in and you’re currently reacting by saying, “No! Stop it! Be quiet! Shush!” you might choose to change your behavior first. Rather than ‘barking back,’ you can redirect your dog to something more productive, rewarding, and enriching to him than barking and also capture and reward calm, quiet behavior more often. (Those times when your dog is quiet are prime training opportunities – try to reinforce them when you can.)
One other matter to consider is that your training goals will often change as your dog evolves. What you want your puppy to learn might be different than an older, more mature inquisitive canine. Many of the foundational skills will be the same, but you’ll want to re-assess and plan throughout the life stages of your dog.
So, how long will it take to train your dog? The simple answer is, for as long as you have your dog. Learning is a lifelong endeavor – no matter the species. That’s why it’s so important that both pet and parent enjoy the journey.
Here’s to a Pawsitive Approach for Positive Results™ and staying inquisitive!
Halton, C. (2019, Jan). Don’t Have 10,000 Hours to Learn Something New? That’s Fine – All You Need is 20 Hours. Ideas.Ted.Com.