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How long will it take to train my dog? When is my dog finished with training?


I hear this question all the time.

If you value your time, you are probably concerned about how long it will take to train your dog. There is a very simple answer to this. 

The length of time training will take depends on:

  • How much help you get from a professional

  • Where your dog is starting from

  • Your goals with your personal dog.


There are phases to learning for any animal. In general there is a ...


  1. Learning phase -Where we teach the dog what we want them to do. Example: This is a sit, sit = cookie

  2. Fluency- How quickly and accurately they can do what we taught them. Example: I say sit, how quickly does the dog sit and how accurately do they sit.

  3. Generalization - Conceptualizing what we taught them to other things. Example: I say sit when they are in a different location, or with something in the way, do they still know what sit is?

  4. Maintenance - Commitment to keeping what we taught them. Example: Maintaining what sit means in terms of accuracy, and speed in different scenarios with distractions present.

 

If you are training on your own, maybe you are watching YouTube videos doing DIY dog training, you will find that the learning and fluency phase will take you much longer. Often years instead of days or weeks. This is because you are not going to catch mistakes that a professional will see right away.

You will have to learn a lot through trial and error with your dog, and come up with a lot of ideas on your own that someone else may have already figured out. So in this case it will take you a really long time to get through those first two phases, especially for any more serious behavioral issues. This can be an extremely frustrating process for you and your dog. Sometimes even scary if you are dealing with something like agression and you don't know why it's happening, how to change it, and your dog has learned how effective it is.

However, DIY training can work ok if you have a lot of time, a dog with minimal problems, and your goals aren’t very high. Which there is nothing wrong with, not everyone wants to be a dog trainer, but if you have a dog you will have to commit to doing some learning and consistent training over time.


If you have a dog who has more significant problems, like aggression or fear, and if your goals for that dog are high, or maybe even unrealistic, I would definitely recommend getting help to avoid accidents, frustration, overwhelm, or even having to euthanize your dog.


The way I hear this question phrased often is how long will the training take, meaning:


*Do I need to do training for the rest of my dogs life?


-Well yes, training will happen for your dog's entire life, BUT, the nuance and depth of the training will change over time, as will the depth of your relationship with your dog. This is where the opportunity to become truly connected can happen! That consistent work and consideration together over time.


*Are they ever going to be fixed?


-I am not crazy about using the phrase "fixing a dog" I think is just a bad mindset to have.

Dogs are living sentient beings that have reasons for what they do. We don't fix "it". We teach them what we want them to do to get along in human society better. We motivate them to want to do the things we want.

Remember changing our dog's behavior is our idea, not theirs!


Lately I have been coming back to this quote I read that I am obsessed with by Barry H. Gillespie


"The path isn't a straight line; it's a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths."


This idea that training is not linear, meaning don't picture walking up a ladder or a staircase and think that you can check off each step or rung as you go up. Instead picture a spiral where you are going to go over the same things over and over again, but at deeper levels. You will teach foundation skills that will become more and more nuanced over time. Your level of communication and mutual understanding will reach new depths. This is where the magic happens. When you start to realize that most things you are trying to teach your dog, they are actually teaching you...


If you teach your puppy to sit and they rock backwards and slouch their hips you might reward that when they are just starting. Maybe a year down the road you decide you might want to do competition obedience, or a week later you read an article (maybe this one!) on how that slouchy sit can hurt their back and joints over time and decide you want to teach them a more "healthier" way to sit.

This means you are still working on your sit maybe a year later, but the conversation with your dog has changed completely. You are still on the same step, but at a much different level. Now you're teaching them exactly where to position their body for a healthy sit, and you're most likely also adding in some duration and added distractions. When you really think about it, just adding duration and distractions for this one behaior could take you a lifetime if you have really lofty goals.

Which is alright if you do or don't!


That might give you a better picture of what training really is, which is actually just educating our dogs about how to behave and exist in a human world or in a sport we are competing them in. Dogs aren’t trying to be bad, embarrass us, or spite us, they do what they do because it works for them on some level, or has worked for them in the past. They don't judge what they do, they just do it.


There are issues with your dog that you can resolve through training and they wont require a lot of maintenance. For things like fear, or aggression, or reactivity you are typically going to put a lot more focus on changing your dog's prediction and emotional state around the things that cause these states. That way if they feel better about that thing, they are less likely to behave the way they do.


For example if your dog growls at strangers, you would focus more on helping your dog feel safe You would look for other areas of life that cause them fear, uncertainty, or discomfort. You would build confidence, predictability, and positive predictions to change their emotional state around those things. Then the growling might go away depending on the dog and their reason for doing it. So you focus on how they feel before you focus on what they do, which is the opposite of what most people do.

There is still learning, fluency, generalization, and maintenance happing here. It's just going to be more focused on emotional state over physical position of their body. This is because their emotional state will change their physical position. Yet physical position can also change emotional state. Ever heard of people striking power poses before an interview?

Ok I am going a bit off track, but I think the mind body connection is fascinating and depending on the dog often both of these will interact with one another to create change...


There are other issues that will require more maintenance, management, and support throughout your dog's life. This is going to be very dependant on your dog's breed, personality, your goals, the amount you work with them, and what you do with them, or want to do with them.


Training, in other words, is really just educating. We train kids how to behave in society to. We don't call it that, but it's really pretty similar! We are conditioned to act specific ways and we condition our dogs to behave certain ways as well.

What I personally love about training is that you can always grow as a trainer. You can always grow more deeply connected to your animals through this consistent building of mutual understanding.


So if you are feeling stuck, or like you have been on step one for five years I would definitely ask for help and support, but also don't feel bad! The best athletes in the world will tell you that they are always going back to the basics, improving those foundation skills, and that's what changes their results.

Wanting to be somewhere different than where you are is not going to change what is now. The only thing that can change things now, is what you do or don't do right now.






















You can learn more about Valerie and her animals on her about page at:




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