We get asked a lot of questions while training dogs. Some of them are very specific to certain dogs and special circumstances, but there are perhaps four or five questions that almost always come up at the very beginning of the process. Almost as soon as people see the value in what we do, and are thinking of training with us, we start getting questions associated with effort. "How long do I have to do this?", or, "How long will it take?". This question in some way, shape, or form is perhaps the most common question we get. On some level, I know, that many people literally have no idea how long it takes to get a trained dog. We are perhaps their first venture into dog training and it can be hard enough to admit that you need help in the first place. On another level, we are faced with a striking nuance of our own behavior (not the dog's).
Almost as soon as people think about starting the training process, they are wondering when it will be over. On some level this makes sense. We live in a culture where the expectation is speed. Two day shipping is the norm now. Internet speeds and instant access to whatever we want are selling points for many industries. Not ours.
Our clients often do see results very quickly. If you know how to train a dog effectively, then you can often achieve a quick result with dogs. This can astound our clients and make everyone feel good, us included. But just like anything else, there is a quick result and a long-lasting result. Dogs are masters at adaptability and change. When required, dogs can change houses, families, names, and whole areas of the country without any trouble at all - most of the time. Seeing a quick result is no real surprise with a dog. It takes Consistency, Repetition, and Fairness to get a lasting result. This is the best way that I have found to describe the process.
There are essentially three phases to dog training.
1)The Learning Phase. 2)The Reinforcement Phase. 3)The Maintenance Phase.
The Learning Phase of training is what people can most readily identify with. This is the phase where we are actually training the dog. This is where we teach them everything we want them to know. This first phase can take anywhere from one to two months by the way, and depends a lot on how the dog learns, what we want to teach them, as well as how motivated the owners are to work with the dog and stay consistent. Once we have done our due diligence and taught our pup everything we want them to know and we feel like they understand what we are asking, then we enter the second phase.
The Reinforcement Phase is where most people fall off the wagon. Once we get through teaching the dog to sit we think our dogs "have it" and many times do not revisit obedience again until there is a crisis and then wonder why our dog won't do anything for us. This phase is where we practice and practice and practice. We teach them to sit in the living room, the front yard, the park, the ball field. Essentially, we teach them that no matter where we might be, sit is always sit, come is always come, and heel is always walk next to me. We keep exposing the dog to more things, more distractions, and continue to ask them to do what they have learned. This phase is really fun and can last anywhere from three to four months depending on the dog, what goals we want achieved, and, as always, the owners motivation.
The Maintenance Phase is where your dog shows you that they pretty much know their stuff but you may need to spend some time every once in an while reviewing their obedience and expectations. This phase, in my opinion, should be considered the rest of the dog's life. Dogs always want to return to their strongest habits - just like us - so if the obedience is left long enough a digger will start digging again, a jumper will start jumping again.
Throughout the Learning and Reinforcement phase, we try and get our clients to make training their dog part of their lifestyle so it doesn't feel like a chore or an inconvenience. Many times, we find that the owners who incorporate training into all areas of their day and ENJOY their time with their dog get the best results.
This should be considered a very rough outline of the "progression" of training. Many things impact the learning process for dogs and people. I like to present this answer to the question of how long it will take to get a trained dog as a way of adding perspective to the process. It simply doesn't happen overnight, it takes months to get to a reliable, consistently obedient dog. I am also strictly talking about a dog's basic obedience commands and achieving reliability with these commands across contexts - dogs are contextual learners (more about that in a later blog). If you are going to go on to do any kind of dog sport or further, more detailed training, then you can expect much longer periods of learning and "proofing" of what your dog knows.