How Long Does It Take To Train A Dog?

“How many hours a day will you be training my dog?”

It’s a common question from clients who request our Board & Train services.  After all, they are leaving their dog in someone else’s hands.  One can conjure up all sorts of questions about the care their precious pet will receive while spending time away – rightly so.

To answer that question, it is important to differentiate socialization and training.  More on that later.

Quite often, along with the question about “how much time” will we spend with their dog, we receive a list of requirements, expectations or warnings from the dog’s owner.  These are statements such as:

“My dog doesn’t like…..”

  • To be crated
  • To be alone
  • To sleep here or there
  • To go potty on  a leash, in tall grass, on concrete
  • To be near other dogs when he eats
  • To eat if you are looking at him
  • Walk on gravel
  • Etc…etc…etc…

The concerns and requests can be endless, especially with folks who are general worriers. 

Experience tells me that the more questions and requirements I receive about the dog’s daily maintenance, the more unbalanced the dog is going be.  Why?  It is because dogs are a direct reflection of the people in their lives.  If the dog’s owner gives into protesting (like whining, refusal or even domination,) then the dog is probably going to have “issues.”  Dogs that do not trust their owner’s leadership often feel hopeless and frustrated.  That leads to unwanted behavior.

Nobody spends money or resources on endeavors that are meaningless or considered fruitless.  People do not pay for professional dog training if they don’t think their dog requires some sort of outside intervention.  If they could fix the problem without having to purchase a service, they would do it.  Sure, folks might claim that they are capable of addressing their pet’s misbehavior but they simply don’t have the time.  But, it’s often just words.  Training isn’t that difficult.  But, socialization?  That’s very complicated for many people, and therefore worth every penny.

Training is teaching a dog to perform behaviors on command.  Socialization is about teaching the dog the boundaries of the society in which he exists, and what rank he holds in that society.  Dogs are social.  They exist best in family units.  Any successful family unit or pack has a hierarchy.  The human has to be the leader.  The dog has to be the follower.  There’s no other option. 

An individual who permits a lower ranking member to protest lacks leadership.  Dogs that sense a lack in leadership – well, they tend to go a little wonky.   Depending upon its general disposition, a dog will display any number of behaviors that suggest it recognizes a lack in social structure.  Some dogs will present fear and timidity while others might attempt to steer the ship, themselves.  These dogs need socialization before training.  An anti-social dog is impossible to train.  Why?  It is because training requires the dog to comply.  If the dog has no respect for the teacher, there’s a significant chance he won’t feel committed to obey.  Therefore, the dog must experience socialization, first.

Socialization resolves all of those issues that the client shares about what the dog wants and needs regarding its daily maintenance.  Rather than kowtowing to the dog’s protests about whether it will be crated, when it will eat and exercise, and how it will be expected to behave around people and other animals, a social dog accepts the rules set forth by the leader.  A social dog doesn’t dispute the human’s policies.  It recognizes its rank and happily complies with its human’s requests.  By the way, that’s not a bad thing.  That’s a good thing.  Trust comes from reliable and predictable leadership.  Existing in a trusting relationship produces a sense of calmness and tranquility.  The dog is more relaxed and happy knowing that he can rely on his human to call the shots.    

We have come to the answer regarding “how much time” we spend training a client’s Board & Train dog each day. 

Every little interaction with a dog requires thought and commitment.   We cannot leave the dog in a kennel for twenty-two hours a day with a doggie door and an auto feeder and think that anything is going to change in the dog’s attitude or aptitude during the two hours of “training.”  When we open the door to enter the room where the dog is staying, we need to be ready to evaluate his mindset.    If he stands up and starts to whine and circle in his crate or kennel, if he jumps up, if he barks, we have to alter our behavior.  Protesting cannot be encouraged or rewarded.  Many dogs feel compensated by a person’s voice and attention – even negative attention.  

It’s our job to teach the dog that we are not going to respond to his antics.  It may take minutes on end in the beginning, but most dogs will eventually choose to relax when we arrive to interact with them.  And then, when we reach for the gate latch, the dog might choose to leap up and go bonkers.  In that situation, we must remain calm and teach this dog to mirror our energy.  Most dog owners are on too tight a schedule to take the time required to teach the dog to self-regulate.   They either choose to ignore and accept their dog’s antics, or they become frazzled and yell at the dog – but, still let him out of the crate while the dog is in a terrible state of mind and behavior.  Rewarding a dog that is acting badly by giving him what he wants is like giving a kid money to buy drugs because he keeps hounding you until you give in.

Folks who struggle with their dog’s behavior tend to mirror their dog’s frantic energy.  The dog acts out, the human’s emotions escalate.  Rather, as a dog’s level of energy heightens, we will become more relaxed.  That tells the dog that we are in complete control without even touching the dog or speaking a word.  That is the essence of socialization.  That’s not training.  We are not teaching the dog to do some sort of behavior.  We don’t teach him to sit and then ask him to sit when he’s going crazy circling in the crate just because we entered the room.  We don’t “command” him to DO anything.  We act like a higher-ranking dog. Leaders are calm and relaxed and lead by example. 

It is also the leader’s job to communicate what NOT to do.  Any behavior that needs to be squelched falls under socialization.  Training is the act of teaching the dog to do something we desire.  A dog can be trained through positive reinforcement to move from a standing position to a sitting position.  You simply need to present a treat, lure it upwards in front of the dog so that his head tips backwards as he follows its movement.  The head goes up – the rump goes down.  When the pup gets into a sitting position, you deliver the treat.  Sit is trained.  But, “stay in the sit position” is actually the expectation of “DO NOT get up.” Most people inform me that their dog can sit. But, if I ask whether it will stay in that position, most confirm the dog won’t stay put. Any animal that wants to receive a reward can be “trained.”  Only a dog that respects his leader will stop doing behavior when instructed (including getting up out of a down position, pulling on the leash, jumping up, growling, charging, lunging, whining, barking and the like.)

So, to answer the question how much time do we spend training a dog every day?  It’s not that much time…after we have spent many hours socializing it.  Every interaction we have with the dog during basic maintenance (eating, exercising, playing with other dogs, sleeping etc…) must be handled appropriately for socialization to happen.  It requires paying attention, good energy and having great timing.  We can’t just run in and let the dog outside in a yard to exercise.  That’s what the owner has been doing, and what caused all the bad habits to develop that we are asked to fix.

Socialization needs to be transferred to the owner.  If the owner doesn’t assume the higher-ranking position in the dog’s life, then the set of commands we teach the dog to perform are irrelevant.  Teaching people to be good leaders is tough.  On occasion it is impossible. But, once our clients see evidence of their dog’s behavior at the  3-5 hour Handler Instruction session, most will commit to change their relationship with the dog.  A well socialized dog is happy, relaxed, compliant and a joy to be around.   People want that for their dogs – they just need to learn that the strategies they were using to make their dogs “happy” were actually causing a complete break-down of trust and confidence.

Socialization includes the act of teaching others in the society the value of having confidence in leadership.  Without that trust, everything falls apart.  The way to build and maintain trust is to adhere to the standards which have been established. Always.  If you tell a kid that he won’t be able to ride his bike for a week if he comes home late again, then you better be willing to follow through on that – even if you forgot that he typically rides his bike to soccer practice on days when you won’t be able to drive him there!  It’s hard work to the be the leader, and it’s not always fun.  That’s true of dog ownership, too.  It requires attention throughout the day, not just during a “training session.”

The idea of law and order has been at the forefront of the news in recent months.  When I read about issues in human society, I often find myself looking at the way dogs would handle a similar situation. I think that a “balanced dog society” is a simpler example of cohabitation and cooperation (which is the definition of socialization.)  Well-balanced dogs are dedicated to maintaining social boundaries.  Dogs that can trust other dogs’ behavior are confident and relaxed.   It takes time to move a dog from a life of inconsistency to a healthy level of poise and self-assurance.  To answer the question about how much time do we spend “working” with a dog every day, the answer is as much time as is required to achieve that goal. 

What we have found, is that if we are very good at addressing the little issues, we achieve efficiency when working through the more complicated problem areas.   That’s mostly because dogs want to know and live within the rules so that they can please their humans.  Every dog is a new challenge.  Every dog can become more social, compliant and relaxed.  But, we don’t start a timer to begin and end such an important mission.

If you are interested in requesting our professional dog training services, please visit DarnFar Ranch.

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