The desire to see changes in your dog’s behaviour is completely understandable, especially if his behaviour is causing a problem! Most pet owners want to know how much work they are in for and when they can expect to see the finished results when they start a new training program with their dog. Unfortunately, the best answer that we could get is: “It depends.”
Dogs are individuals. They each learn at a different rate, have a different list of things that they enjoy, and have a different reinforcement history for the unwanted behaviours that we are hoping to change. There are also lots of variable that effect how quickly an individual dog learns, and how quickly he is able to incorporate new skills into his daily routine and make them habits. One thing that is universally true is that dogs learn through repetition and reinforcement. Behaviours that are rewarded or reinforced are more likely to be repeated in the future. The following is a list of some of the variables that can influence our dog’s learning, as well as the time it takes for behaviours to change.
Past Experiences: How long has your dog been practicing unwanted behaviours? Changing behaviour that has been occurring every day for several years can be much more difficult than changing behaviour that has been happening sporadically for a couple of days or weeks.
Effective Management: Remember, behaviours that are rewarded or reinforced will be repeated in the future. If your dog is continually doing something that you wish he wouldn’t, there is something happening that he finds reinforcing. What’s getting him what he wants? Are those the kinds of behaviours that you like? If you don’t like the behaviour, find a way to stop reinforcing it. Management of your dog’s environment to prevent him from practicing unwanted behaviours is key to the success of any training program.
Value of the Reward: The value of the reward has to match the difficulty of the exercise. If the paycheck that you receive at your job doesn’t match the energy and effort that you are putting into the work, chances are good that you will be looking for a better job really soon. It’s the same for dogs. If the reward that you are offering isn’t enticing enough to motivate your dog to change his behaviour, you won’t see many changes.
Consistency: How often are you training your dog and practicing the behaviours that you like? Conversely, how many opportunities is he getting to practice the behaviours that you don’t like? If you are only training your dog once a week for an hour in obedience class, and he’s left to do whatever he wants for the remaining 6 days and 23 hours in the week, you won’t see too much progress. Training sessions don’t have to be long (just 5 to 10 minutes is usually plenty), but they do need to happen frequently and consistently in order to make a difference. See how here.
One of the most trying aspects of dog training is understanding that change doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual process that yields measurable results over time. We humans grant ourselves the luxury of learning things gradually. Most of us practice multiplication and long division for years before attempting to learn calculus. Why not extend our dogs the same courtesy? Here are some reminders about dog training, and learning in general. Understanding these and following them will make your training much more successful. Above all, remember to have some fun with your dog while you are training!
Gradually Increase the Difficulty: Make sure that you are not asking for too much from your dog before he is ready. Many pet owners tend to get excited and jump too far ahead in their expectations as soon as they see minor changes in their dog’s behaviour. It’s great to be excited and encouraged, but make sure that you don’t get carried away. Making an exercise too hard, too fast will result in frustration and confusion for your dog.
Learning is not linear: Your dog is going to have good days when everything seems to be falling into place perfectly. He is also going to have bad days where it feels like nothing that you’re doing is making a difference. Stay the course and be consistent. As long as you have a good plan and a good trainer to advise you along the way, the good days will outnumber the bad days and you will see changes in your dog’s behaviour more consistently over time.
Patience! Real, long-lasting changes in behaviour take time to develop. Allow your dog to learn at his own pace, and give yourself that license too. Training should be fun and simple, and when it’s not, take a break. You can try again later when you feel more relaxed and are ready to give it another try. Being patient with and enjoying the process of training are the two most important qualities you can possess if you want good results from your training program.
As always, if you have questions or are not seeing the changes that you’re hoping for in your dog’s behaviour, do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified professional dog trainer. They can help you smooth out the rough spots in your training program and make sure that you and your dog learn how to work together as a team.