Setting Realistic Goals for Your Dog’s Training Timeline
As a trainer and animal behaviorist, one of the most important lessons I have learned from working with my clients relates to setting realistic expectations. I receive many calls from people whose dogs are behaving in ways they would like to change. Once a potential client has described the behavior, they often ask me how long it will take to change this behavior, or “fix” the dog. Unfortunately, this is analogous to putting the cart before the horse.
The first consideration cannot be made until I meet the dog. A pet parent may describe the behavior as they see it, but they may be “anthropomorphasizing” (giving human traits to non-human beings), which may be an inaccurate diagnosis of the real issue. For example, an owner may describe his dog as being “protective” of him and/or his family because the dog barks, growls and acts aggressively towards strangers he meets. Typically, this indicates to me that the dog is fearful, and is actually protecting himself from an unknown person who is approaching. So, there are many things to consider before the question of “how long will it take” can be estimated.
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How Long Does It Take to Correct An Unwanted Behavior?
Additionally, many clients grossly underestimate the time it takes to change a behavior. In order to make this determination, many factors have to be considered:
• How long has the dog been practicing the unwanted behavior? The more frequently a behavior is practiced, the stronger it becomes engrained.
• Is the client willing to regularly practice the steps needed to change the behavior? This requires a commitment of time, every day.
• Is the client prepared to manage the unwanted behavior in the meantime, by making the changes suggested, to prevent the dog from practicing the behavior we want to change?
• Has their dog had any type of prior training? If the dog has been clicker trained, for example, he is ahead of the curve because he knows how to learn. Or, has the dog been trained with old fashioned, aversive methods? This often makes a dog reluctant to learn new behaviors for fear of what will happen if he gets it wrong.
While no professional trainer would ever guarantee results, I find myself saying with more frequency that “there are no quick fixes”. Changing behavior takes time and commitment. Thankfully, I have met many wonderful clients who are willing to do what it takes to succeed and have changed unwanted behaviors with outstanding success. I am fortunate to have been able to help many clients change their dog’s behavior who now enjoy a much happier relationship with their furry friends.
Photo: Courtesy of estoril via Flickr (CC by 2.0)