WHAT TO EXPECT
Clients often ask how many sessions it will take to achieve results, or whether they should buy a package. The answer really depends on you and on your dog, but think about your favorite sport or hobby, or subject in school. Were you an expert in an hour? Probably not! It will take time and practice for your dog to be good at any behavior that isn't natural. (Hint: natural dog behaviors are digging, barking, scavenging food, and chewing stuff up!) There is no magic wand for dogs that will change behavior without time and effort.
Here are some factors generally affecting the success of training, and speed of training results:
1. Realistic expectations: If your dog has been practicing a behavior you don’t like for 2 years, it won’t change in 2 days. Often I can give you the information you need in our consultation to train the new behavior with no follow-up sessions, but you will have to practice. Anxiety and aggression cases require more than one visit. Loose leash walking usually takes at least two visits to show you what to do. If you want me to do all the training for you, that will require visits a few times per week to get results and at least one more visit to show you what to do. Your dog will learn faster with me teaching because I do this every day but your dog will perform better if you do most of the practice because I don't live with you guys! (A really great article with words of wisdom is here.)
2. Breed propensities: Labradors carry stuff in their mouths. Terriers dig. Hounds bay. Herding dogs are “fun police.” It is quite difficult and time-consuming to change a behavior that was bred into your dog’s DNA for hundreds of years. For these issues, we often look into management techniques as well as finding "legal" outlets for their instincts, like dig boxes for the terriers and a sport like treibball for the herding dogs.
3. Age: Puppies have a similar attention span and impulse control to toddlers. Older dogs might have aches and pains that require shorter training sessions, or that prevent them from doing some tricks. The trick is to customize your training sessions to meet their needs.
4. Exercise, mental and physical: If your young and/or high energy dog is expected to sleep all night, be confined while you are at work all day, AND take a short walk on a loose leash, then be calm and quiet from 5:30pm-10pm, that might not be very fair. Bored, under-exercised dogs can wreak havoc. Your dog needs 30+ minutes of aerobic exercise and some mental challenges, just like you do. I can help you find ways to fit the kind of activities your dog enjoys into your lifestyle.
5. Training: Your dog isn’t psychic and doesn’t speak English. You must teach what TO do, not just reprimand what you don’t like, which can cause aggressive responses. Prevent or ignore unwanted behavior, pay for good behavior. Learn more about dog body language and communication by asking for good books and video resources, too.
a. Practice at least a few times per week in different locations, with increasing distractions, and with longer durations for behaviors like “sit” or “stay.” (If your dog was trained and suddenly stopped responding, consider medical issues or sensitivities – arthritis, weather changes, etc…)
b. Use a reinforcer your dog likes, not just one you think he should like. When all else fails, try liverwurst or tripe or stinky cheese. Reinforcers include food, play, attention, and more.
6. Fear & anxiety: Dogs who are worried may "shut down" or become reactive or even fool around (jump, mouth, hump). They can’t get out of that mental state to respond to training. Putting pressure on them or adding punishment can lead to aggressive responses. We have to change the underlying emotions so the dog stops reacting in anxious or aggressive ways.
7. Who's included: Consider how many people and dogs are learning in each session. It is so important to include everyone, so everyone is on the same page of the same book, but it takes longer to make sure everyone understands well and has the mechanical skills needed to work with each dog when there are more people and dogs. If you have multiple dogs, we have to train each dog alone, then together. If you have kids, we do our best to include them when appropriate.
8. Referrals: We tend to refer dog reactive dogs to group classes because we find them much more efficient for the client. Also, just like your doctor might sometimes refer to you to a specialist, sometimes trainers and behavior consultants refer you to a specialist called a veterinary behaviorist who has not just behavior knowledge but also vast medical knowledge. We will also refer certain serious aggression cases based on the severity of the bite, the warning given, and the victim. Let us know up front if your dog has bitten someone. If we refer you, Tanzi will often offer to accompany you.