Updated: Jan 5, 2019
A new puppy owner rang me the other day to ask ‘How quickly can a puppy be trained?’. To which my answer was, ‘To do what?’
I suppose most people would expect a ‘trained’ dog to sit, lie down, and come back on cue, and walk without pulling on the lead. But then you would also expect ‘a trained dog’ not to pee in the house, jump up on people, beg at the table or to steal stuff and chew it up. You’d expect a 'trained dog’ to let go of something when you ask, to be calm when you put the lead on or off and to be able to be left on its own for periods of time, to be sociable with other dogs, cool around horses, calm around toddlers and elderly people.
Most people would like their dogs to do all of this as standard. It’s a pretty long list. It doesn’t take into account anything specific like retrieve an object, go to its bed, travel on the Underground, go running with you, find your car keys, or play flyball. Even those things don’t begin to exhaust your dog’s potential: just think of what an assistance dog can do.
DO WHAT, WHEN, WHERE AND FOR HOW LONG?
I can teach a puppy that ‘sit’ means ‘please place your backside on the ground’ in less than 2 minutes while a guide dog with an experienced dedicated team might work on that skill throughout the 20 months training period. But that dog will sit through anything. So it’s important to know not just ‘what?’ but ‘when, where and for how long?’ ‘Sit’ is truly useful when your dog will park himself for as long as you need, regardless of what you are doing or what is going on around him, say, sitting while another dog approaches, or while you make multiple trips to the car through an open door to fetch the shopping.
So if you’re wondering how quickly your puppy (or dog) can be trained, start by outlining exactly what you would like your dog to do, and how well. Then the single most important thing that determines how quickly your dog is trained is not the trainer (much as I hate to admit it), or the classes, or the method you use – although all these things will make a difference, one way or another - it’s you. Do you want the 10 minute sit or the 20 month sit? It’s your choice. Decide what matters to you, then make that commitment to your dog.