Dog Training: How Fast Can a Dog Learn?

“How long will it take for my dog to stop _______?”

“How much time will it take for my dog to be able to ________?”

I get questions like this often when people hire me to train their dogs. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer other than “It depends on many things.”

How long has your dog been doing this behaviour? Is this behaviour self-reinforcing (feels good to the dog just to do it) or are there external factors that are reinforcing the behaviour (and can these be removed or used to reward an alternate behaviour? What behaviour would you like your dog to do instead? Does your dog have an intense emotion connected to the behaviour?

And there’s more.

How much time can you put into dog training? Are there others that interact with the dog who will be “on board” with the training plan? Do you understand that some behaviours are strengthened if you reinforce them infrequently? Are you willing to tolerate the frustration and extinction bursts that may occur as your dog tries to learn or “unlearn” a behaviour? Are you willing to change your own behaviours in order to be able to effectively train your dog in a way that your dog understands? Do you hold a strong belief that your dog is doing the behaviour “to spite you” or because the dog is “dominant” or because your dog “doesn’t respect you”? 

As you can see, there is no definitive answer in dog training — each situation is different and many factors must be considered. This is one reason why dog training programs on television and radio can be so problematic, even when the dog trainer on the program is highly qualified. People hear the advice and then think it should be tried at home with their dog. It may not work for your situation.

One thing I can tell you is that clear communication with your dog and following the principles of the science of behaviour will significantly speed things up. Misinterpreting your dog’s behaviours, trying to train when your dog is stressed, and misunderstanding the science of behaviour will slow things down.

Dog training is not rocket science. But it is science.

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