How long does it take to learn a new language? Play a musical instrument? Train for a marathon or give up a long-standing habit? Many hours of our time is invested in improving and enriching our lives with learning. Learning something new has peaks and dips known as the learning curve, which are even more defined when we are out of our comfort zone.
We are all different in how we learn and how we take on new challenges in life. This leads me to think about us as human beings and our thought process when it comes to training our puppies and dogs new behaviours or looking to altering an already pre-learnt behaviour.
Is it that we expect to see our dogs learn new things very quickly? To change a behaviour completely? Do we give up when things get tough or when we feel there is little change or slow progress?
Dogs are a different species to us and they have to learn our language and mannerisms, that is the first bridge to be crossed. Do we have expectations of having a ‘perfectly behaved dog?’ and anything less is does not exceed these expectations by the owner and our society. It’s a strange standard really as the human race is far from perfection.
Dogs are super cool from a few weeks old at observing our mannerisms, routines and listening to our varying voice tones but in general how much of our time do we invest in observing and learning about our four legged friends? Are we as committed to training and offering the correct guidance to our dog comparatively to other areas in our lives? Dogs need our time to learn, process and download what is being taught with small but consistent training regimes.
To train our human bodies and minds to learn something new it can take months, even years and that’s if we keep up the resolve to achieve our set goal. Do we just stop when we have mastered it? All that dedication wasted, or does our new achievement become part of who we are? A life-long enjoyment of say a musical instrument, running or speaking a different language.
The same should be said about training our dogs, there is no end, it does not finish, it is a continual journey. Dogs will learn super quick but if the learning is not consistent as the owner looses momentum or simply does not know how to progress then the dog will regress back to do another behavior which it has evaluated as more beneficial to it. These are often behaviors that are not accepted by the owner but are perfectly normal to the dog!
Dogs will readily carry out the behaviors we do want when they are reaffirmed and rewarded by us as they are then motivated to continue them, just as people do. Any new learning keeps them mentally stimulated and balanced.
If we did not practice playing the guitar regularly then we will not improve as quickly. So, by setting realistic daily or weekly goals we can take steps forward and one day we will be able to play a short tune, then a full song, after many hours of time and dedication we may enhance our life by even playing in a band!
Dog ‘life’ training should be fun for you and your dog with realistic goals to work towards. I started my scent work journey with my dog around two years ago, with one box and treat, yes, just one box, recently she searched and located eighteen hidden scented articles in a boat yard, who would have dreamed? How many hours did it take to achieve this? I have no idea, would I like to know, absolutely not, its a fun journey, sometimes challenging but a good trip to be on.
People will often take their puppy to puppy school and gain the basic obedience behaviors, which is great but is that the end of your dog’s training? Has a few weeks set your dog up for life? Probably not. There is so much out there for you to do with your dog now. If it’s a time issue, then set your goal at an hour a week learning something new as this will proof to be great stimulation for you and your dog and who knows where that may lead.
Changing a dogs already imbedded behavior takes time. I often get asked “how long will it be until the said behavior stops, until my dog changes?” This is a living species we are considering with its own thoughts, memory and agenda. Change will take place over time, repetition, consistency and reward, just as training from a 1k jog to running a 13k marathon, if we stop training, we will not achieve the marathon. What will your dog become? He will become the best dog he can be with the correct guidance.
The behavioral changing journey is a learning curve for both the human and the dog but if you are both taking daily positive steps for improvement then the passage of time will bring good balanced results. Give thought to how we long for instant gratification and results in our world now but our dogs are in the moment beings, not governed by yesterday, tomorrow or next year.
Try to give your dog the extra time to learn our language and what we are asking of them, to feel safe and allow them periods to adjust, change and learn and you will win your own personal marathon together.