19/12/2021 - Puppy & Dog Training Advice
The Cost of Not Training Now
Bringing a new dog into our home is no small thing – it is a monumental life event, both for us and our new family member, and it comes with numerous sacrifices to our daily routine and lifestyle as well as a pretty hefty price tag! Whatever price you may or may not have had to pay for your new dog, you will almost certainly have had to shell out a not-insignificant amount for the essentials: dog food; bowls; beds; toys; leads; harnesses; insurance policies; vaccinations – the list goes on! So, the expense of quality training classes can feel like an optional extra – or even something that we can put off and look into if we run into any training issues down the line. However, putting off professional training classes and “winging it” until we run into problems can mean we have to pay out a lot more trying to undo the bad habits and unwanted behaviours after they’ve arisen. Not only can it mean a bigger hit to our wallets, but the potential stress and suffering our dogs will experience, should they develop behavioural issues, is not what anyone envisions for their new pup!
So, why is it so important to make sure we are training our new puppies and dogs – and training them well?
Good training addresses almost every aspect of our dogs’ personal lives, as well as their relationships and interactions with us and the world around them.
Once upon a time – and still now, in some cases! – puppy classes simply taught our dogs a list of basic tricks like sit, down and paw; they ticked a box and sent you on your way. Fortunately, the modern world of dog training has come a long way – good classes will cover things like teaching your dog good social skills and manners (both around the house and out & about), helping them to develop their impulse control, developing their cognitive skills (eg learning and problem solving), helping to foster a brilliant relationship between you and your dog and ensuring you both have the tools to communicate effectively. Training is not just about telling our dogs how to fit into our confusing human world, but a fun activity to enrich their lives and ensure they grow to be happy, well rounded and confident individuals.
There are numerous common problems that dog owners run into when they don’t prioritise training from day one.
Every day, our dogs are learning about the world around them and how best to interact with it. From what is and isn’t fun to chew, to how to manage their impulses around to distractions, to how to greet new people & dogs, how to settle when left alone and how to stay engaged and listening to their human in different environments. Common problems that we are asked about by clients who are struggling with their training include destructive behaviour at home, unreliable recall, lead pulling and generally ignoring their human (especially out and about!). We even see more serious behavioural issues developing such as separation anxiety and reactivity, which are much harder (and much more costly!) to resolve once they occur. Many dogs also struggle to develop their social skills, becoming either nervous and fearful or rude and bolshy.
So, why is it so important to start our training journey as soon as we can?
What’s wrong with waiting until we have a problem, before approaching a professional?
We all know how hard it can be to break a bad habit – things like jumping up and barking are for dogs what nail biting is for humans. Asking our dogs not to do it after they’ve been practicing it for a while is a much bigger task than giving them alternatives to begin with!
Every behaviour our dogs do either works out well for them or it doesn’t. If our dogs see a stranger approaching the house and bark out of the window until they’re gone – as far as the dog’s concerned, barking worked out brilliantly! If they pull on the lead and get closer to the interesting smell, the other dog or that friendly stranger – pulling worked out well for them! If they ran off to say hi to another dog or to chase a squirrel when you called them – running off and ignoring you worked out REALLY well for them! Once our dogs have learnt how successful those unwanted behaviours can be, we have our work cut out for us trying to get them to forget that fact – and to make the things we DO want them to do seem more appealing!
How many times do we see people saying “heel” over and over again while their dogs pull them down the street? How many people are shouting their dog’s name while the dog runs rings around them? We’re all human, and these situations easily lead to frustrated humans – it’s all too easy to fall into habits like jerking the lead to get some relief from our growing pup’s pulling. Even if we do refrain from doing anything to punish our dog’s unwanted behaviours, dogs are perceptive and will quickly pick up on how we’re feeling. Associating our cues with frustration, anger or even just nagging, can easily lead to “poisoned cues,” which our dogs will still have negative associations to even after we change our training approach. This means that our training will take longer and may be less effective even after dedicated training – we’ll have to find completely new cues. Cues aren’t just the words we say, but can even be environmental factors, like the coat we were wearing when we finally got hold of our dog after the 15th recall and marched back to the car, or the harness our dog was wearing when we got really fed up with them pulling our arm out of the socket!
A Lack of Confidence
Good training teaches our dogs how to problem solve – it’s all about them learning what they can do to teach us monkeys to give them the yummy treat or throw their toy for them! When we teach our dogs with positive reinforcement, we are also building their confidence in trying new things. They develop a sense of control over the world around them – they learn it’s worth the effort of thinking things through, and working out what we’d like them to do! Unstructured or messy training is often confusing for our dogs – they can’t figure out the “rules” and they quickly give up wasting their time listening to us. We often see older dogs with little training experience, take a little longer to start to engage in basic training exercises – they just don’t think anything they do will make a difference! They will either be given the treat, or they won’t. Why waste their energy paying attention when their actions don’t make any difference to the outcome?
When our dogs encounter situations that we haven’t given them the tools to deal with – whether this is settling down when left alone, or meeting other dogs – they are forced to find ways to cope by themselves. This can lead to incredibly problematic behaviours that are difficult to manage and affect not only our dog’s quality of life, but also our own. From destructive behaviour at home, to barking and howling when left alone, to lunging and reactivity when out on their walks – these behaviours can make it difficult to enjoy our time with our dogs both at home or out and about. These behaviours are also a symptom of our dog’s intense distress – dogs don’t want to chew up the walls, howl all day or have to defend themselves against every dog they see on their walks! Anxiety and fear are not emotions any of us enjoy experiencing and it can be incredibly difficult to resolve these issues for our dogs once they have presented themselves.
So, what’s the cost of waiting?
So, what does this knowledge – about the way that our dogs learn, how bad habits form and the risk of behavioural issues occurring – tell us about the cost of not training our dogs at the earliest opportunity?
Good training requires an investment – a good trainer will not only have invested heavily to gain relevant qualifications, but will continue to invest in ongoing CPD to increase their knowledge and keep up to date with the latest science and training. We recommend training puppies for at least the first year of their lives, to ensure good development through adolescence and training which lasts a lifetime. So proactive puppy parents will be expecting to pay for around 12 months of classes, and may also choose to make the most of our online upgrade for ongoing professional support and training resources they can use at home. This will run at around £800-£1000, and will leave you with a well-trained, confident dog who is engaged and well-rounded.
Those who wait for a problem to occur before seeking professional training support, may find themselves needing behavioural support to address their dog’s problems. A qualified behaviourist will have spent even more time and money investing in their education, as behavioural work requires much more time assessing your dog’s needs and creating a bespoke plan to help them. Behavioural work takes time, and some behavioural problems require ongoing work for the remainder of the dog’s life to manage them effectively. It’s not unreasonable to expect to spend £1000-£3000 on behavioural work.
It is easy to see the financial cost of not getting ahead of our dog’s training needs, but what about the cost to our dog’s welfare? And even to our own welfare! Even minor behavioural issues are simply symptoms of distress in our dogs – whether frustration and uncertainty at not understanding the rules of the world they live in, fear of other dogs, people or things in their environment, or the intense distress of being alone and scared when their humans go out each day, behavioural issues are incredibly tough on our dogs. No new pet owner wants this for their beloved pooch. For us humans, having to make accommodations like never leaving our dogs for any length of time, walking our dogs are unsociable hours to avoid bumping into anyone, worrying about out-of-control dogs setting our dogs’ progress back months in a matter of seconds and not being able to fulfil our dreams of taking our dogs on days out and holidays are just the tip of the iceberg. The emotional toll of living with and managing a dog with behavioural issues is immense.
Weighing up the benefits of training now vs the cost of waiting, it’s clear to see that a proactive approach to training is bar far the best option – both for us, and for our dogs! Every new pet parent wants their new best friend to grow into a confident and happy individual. We all dream of days out relaxing with our new friend and laidback walks in the park. Training early is the best way to achieve this aim, as well as giving our dogs the tools to navigate a sometimes scary and confusing world. So don’t hesitate to get yourself and your pup booked into classes – your four legged friend will certainly thank you for investing in their future!
To be ahead and get your dog off on the right paw book here.