How long does it take to train a dog? With regular practice and commitment, many dog owners are able to teach their dogs reliable basic manners in a year or so. Of course there are a great many variables which mean dog training can take longer. But luckily they can all be planned for, and they needn’t put you off.
How long does it take to train a dog?
Many dog trainers would simply reply “How long is a piece of string” to this question. But actually, how long does it take to train a dog is quite a reasonable thing to ask! Training a dog is a fairly big deal for most of us, especially the first time around. So it’s perfectly understandable that you want to know when you can expect the job to be done.
Unravelling the variables
There are a few factors we need to take into account if we are going to come up with a fair estimate of the time involved. These include:
- the outcome you want
- the time you are willing to invest
- how skilled you are
- how old your dog is
- and the temperament of your dog.
Let’s take an example
Let’s assume you are looking for a basic level of good manners in your pet dog, that you can spare ten minutes, twice a day, and that your dog is currently three months old. The perfect age to start some really structured training lessons. You’ll need to spend four to five weeks building some good attention and focus skills in your puppy. Bonding, playing structured games, and if you haven’t trained a dog before, learning the skills you need to teach your dog the skills they need.
Then you’ll need another four to five weeks working on some core skills, such as walking on a leash, sit, and recall. And a further four to five weeks getting started with basic proofing. (That’s the part where you teach your dog to respond to your signals in a wider and wider range of situations, with some distractions thrown in to tempt the dog.)
By this time you are looking at a six to seven month old puppy with some good basic skills in not too challenging conditions. Of course, experienced trainers may get to this point sooner, and some of us may take a little longer.
Job done? Not quite!
Now it’s time for the the icing on the cake – the advanced proofing that teaches your dog highly reliable responses to your cues in all kinds of challenging and tempting situations. This may take another three to six months. So a fully-trained, well-mannered pet dog by the time they hit their first birthday is a reasonable aim for some of us. But as you can see, I picked the simplest assumption or outcome in each of the five variables listed above.
Now let’s see what happens if we make any one of them less straight forward.
1. The outcome you want
If you are training for a sport such as gun dog, or herding work for example, you’ve a lot more skills to add to the list above.
Your dog will be expected to understand cues such as the send away, and the stop. They’ll need to follow directions at great distances from their handler. They may need to learn to hunt and to retrieve, and so on. And of course to resist enormous temptations such as fast moving live animals and birds, while working.
In addition to which you need to consider that strenuous physical activities should not be undertaken by dogs that are not yet physically mature. Most experts for example advise that dogs should not be encouraged to jump until the growth plates in their joints have fully hardened. Which in all but the smallest breeds is not likely to be much before the end of the first year.
2. The time you are willing to invest
We all lead busy lives. Like many enthusiasts, I train up to five times a day, many days of the year. This isn’t practical for many pet parents. Some won’t even manage once a day, or more than three or four times a week. That doesn’t mean you won’t make progress, but it does mean it will take you longer than someone who is putting more hours in.
3. How skilled you are
The skill of the trainer is inevitably a factor in the how long it takes to train. BUT it is by no means the most important factor. And you should never let your own lack of skill stop you training your own dog. If for no other reason than you above all others have your dog’s best interests at heart. But you should be fair on yourself, and allow yourself time to get to grips with the skills and techniques involved in modern dog training.
That’s why I focus on those skills in the first course in my online dog training program – foundations skills. Because the more skilled you are, the better off your dog will be, and the quicker they will learn.
4. How old your dog is
This is not about puppies learning faster or older dogs having more concentration. It’s about the bad habits that older dogs have gotten into . Almost every dog over six months old has learned that being naughty sometimes pays off. Many dogs have learned that people can’t catch them at a full run. And that chasing animals, balls, people, or bicycles is worth the fallout when they are eventually caught.
Lots of other dogs over six months old have learned that getting to a walk means dragging a human being on the end of a leash for quite some distance first, or that jumping up at toddlers or old folk gets them a lot of attention. And it’s important that we never underestimate the value of attention to a dog. Even angry attention is better than being ignored.
These bad habits take far longer to ‘train out’ than it takes to train an unspoiled puppy first time around. So be patient with yourself and your dog if you are starting over.
5. The temperament of your dog
Some dogs are very relaxed. Nothing is too big of a deal. People are okay, but not especially exciting. Other dogs are greeted calmly and the day just passes in a pleasant haze of food, sleep, walk, sleep, more food, more sleep and a few cuddles. What bliss. These dogs usually belong to someone else.
Your dog quite possibly either runs the length of the county to greet every passing stranger or gets into an anxious mess every time another dog passes by. Many dogs have challenging personalities. Lots of the most popular dogs win the world are sporting breeds which are often high energy and playful. Many others are herding breeds which can be prone to be shy or even nervous.
Your dog is what he is, and you have to deal with it. But knowing that thousands of other pet parents are in the same boat can help. Reactive or over friendly dogs can take longer to train simply because everything for them IS a big deal.
How long does it take to train a dog?
So there you have it. An owner who has a dog with no problems, and a bland temperament, will have an easier time than the you or I. And a person who is able to invest the time to train twice daily, starts with an unspoiled puppy, and has no aspirations to excel at a specific sport could have a very well trained dog at around a year old.
The rest of us may have to wait a little longer! Either way this is a long process and that is why it’s so important that we enjoy it! All of it. Because like life, the journey we embark on when setting out to train our dogs, is as important, possibly even more important, than the destination.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website