Dog Training is Ongoing… And it’s OK

As a professional dog trainer, I often hear, “How long until my dog will be trained?” or, “How long did it take to train YOUR dog?”  The reality is that dog training doesn’t fit into a tidy timeline.  I’d like to present a case study of Shelby, one of my personal dogs, to illustrate why I consider training an ongoing process.


I adopted Shelby at about 9 months old from the Humane Society in Jay County, Indiana.  She was adorable and sweet, but clearly her previous owners had never taught her manners.  She acted as though she had never walked on a leash or ridden in a car.  


Shelby blossomed with lots of training, guidance, and attention.  She went to work with me every day and begin to compete in AKC Rally Obedience.  But sometimes, odd little behaviors pop up, even when a dog is “well trained.”  Shelby’s odd behaviors seem to revolve around the car.


When Shelby was 3, she started acting like riding in the car was torture.  Previously happy to hop in, she would now submissive pee and roll over on her back if she sensed I was getting ready to take her on a ride.  First up, a visit to the vet and a few trips to the chiropractor.  Physical discomfort can make dogs act in funny ways.  We couldn’t find a physical reason for the car issue, so I moved on to other possible solutions.  Through trial and error, I discovered that she was more comfortable in the back seat than she was in the front seat (her previous preference).  


Now that Shelby had chosen her seat, it was time to make a conscious effort to give car rides a positive association.  Luckily, Shelby likes treats… A LOT.  Hand feeding her tasty treats while in the car went a long way towards making her comfortable in the vehicle.  During this time I was still using a leash to get Shelby into the car, because she was refusing to hop in on her own.  After four or five months, Shelby was back to her happy-to-ride self (although she still refuses to get in the front seat).  It took patience and consistency, but we managed to get through that hurdle!


Fast forward 18 months, and now we have a new quirk.  Shelby has started barking at passers-by while in parking lots.  I’m not sure how this behavior got started, but my dogs ride with me A LOT and I certainly can’t allow random barking.  So, here I am dealing with a new issue.  I’m back to troubleshooting and problem solving.  But I know from experience that this is totally normal.  Training is an ongoing process… and it’s OK.  


I don’t expect perfection from a “well trained” dog.  I can tell you with certainty that the relationship that we have built through years of training helps me to navigate any new issues that pop up.  Don’t think of training as a goal, think of it as a resolution.  You can reach a goal: run a marathon, earn a college degree, plant a vegetable garden, get a new job.  You never “reach” a resolution because it’s ongoing: save money, spend more time with your kids, eat healthy foods, train your dog.

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