The purchase of a new dog can be one of the most joyful experiences a family can have. A dog that really connects with you and those around you can be like acquiring a whole new family member and an adored best friend for children and adults alike. On the other hand, the wrong choice of dog can lead to a great deal of needless stress, expense and uncertainty about whether they’ll adjust, how they might respond to new situations, and whether they’ll “play nicely” with your furniture and carpets, small children, strangers and other pets. Often, the difference between the best-case and worst-case scenario lies in adopting a family dog that has already been professionally trained.
1. About Dog Training: The Basics
Although dog training is a common thing in modern life, most people still have little practical understanding of what it involves, what it can cost, and what really differentiates a trained dog from one that still needs training. So let’s cover some of the basics.
How long does training take?
There are different philosophies for how long a dog training program should last, how frequent and how long daily sessions should be and of course different levels of training between basic obedience and training to be an emotional support or therapy dog. Different breeds also respond to training in their own ways and at their own speeds. Basic obedience training designed not to overwhelm the dog, and to maximize their effective retention of lessons, will tend to take around 6 to 10 weeks. Usually, this is after the puppy basics (such as teething/housebreaking) are established at home. However, it’s always worth asking a professional about the specific training times and schedule that will work best for your dog’s breed, temperament and training goals.
What does training typically include?
Obedience training typically covers these fundamentals:
Name recognition (the dog being able to recognize their name and come when they’re called)
Basic directives like “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “come,” “leave it” and “heel”
It’s usually undertaken in an environment that allows dogs to learn to socialize with each other and with other humans and helps them learn to listen and concentrate in environments that might include distractions.
Basic obedience training can usually be managed by the owner with the help of group classes. With the more intensive kinds of training required to qualify a dog as an emotional support dog, or for other kinds of service, the dogs will generally need to learn more involved and complex commands and be trained to cope with a wider range of situations than those covered in obedience training. For service dog training, it’s usually best to enlist the help of a professional dog trainer or to buy a pre-trained dog.
How much does training typically cost?
The cost of training varies depending on its intensiveness. A basic group obedience class (30-45 minutes long per session) can run you as little as $120, while group classes for difficult dogs can range from $200-$300 for programs six weeks or longer. Where more concentrated work on their behavior is needed, where the owner wants to share the work of training with a professional or where the goals of training are more ambitious, private trainers and board-and-train programs can become a factor. The cost of board-and-train programs can range from $90-$200 a day, while the going rate for private trainers can range from $175 per hour all the way up to $400, depending on the local market.
The cost of really comprehensive pretraining, targeted at consistently qualifying the dogs involved to act as licensed ESAs (emotional support animals), runs considerably higher, particularly in cases where the supplier is providing a unified program that combines breeding, training and health screening. The pretraining costs of an advanced-training puppy from Pride & Prejudoodles, which operates just such an integrated program, run approximately $9,900 before adoption and delivery fees.
2. Is It Worth It? The Benefits of Buying a Trained Dog
The time and expense involved in training, and particularly in pretraining, inevitably raise the question: Is it worth it? The easiest way to answer this question for your family or your home is to look at the benefits that come with training, comparing them with the potential drawbacks of living with a pet that still needs training, and thinking about what kind of difference those factors would make to your life as a pet owner.
Signs That a Dog Needs Training
Some of the major behaviors you may encounter with an untrained dog include:
Aggression, toward people or other pets. This is one of the biggest red flags. It can have serious consequences if it goes unchecked, particularly because the longer it is left unaddressed, the more it will tend to escalate, perhaps even leading to a biting incident. A particularly dangerous variant of this is food aggression, where the dog tries to hoard and protect food in the home as though family members are rivals in the wild who are liable to take it from them. This can result in growling, snapping or even biting as the dog seeks to protect what’s theirs.
Excessive barking, a frustrating issue that shows the dog is trying to communicate something urgent but hasn’t learned to differentiate what “urgent” really is. For example, a bird landing on a windowsill and an intruder breaking in through the window might merit the same level of excited barking, which isn’t exactly useful. This can be especially frustrating to new owners who need peace and quiet while working at home or who have sensitive neighbors and HOAs that may complain to the authorities.
Pulling at the leash, or the “who’s walking who?” phenomenon, can become a major headache. It’s often accompanied by general overexcited behaviors like lunging at things, barking at people and dogs, trying to chase cyclists or small animals and refusing to heel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, it can manifest as just refusing to walk. While this would be unpleasant for anyone to deal with, it can actually result in injury, particularly in children and seniors. A Penn Medicine study reported that dog-walking related fractures in older adults rose to 4,396 as of 2017 based on visits to the emergency room.
Jumping up, or putting their paws on visiting family and friends, and failing to respond to basic commands like “down,” “sit” or “heel.” This can be a cute behavior as a puppy, but medium to large breeds can easily knock down an adult with their exuberance, potentially causing serious harm.
Separation anxiety, the inability to trust that owners or family members will return once they’ve left. This anxiety can lead dogs to become destructive if left alone, even to the point of urinating or defecating in the home or trying to chew through things to escape.
In all these cases, training provides a consistent modeling of rules and builds the kind of confidence and sense of security that allows a dog to be a functioning member of a family.
Benefits of a Trained Dog
By contrast, a dog with professional training comes with a variety of pluses for the household and their family:
A closer bond with your dog becomes possible when they’re behaviorally sound, responsive and relaxed.
Easier management makes it possible for your dog to take part in more family activities and social events, instead of having to stay shut away behind a doggie gate every time the family hosts a barbecue or a party.
A trained dog is housebroken and sanitary for the home.
A well-socialized dog that knows the basics of “being a dog” with others of their kind enjoys a much better quality of life. Even if they don’t get out much, your dog will have much more positive experiences when encountering other dogs on everyday excursions.
Improved safety comes with better training. Even though at a certain point animals will be animals and can be unpredictable, you can still feel more confident about everyone’s safety with a trained dog around friends or as a family companion. Just as importantly, you can feel more confident in your dog’s safety in dangerous situations (such as nearby automobile traffic) when they respond reliably to commands.
These and more are the benefits you can enjoy from just foundational obedience training.
Further Benefits of Advanced Training
Dogs with a level of training that qualifies them to be Emotional Support Animals are different from service dogs, which are specifically trained to carry out tasks that mitigate a disability, or psychiatric service dogs that train to support people with mental illnesses.
In essence, an animal that qualifies for emotional support work has to be certified as reliable under its handler’s control at all times and more or less guaranteed not to cause harm or be unsafe around other people or pets in public spaces. You can think of this as the next level of obedience training — including comprehensive socialization, leash and car training — at which the animal’s behavior can be certified for use in government-recognized emotional support work. Even for first time pet owners who don’t need an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) as such, this higher level of reliability also reinforces the basic benefits of obedience training.
3. Where Can You Find a Trained Dog?
Surprisingly, a relatively small proportion of the American public takes advantage of the benefits of dog training. According to the American Pet Product Association, less than 5% of American puppies had benefited from a socialization class, and only 25% of dog owners attended obedience classes with their pets. Up to 75% of American dogs never receive professional training, a fact no doubt related to the tragedy of the many millions of dogs found abandoned and now languishing in shelters.