Training Dogs: The 4-Year Plan
Time is one thing that I don’t often feel like I have plenty of, and it always seems to feel like it’s running out. I just never have enough of it and know I cannot simply go out and get more. It seems that the more people I talk with and receive messages with questions about training, the more I realize that “
Now keep in mind while reading this article, my son just finished up with his second visit and tour of the UW Eau-Claire campus. In preparation of deciding what college to attend next fall, one factor that seems to be a major decision maker for him is the answer to the question: “how far is campus from the farm?” As a dad, being asked a question like that and knowing the reasoning behind it gives me a true sense of satisfaction and leads me to believe we’ve done something right over the years. And as I look back on it, the past 17 years have literally flown by and I cannot believe the conversations of a “4-year plan” is taking place under our roof. Where did that time go? I know this is unrealistic for some of us, myself included, but just for a second imagine this: no deadlines, no limits on available time for you to complete any projects you have on your to-do list, no waiting in line for anything, no appointments or reservations necessary. Can you imagine how nice it would be to know that nothing is being measured or scheduled based on time? Talk about a feeling of freedom! After recent conversations with my Dad, I semi-jokingly and with complete envy told him, “that must be how it feels to be retired.”
Time is really nothing more than a quantity of measurement used to sequence and compare durations and intervals between events. Or, it can be as simple as just what the clock reads. Whatever way you look at it, there is a purpose and need for it in many aspects of our lives. It’s in relation to our dog’s training plans that I believe most all of us could use taking a step back and determine just how relevant it is.
While thinking about writing this article, one point that I thought was necessary to make is that 99% of the time when I’m writing about training dogs, the target reader is not a professional trainer. Instead, it’s written in hopes of helping those of every level, from the most amateur or average of dog owners and up, with their personal dogs and on their own personal training journeys. I train a limited number of dogs each year for clients, and I approach the training of those dogs no different than I would any of my own dogs from a planning and sequencing perspective. Inevitably though, it seems that there are almost always questions from those dog owners regarding the amount of time I will have their pup with me in training. The concern is never on my end as I do not set time frames or time limits on the training. Instead it comes from the anxiousness and excitement of the owner to get the dog back home with them. My answer is always the same. I don’t know how long I will have the pup. I might have one pup for 10-12 months and the next for 18-24 months before we even start thinking about them going back to their owners. It all depends on the dogs and how they progress, and all dogs are different. It works for me and the way we structure our training with clients because nothing is predicated by time when it comes to costs. Whether I have the dog for 2 months or 2 years, the price is the same.
That business model and training structure is very different than most, if not all professional trainers that I know. I put that out there, because I understand that this is not the way most people read about, hear about or understand training services from a professional. Most are accustomed to the idea of “4-week programs”, “3-month programs”, “6-month programs”, etc. Most, if not all are based on the duration of time for each “program” which dictates the price. You know the old saying, “time is money” would apply here. That is just not something I believe in nor have any interest in trying to do. It’s just too much pressure on the dog, the owner and myself, and I believe it more often than not, sets everyone up for disappointment in the end.
All that being said, there is one place in my life that I realize the idea of not setting any limits on time and that is with our family’s personal dogs. Our personal dogs are typically the ones that take a bit longer to fully develop into what I am ultimately after in the field. They are also the ones that I find “turn out well” the most consistently. It just takes a bit longer. I almost always hunt them a season or sometimes two seasons later than what most folks aim for. Right now I have two young dogs named Ellie and Spry who we have shared a lot of training with over the years on our @dogbonehunter Instagram, Facebook and YouTube pages and channels. Ellie will be 4 years old in September and this will be her second fall in the duck blind and flushing fields for pheasants and grouse. I suspect she will really come into her own this fall as a gundog. Spry is 2.5 years old and is just now wrapping up her handling (hand signals) which will allow her to first get into the field with us in a few months to get some early exposure this season. She will also have the opportunity to make her first tracks recovering deer this fall. There are a few reasons why I tend to wait this long I suppose. One is because my client’s dogs take precedent when it comes to training time, and the second is, I just didn’t think they were ready until now. The lack of preparation falls on both me because I just didn’t feel like I had them ready enough for what they might encounter, and also on them and their level of maturity to take that training in stride. I live by a pretty simple saying, “Be patient, some things just take a little longer.” My dogs and I have adopted the “4-year” plan mentality when it comes to heightened expectations for them in the field. If it happens sooner, it’s just a bonus. That mentality really helps to alleviate the unnecessary pressures and frustrations that comes with it.
If you are a dog owner and are training your own dog, you and I are in the same boat on this. One of the best parts is that you and I have no deadlines and are not up against any hard dates to complete our dog through any “programs” with a list of “things the dog will be doing” within that timeframe. Embracing that mentality is what allows me to appreciate things so much more, and it’s one reason you too should truly enjoy the training process in its entirety rather than only its completion.
Best of luck in your training!