Dear Sarah, July 17

How long does it take dogs to learn things? My dog is 7 months old – I’m really frustrated that she still does naughty stuff. Shouldn’t that have stopped by now??

Eliza P

Hi Eliza,

I think at times we humans are a little unrealistic (and a little impatient) with our dogs when it comes to learning what’s expected in our human world.

Let’s look at children for example – do we expect that they will know everything by the time they are toddlers? Teenagers? (I know teenagers think they know everything, but that’s another story). Young adults? Middle aged? I think that most of us would agree that at whatever age and stage of life we are at, we still don’t have all the answers and every day we learn something new.

And yet for some reason, we get frustrated when our dog doesn’t learn something immediately, or gets it wrong at times, or don’t listen when there’s really distracting things going on. They get labelled ‘disobedient’ or ‘dominant’ or ‘defiant’, when perhaps they’re tired, or hot, or thirsty, or in need of a break. 

The speed at which a dog learns is very individual (like a human). For a dog it also depends on breed and original breed function and whether the intended message from the instructor (ie, you) is getting across. We are communicating inter-species remember, and things often get lost in translation. So this is where consistency and patience comes in. We need to be consistent, but we need to be patient to make sure the dog really understands what’s expected – and that takes time and lots of practice in lots of different situations.

At 7 months of age, your dog is a teenager and like human teenagers, they still do ‘naughty’ stuff. It comes with the age bracket, and at that age it’s pretty normal. My suggestion – rather than trying to stop the naughty stuff, work out what behaviours you DO want (which are the opposite of the naughty ones – be specific) and set her up for success by teaching her those. Remember to be patient and consistent (consitency really is the key here) and soon you’ll have a gorgeous dog who not only knows what is expected, but who you will have a bond with that will last a lifetime.

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