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Transition to "Trained"

Some of you are in an interesting spot right now – your dog knows all the things and can do them, but is still very young and inexperienced, and often needs a lot of help from you, or can do things but not perfectly, or can do things but you can see it is still hard for them. Of course for these dogs you will help them and continue to teach them, but over time you want the to have less reliance on you, to do more things quicker and without reward, and to be steady, solid, experienced, and calm in most situations – maybe even enough for a child or older adult to take the leash and be able to have control. But how do you know when your dog is ready for these increased expectations? When do you finally declare your dog "trained?"
 
Here are some things to think about:
 
  1. How old is your dog? A young dog is just that, a young dog. A young trained dog is a young trained dog, and so on. Young dogs don’t behave the way older dogs do, no matter how many hours of training you’ve put in. They are still impulsive; they are still testing boundaries. They’ve got all the skills months or years earlier than the majority of pet dogs, but they’re still developing and sometimes the brain needs time to catch up to the skills! Depending on the dogs breed and individual temperament, most dogs do not reach full maturity until 18-36 months old and that is where early training really starts to shine; you will have a lovely young dog with the brightest of futures!
  2. How much “mileage” has your dog gotten? Some dogs seem to learn things very quickly. This is especially true for highly food motivated dogs. But no matter how quickly your dog learns a new behavior, he still needs to practice over and over again, even if he seem to understand what he is doing. This continued practice and reward, even when they are doing it right, is what will cause the behavior to truly sink in and become a habit.
  3. What kind of environments has your dog worked in? If you have only really ever practiced in your house and maybe in your front yard or the sidewalk/street area directly in front of your house, then don’t expect your dog to automatically be able to work in park or woods areas or city/shopping center type areas. Dogs need to be worked through a variety of areas, including the occasional brand-new area, to have good fluency.
  4. How confident are you in your dogs abilities? Gut-level feelings are important to trust. However, in general the less experienced you are (especially if this is your first dog) the more difficult it will be to adequately judge your dogs progress and advancement. And although of course you never want to compare dogs progress with each other (they all progress at different rates) you can use other dogs as a general guideline. You will very, very rarely for example see dogs younger than a year or two off-leash in a public environment (or if you do see it, they are probably not doing well at all.) This is because in general, 1 or 2-year-olds usually do not have the skills for this.

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