In last week’s article “Can you teach my dog to act like that?” I discussed the challenges presented by posing and answering a seemingly simple question. This week, I want to talk a little about another common question (perhaps the most commonly asked question). That question is “what will it cost to train my dog?”
Just like last week’s question, this question is almost certainly the wrong question to ask. I’m not implying financial realities aren’t important to consider, rather I am pointing out that the question, as asked, can’t be answered until we delve deeper and clarify what we’re talking about.
The first variable we need to clarify is what is mean by cost. When people are asking about costs, they are usually referring to money. Money alone, however, will never directly change your dog’s behavior. He does not accept cash, credit or bitcoin, and even if he did, good luck getting him to read and honor a contract! If you want to use money to address your dog’s behavior, you will need to exchange it with someone for something that will have a direct effect on behavior.
Changing anything, including your dog’s behavior, is going to require changes in inputs. Those inputs include time, attention, education, effort, and discipline. Because each of these inputs are finite resources and required in many aspects of your life, to be successful you will need to reprioritize how you allocate them. These are the true costs you need to pay to elicit change. If you choose to use my services, you are choosing to invest some money, time and (hopefully) attention in exchange for some education. That education will decrease the total amount of time and effort you will need to apply to your situation, but it will by no means eliminate them.
Other types of trainers will exchange your money for some of their time, attention and effort and they will get your dog started on his training path. I’ve chosen to train the owners rather than the dogs because I believe that unless the owner learns to change how they relate to the dog, the process will eventually fail, and the best way for an owner to learn how to train their dog is to take advantage of the “newbie gains” that novice trainers and novice dogs experience to motivate both of them to continue the work.
The most important, yet typically least considered cost you will need to pay to change your dog’s behavior is a very unique and incredibly valuable commodity. Each of us have the same amount of this resource, but most of us waste vast quantities of it. There’s no way to buy more of it than you naturally possess, though you can learn to be more mindful of how you use it. The resource I’m describing is your focused attention, arguably the most valuable resource that we know of. Every advance in technology, every piece of art and every relationship is made through the application of focused human attention. We know this, yet we constantly waste it because it doesn’t feel like a resource, as each moment brings another opportunity to direct your attention. This gives us the illusion that we can always do it later or “when the time is right”. Additionally, there are always other demands on your attention, some productive, others less so.
So, If you want to change your dog’s behavior, your focused attention is the currency you will be using. As we already discussed, each of us have precisely the same amount of it available as everyone else. Where and how you choose to focus it and how you prioritize when there are multiple demands are what differentiate our results in any endeavor from the results of others. Sure, some things come easier for some people than others, but nobody achieves anything without focused attention. It may be easier to focus on something you like doing, but one of the hallmarks of adulthood is to be able to focus your attention in ways that will be to your long term benefit even if doing so is not necessarily what you’d like to be doing in the moment.
The answer to the question “What will it cost to train my dog?” is a complex one. You need to devote a larger proportion of your attention to your relationship with your dog. You probably need to adjust the aspects of that relationship and behavior that you pay attention to. You may need to learn new perspectives to understand and appreciate why your dog behaves as he does, and will then need to change how you relate and interact with him so that his behavior changes.
It’s not easy.
Nothing of value ever is.
But it absolutely is worth it.