My Dog Is Totally Trained, Right?

Learn why training's never done, and why there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #235


“Trained” is a word that should almost never be used in the past tense. Okay, I’ll give you “housetrained” if your adult dog never eliminates indoors unless he’s sick or you had an emergency that prevented you from getting home for so long he simply couldn’t hold it anymore. But otherwise, think twice about calling your dog “trained.”

How Much Training Does Your Dog Need?

Look at it this way: Olympic athletes train every day, and yet their performances are almost never perfect. Professional dog trainers and people who compete in canine sports think in terms of thousands of reps to get to the point where their dogs perform as close as possible to perfect – but if they could get to 100%, then there wouldn’t be any point to competition, would there?

You probably can’t put in the kind of time and effort that pros and competitors do. That doesn’t make training your dog pointless, of course – but it’s a reality check. If your time and energy are limited, spend them working on life-saving behaviors and any others that really matter to you. Coming when called, for instance, should be at the top of almost everyone’s training priority list.

Behavior Is Always Changing

Also, remember that dogs are not programmable devices! It’s normal for behavior to fluctuate, and that includes responses to human cues. We can think of animals as experimenting to find out whether a new behavior will work better to get them something they want. Or maybe an old behavior abandoned months ago will start working again. Evolution built this flexibility into animals because their environment is always in flux, and if they couldn’t change their behavior to cope – well, then their goose was cooked.

Here’s an example from my own dog, Juniper, who’s 12.

I took an online course with him a couple of years ago and we did the training after dinner – a time of day he used to spend sacked out. It turned out, he liked having a lively evening, especially one involving food rewards. So after the course ended, he tried a number of tactics to keep the good times rolling. He even stole shoes, something he hadn’t done since puppyhood. But finally Juniper hit on a winner: He started bringing me his favorite food-dispensing toy and dropping it at my feet. Hint, hint. So that’s our new routine, courtesy of an animal working on his environment to get what he wants. Juniper brings me his toy, I fill it with kibble, and he spends a profitable half-hour pushing it around the house with his nose.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).