I have to admit; I cringe a little bit inside every time I hear this question - and I get it on, at least, a weekly basis. People I work with in private sessions, see in group classes, or who are simply shopping around for trainers and have emailed me...Most want to know and ask, in some way, shape, or form, "How long will it take to 'fix' my dog?"
I cringe in response to the question for a couple reasons. First, our dogs are not robots and I'm not a mechanic. We can't set up a session or take a class with our dogs and anticipate that a trainer is going to be able to take a look under the hood, diagnose the issue, proceed to change the oil or swap out a few old parts, and have your dog good as new by the end of the day. That's just not how training works, but that is, unfortunately, sometimes the impression I get from folks when I'm asked this question.
Second, in response to the question, I'm forced to offer the ever-dreaded, super-ambiguous, not-at-all-satisfying answer of..."It depends." Almost no one likes this answer and I almost always dislike having to give it because it doesn't provide a lot of clarity; and I can really empathize with folks. When we've been working on a difficult issue with our dogs or we've been fumbling around with internet advice for weeks, months, or even years (with little or no success) and are at our wit's end..."It depends" is just not a good answer to hear.
Fortunately, though, "it depends" is just the short answer - I'm in no way glib about offering this answer and I don't simply shrug it off as an invalid question. The long answer has several moving parts to it
What kind of management is in place? When we talk about management, we're asking about what steps you may be currently taking (or that you can take) to prevent the behavior you're not crazy about from happening. This can be physical barriers or restraints; it could be avoiding particular environments or situations; whatever the concerning behavior is and whatever your goal is, what can you do to prevent the "bad" behavior/habit from continuing?
How long has the behavior been performed? Somewhat along the lines of management, how long has your dog been practicing this habit you don't like? Just like us, the more practice they have, the easier and easier the behavior becomes. In general, a behavior that your dog has been performing for years is going to take more time and energy and work to re-wire when compared to a behavior or habit your dog has only recently taken up.
What is the reason for the behavior? When we see a dog doing a behavior we don't like, it can be really important to find out why the dog may be doing the behavior or what the cause for the behavior may be. The behavior could easily be a symptom of something else, such as fear, anxiety, stress, or overstimulation (just a few examples!). Without addressing the 'something else,' our training may be ineffective or we could find ourselves with a completely new habit that we don't like!
Is there a medical cause for the behavior? As a trainer, I don't have any medical training and I'm not a vet; but I will regularly recommend that folks talk with their vets or get a medical workup to ensure there isn't some sort of medical cause (pain or an infection, for example) for the undesirable behavior. This can be overlooked as a consideration frequently, but, if you think about it, we're not our best selves when we have a cold or infection or we've thrown out our backs - we can't expect our dogs to be either, BUT they also can't just tell us, "Hey, I'm grumpy because of XYZ."
In addition to chatting with the vet about medical causes for behavior, I may also ask whether or not a client has behavior medication on board. Again, I am not a vet; I do not recommend any particular medications nor do I suggest that a dog even needs medication. However, behavior medication from a vet can be an effective training tool! It's a tool that a dog pawrents may be able to use to take the edge off of certain situations or stimuli so that their dog can think more clearly and behavior modification can get more of a foothold. Additionally, medication can have various side effects that can interrupt or affect our training, too! There are lots of things to consider in this area!
What level of commitment and consistency is there around the training? This is a big one. If training and practice is inconsistent - the family isn't working with the dog very much, then progress is going to be slower. If only some members of the family are consistent or compliant with the training, progress is slower or even non-existent! Depending on the behavior and concerns we're working with, it can take a village and support system of family, friends, neighbors, and professionals (vet, trainer, groomer, dog walker, pet sitter, etc.) to achieve the goals we're looking to achieve - and the whole village needs to be informed and on board for optimal success!
Last, but not least, are we setting realistic goals and do we have realistic expectations of the dog? Every dog is different and every family is different; but, there are a lot of times I need to be really honest with a client, couple, or family about what I feel are realistic goals for their dog's current behavior. I've definitely been proven wrong with some dogs - and I love when that happens - but, for the most part, I ask folks to lower the bar a bit and give their dog a chance to be successful. This could be because of the dog's age, maturity level, current set of skills, the time and commitment the household is willing to devote to the training, and so on - there are so many factors that go into setting realistic goals and expectations!
Overall, I'd like us to remember that our dogs are not going to change overnight and that change can take a significant amount of time, energy, commitment, resources, planning ahead, persistence, etc. It's why I don't offer guarantees; I don't offer cures; I don't claim to "fix" a dog. What I can offer, though, is strategies, techniques, and advice and, above all else, support in working through your concerns and achieving your goals!