I adopted Wyatt in early November, 2009 from a dog rescue. He was about 6 months old but had been abandoned and was wandering the countryside with his brother.
My previous dog (before Wyatt) was completely untrained and had been attacked by an aggressive dog resulting in $1500 in vet bills. I decided this time I was going to do it right with Wyatt. So, I started investigating trainers. I thought it would be good for Wyatt and I to attend weekly training at the local pet store or day care.
I was looking around one day for group classes and landed on Rick’s web site. His biography was very impressive, so I decided to give him a call. I told him a little about our situation. I liked when he described the training as “individualized, and I train the dog 100% off leash.”
This off-leash, individualized training was different than the group lessons I was considering, but I was interested to learn more. I also remember thinking, “Why would I need to train my dog off leash?”
The Training Consultation
I met Rick in person, and we discussed what I wanted to achieve from training. I wanted a trained dog that I could take for walks, and one that would come when I called–actually would listen to me. And, I was concerned that, since Wyatt had been on his own, was he aggressive?
Rick explained a couple of training options and the pros and cons of each one. I did ask about cost and how many lessons it would take.
How much it would cost if Wyatt was aggressive?
Rick explained that each situation is different–that until he did an evaluation of the dog, it would be impossible to predict.
I brought up that it would be nice to have a total amount to budget for. I don’t think it was the first time that Rick had heard that question or statement. He is very aware of the need for people to know the costs, but he will not promise to accomplish something without having the information he needs.
Rick helped me to pinpoint the most important issue to address first. After discussing Wyatt, it didn’t make sense to teach him obedience if he had an aggression issue. Rick gave me a few options and the cost for that first step, if Wyatt was aggressive.
After Wyatt’s full evaluation, I met with Rick. And yes, Wyatt was dog aggressive. He was not people aggressive, which I was glad about.
Rick gave me an approximate number of sessions for him to deal with the aggression, but it all depended on how well Wyatt reacted to the training. I remember thinking, “Boy, that’s a lot of money! Is it really worth it? Or, is this guy not telling me the exact number to get more money?”
Then I remembered my previous dog and the $1500 vet bills—training was cheap compared to that.
Fortunately Wyatt reacted well, and it only took a few sessions–right in the range that Rick quoted (not the lowest but not the highest either). After each session, we would discuss the outcome of the training and what our next step would be.
I don’t think I really understood why Rick couldn’t quote an exact number of training sessions until he started working with us during training.
I have learned several times over that it’s definitely not Rick’s intent to be vague about “how many, how much.” Seriously, there are just too many variables. And as far as exactly how long the sessions last? Forget it–impossible to predict.
I went to our first training session thinking, “Ok, this will be easy. We’ll train for an hour, no problem.” What I didn’t realize until later was that Rick had no idea how I would react to training. He had already been working with Wyatt, so he knew what to expect from him, but not necessarily how the two of us would work together. There was also no way that Rick would know how I’d react to being out in the open with Wyatt off-leash. I was very nervous! Even I didn’t realize I would react that way! We did well, and Rick kept us focused. But, it certainly wasn’t an hour before both Wyatt and I had learned all we could that day.
On one of our next training sessions, we were working on quite a few things. We were really in-sync. Wyatt was off-leash and doing all the things that Rick said could be accomplished (at this point I still didn’t realize why off leash mattered–that would come later). I was amazed. Rick told me that Wyatt was getting close to being done for the day, but I was hoping we could continue since we were doing so well. Then, Wyatt went to the middle of the field and laid down.
Rick said, “Look at your dog. What do you see?” I had to admit, I saw a dog that was done for the day; he wasn’t going to learn anymore. We lasted longer than the last time, and I was still ready, but Wyatt was done. There would have been no sense in pushing him to continue just to meet an expectation that a lesson should last a predetermined number of minutes. I think we would have lost more than we gained if we had pushed it.
During one session, there were a lot of distractions: kids playing, dogs barking, and people around. We did great going through the training exercise, then we took our first walk through a very stimulating parking lot.
When we went back to the field to do a few more exercises, construction workers were starting a piece of heavy equipment in the parking lot behind us. Wyatt was off-leash, and he was following me really well. But there came a point when he just backed off and would not listen. I have to admit, there was a lot of stimulation, and I know my brain had processed all I could for the day, too. Wyatt had done well, but he had learned enough for one day.
That was the day Rick told me, “You’ve got enough skills now to go on your own. Practice what you’ve learned for 2 months and call me if you have questions.” Again, we had trained right in the range of the number of lessons that we’d discussed, and we had achieved our goals.
On Her Own
I have been practicing, and the results are very good. I did need to call Rick for some additional training in the 2-month time frame. We had one lesson, and we were off on our own again.
I have learned a tremendous amount in the past several months. Dogs aren’t computers; you can’t just download specific behaviors and expect them to behave the same at all times.
Proper training does cost money. The difference between having an untrained vs. a trained dog is amazing. I have heard people say that all dogs are horrible in their first 2-3 years, then they settle down where you can enjoy them. But, Wyatt is 1-year old now, and I’m enjoying a well-behaved dog now! I get the off-leash concept now. It works.