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Is Dog Training Worth It? Click and Laugh

Editor's note: Only a tiny percentage of dog owners ever formally train their dogs. Why, we wondered? Maybe they don't understand the benefits of training? Virginia Broitman gives us a tongue-in-cheek look at analyzing the costs and benefits of having a well-trained dog.
dog in tree

In assessing the benefits of dog training, we'll rely on a classic CBA. For all of you non-finance folks out there, CBA stands for cost/benefit analysis. I like using the term "CBA," because it makes me sound like I know something about economics. In fact, I don't—so please be prepared for my slightly absurd application of this technique! What I do know a good deal about is dog training, and the benefits we reap from teaching skills to our pets that are beyond the bare-bones basics.

Ready to start calculating?

To start, I'll assume your dog has already learned the most rudimentary skills—the behaviors that let you live together every day without going insane or exposing yourself to physical danger. There's so much more, however, that a dog can learn. You may wonder if it's worth your time, energy, and money to continue your dog's education. We'll explore and answer this question using cost/benefit analysis.

One hurdle you'll need to overcome is the feeling that training beyond the most basic essentials is out of your (or your dog's) reach. You may feel discouraged for one of the following reasons:

  • You don't know how to teach the behaviors.
  • You don't have unlimited money to hire a professional trainer to help you.
  • You believe that only dog trainers and fanatics own impressively well-behaved and highly skilled dogs. (Oh, that's a good one! Just as the cobbler's kids often have no shoes, dogs belonging to trainers are often the worst-behaved!)
  • Everyone knows that [your breed] is too willful, stubborn, aloof, dominant, or spiteful to learn anything new.
  • You have 13 children and a fulltime job, and won't have an opening in your schedule for training until March 2054, at which time your current dog will be a bit past the learning opportunity. The list goes on. But let's toss away the excuses and tackle the cost/benefit question. Using the CBA technique, you'll add up the benefits derived from having a trained dog and subtract the costs related to training. If you end up in the black, then training is indeed worthwhile.
Using the CBA technique, you'll add up the benefits derived from having a trained dog and subtract the costs related to training.

Analyze this

Let's use "leave it" as a training example. For those of you unfamiliar with "leave it," this cue tells a dog not to touch taboo items and to resist temptations and thievery in general. More specifically, it can be used to:

  • Stop a dog from snatching the neighbor kid's ice cream cone, which is being held (satanically) at dog-nose level.
  • Prevent a dog from applying tongue-cooties to your infant's succulent body.
  • Prevent a dog from ingesting the psychotropic drugs you just dropped on the floor (remember the dog motto of "eat first, ask questions later").

Okay, let's begin our list of costs and benefits associated with teaching a dog to "leave it." As it is impossible for me to know the value of each reader's time, I'm assigning a value of $50 per hour. If I've undervalued you, I apologize. Feel free to adjust the COST accordingly.

Scenario #1: Your dog is likely to mug the kid in the neighborhood for his ice cream cone. ("Eat first, ask questions later.") In this scenario, I'm assuming the dog owner (you!) reads and is able to acquire training knowledge from written instruction.









in $$:

[Y - X]




Purchase a book by competent author


3 hours to read; plus 2 hours to teach dog (that's 24 training sessions, 5 minutes each)






$50/hr x 5 hrs = $250


No need to buy replacement ice cream cone


You avoid having to reimburse the neighbor kid's parents for costly therapy he would need to overcome stressful dog mugging.


Joy in child's eyes as he eats ice cream




















$1,478.50 benefit


Conclusion: The benefits outweigh the costs when it comes to training your dog not to steal kids' ice cream cones.

Scenario #2: Your dog has a baby-licking fetish. You loathe reading instruction manuals and must hire a competent trainer for private lessons to help you fetter this fetish.

I apologize in advance if I've undervalued any trainers out there by using $125/hour as the hypothetical wage. (Hey, I can dream!)









in $$:

[Y - X]



Hire a competent trainer for 3 private sessions @ $125/hour



Spend 3 hours with trainer; plus 1 hour training your dog on your own (that's 12 sessions, 5 minutes each)






$50/hr x 4 hrs = $20


Refund obtained for the "Isolator Containment Bubble" you purchased to protect your infant



Cootie-free infant who is spared the nickname "Bubble Girl"





















Tentative conclusion: The benefits seem to outweigh the costs when it comes to hiring a trainer to help you teach your dog not to lick infants.

[Not taken into account are the possible immune-boosting benefits of an infant's exposure to dog saliva, potentially eliminating the need to inoculate against allergies later in life. (Please consult your physician for a quote on allergy shots before redoing the CBA.) Then, if the costs outweigh the benefits, consider applying your training dollars toward teaching your dog another skill like walking nicely on leash. Your dog can then join you on stroller walks and, thus, have no time home alone to destroy costly furniture.]

With an eye toward wrapping this up, let me propose, without benefit of another fancy CBA table, that teaching your dog to "leave" your spilled psychotropic drugs untouched is likely to save you piles of money that otherwise would have gone into the pockets of the dog's vet and your own mental health clinic.

Benefit summary

If you are beginning to suspect an insidious bias to this article, I suppose it's time to come clean. I believe you'll be thrilled to make an investment in teaching your dog good manners when you:

  • See how much fun the clicker training process can be
  • Realize that a degree in Rocket Science is not required to understand and apply this sensible and effective training technique
  • Experience the pride of having taught your dog some useful skills
  • Reap the daily benefits of living with a well-mannered dog

Honestly, a well-mannered dog isn't a pipe dream. (Do pipes really dream?) There are so many wonderful sources for training information now: books, DVDs, seminars, local group classes, as well as private coaching with a trainer. There's something to meet the needs of people with every learning style.

dog on leopard skin

Professional trainers possess no magic wand. What we do have is a decent understanding of dog behavior. We know that behavior is driven by its consequences, and we know that consistency is important. We clicker trainers are adept at positively reinforcing the behaviors we desire, so that our dogs are HAPPY to do what we want them to do.

We also do our best to meet our dogs' basic needs each day, supplying aerobic exercise, good nutrition, quality time with the family, and mental stimulation. When these needs are met, a dog progresses more swiftly through training and is much more pleasant to live with in general.

Even if you can only set aside two 5-minute training sessions per day, you'll be surprised to see how much you can accomplish in these mini-sessions. They add up to twelve lessons for your dog per week, with one day off to gloat over your accomplishments.

Each pet owner has her own wish list of behaviors for her dog. If the list is long, just prioritize and start tackling it one behavior at a time. Choose the most annoying issue first, and get that out of the way! Then move on to the next most pressing issue. With each new skill the dog is taught, he is also learning to learn, and subsequent lessons will be learned more quickly. Your relationship will deepen and your ability to communicate with the dog will also improve. That's a lot of bang for your buck!

With each new skill the dog is taught, he is also learning to learn, and subsequent lessons will be learned more quickly.

I've been fortunate to share my home with many dogs over the years and, thanks to training, it has truly been a pleasure to live with them. The dogs are happy, too, because they receive guidance and structure. All pet owners can and should feel as much joy living with their own dogs, and I encourage you to explore clicker training to help you reach this goal.

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Good Article!

 This made me laugh, but it accurately points out that teaching better (wanted) behaviors doesn't require huge blocks of time or tons of money. Your cost/benefit analysis method is ingenious (and hilarious.) Thanks!

Made me laugh

This is funy and its great

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