Do dogs NEED training, or can you get by without it?
The answer is more complex than a simple “yes” or “no.”
It depends on so many factors, including what type of training you’re talking about and how you define “need.”
Let’s dig deeper and find out the real answer to the question!
Do Dogs Need Training?
Such a simple and short question, yet the answer is anything but!
When I first started thinking about this topic, I was prepared to say, “Yes, of course dogs need training,” then launch into a long explanation of why.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I was answering a question that wasn’t asked.
The very simple question of “do dogs need training” has a very simple answer: no.
Now before you say, “she’s bonkers!” let me explain.
The question needs qualifiers.
- Do they need training to survive?
- Do they need it to thrive alongside humans?
- Do they need formal training?
- Do dogs need extended training beyond the basics?
Each of these versions of the question has a different answer! Let’s discuss.
Do Dogs Need Training to Survive?
If you define “need” as something that one requires to survive, then no, dogs don’t need training.
We humans love to throw around the word “need” all willy nilly.
“I need that cute sweater!” “I need a cup of coffee!” “Don’t text me, I need to catch up on Game of Thrones!”
In actuality, those are wants, not needs. You need food, water, warmth, sleep, and safety. Without these things, you will die.
Your dog also needs food, water, warmth, sleep, and safety. Without these things, he will die.
He will not, however, die if you don’t train him.
So no, your dog doesn’t need training when you think about it like that.
Of course, if the whole world ran on basic survival needs alone, you wouldn’t be reading this because we’d still be living in caves eating saber-tooth tigers (that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point).
So, let’s look at the question another way. Do dogs need training to thrive alongside humans?
Do Dogs Need Training to Coexist with Humans?
Theoretically, yes, dogs need training to coexist peacefully with humans, or at least to coexist in a human’s world.
I was prepared to answer this question with a solid, “no, not really,” because I was thinking about how I didn’t really train four out of five of my dogs.
However, as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t entirely true. I did potty train them, and I taught them basic manners, but just not by following any sort of actual training regimen.
I never really thought of it as training. I just interacted with my dogs in such a way that taught them what I expected.
Yes, I know, that’s pretty much the definition of training, but this was years before Animal Planet had a show on every other hour about how to train your dog!
So yes, your dog does need you to teach him what’s expected of him. At the very least, he should learn:
- Where to go to the bathroom
- What’s yours and what’s his (unless you want him to chew all of your shoes and steal your pot roast off the counter)
- How to interact with the people and other pets in the house (especially those smaller than him)
- How to obey commands meant to keep him safe (come, leave it, drop it).
The bigger question is, does he need formal training to learn these things?
Do Dogs Need Formal Training?
You’re going to love this: the answer once again is a super vague “maybe.”
Are you ready to throttle me yet?
Once again, it depends on a couple of different factors. Let’s break it down into two categories: school and a specific training method.
Do dogs need to go to school?
We talked in depth about whether dogs need training classes last week, so I recommend checking that out.
Like humans, dogs need safety and security, and they can’t get that if they’re bouncing from home to shelter to home to shelter because they are too unruly or too aggressive for their humans to handle.
If this is the case, then one could argue that these dogs need professional training.
Long story short, no, all dogs don’t necessarily need to go to school. However, some dogs would benefit greatly from a professional trainer.
Do you need to follow a specific training method to train your dog?
Let’s look at the other side of the “formal training” question.
Do dogs need you to follow a specific training strategy in order to successfully learn what’s expected of them?
The answer? Sometimes.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t formally train any of my dogs up until Freya.
They all just kind of learned through being with me what they should and shouldn’t do.
Then again, they were all “people pleaser” breeds to some degree. Freya’s breed, the Pharaoh Hound, is more of a “what’s in it for me?” breed.
She really didn’t start to “behave” until I began using a more regimented reward-training strategy with her.
We do “formal” training every night to constantly reinforce exactly what’s in it for her when she listens (tasty cheesy goodness, mostly).
As Sally Gutteridge of Canine Principles explains, in many places around the world dogs learn social skills from their people just by being with them, not through formal training.
Let’s take a look at one more qualifier to the original question, then I’ll sum it all up for you.
Do Dogs Need Advanced Training?
Ah, finally! An easy question with a simple “no” answer! But wait…is it really?
If you’re asking yourself, “does my family dog need to learn how to roll over, play dead, run an agility course, or jump through hoops,” then no, they don’t.
On the other hand, if you’re wondering if he needs advance training to be a service dog, to be a therapy dog, to be a show dog…then yes, he does.
Think about it in terms of your own training. Primary school (K-12) teaches you all the basic concepts to get by in life, but college teaches you how to do a job.
Service dogs, therapy dogs, and even show dogs are all doing a specific job, so of course they need advanced training.
Another caveat to the “no” answer, while the average family dog doesn’t need advanced training, some breeds definitely benefit from it.
I use my Pharaoh Hound as an example again. She’s a highly intelligent breed who gets bored very easily, so we also do some agility and trick training as enrichment activities.
In other words, even though your dog doesn’t necessarily need advanced training, you may still want to consider it.
But really, do dogs need training???
After 1,000+ words worth of “no” and “maybe” answers, I’m finally going to say “yes.”
Yes, all dogs need some sort of training.
It doesn’t always have to be formal.
It doesn’t have to be complex or advanced training.
It doesn’t even have to be called “training.”
But bottom line, if you want to coexist peacefully with your dog, you will need to find some way to teach him the rules.
That, my friends, is what training at its core is all about.