Whether you are bringing home a brand-new puppy or an older dog – and whether you are a seasoned canine owner or a first-time dog parent – you will need to jump into training right away. Housetraining, of course, will be a central task that you need to accomplish. However, you will also need to train your dog to sit, stay, come when called, and several other basic tricks that you will use during walks and days out with your pooch. There are many different methods for training dogs. Some of them have been passed down for generations whereas others are based on modern scientific research.
You may be surprised to know that, despite thousands of years of human-canine interactions, some of the older training methods are far from the best for molding your ideal dog. Instead, canine psychologists and professional trainers’ methods should be used. Whether you are teaching from a book, a course, or simply prior knowledge of canines, you may be making mistakes that you don’t even realize you are making. It is more common than you might think – nearly every dog owner has made a mistake or two during training. If you and your dog want to reach the peak of canine aptitude, you should educate yourself about these mistakes so you know how to avoid them. Read on for a quick overview of the Twenty Most Common Dog Training Mistakes.
1. Lacking Patience
It can be frustrating when a dog doesn’t ‘get’ something you are trying to teach them. However, it is very important to keep in mind that they are likely just as frustrated that they are not performing the task to your expectations. Thus, you should always maintain a patient and calm demeanor. This will help your dog to realize that they shouldn’t be too broken up over not accomplishing something right away. If you always maintain your patience and calmness, your dog will sense that you are in no rush and will be able to think through the task at hand with less distraction. In the long run, your dog will end up being calm, patient, and mild as well – not to mention, trained impeccably.
2. Not Training Frequently Enough
Another common mistake that dog owners make is simply not training with the proper frequency. Dogs learn from repetition and consistency – if you are only training your dog once in a while, you will not achieve the results that you desire. Training is a day-to-day – and truly lifelong – process that you and your canine must undergo.Ideally, you should train your dog daily. Always work on the tricks you have already taught them when introducing new commands as well. This will reinforce the old commands and will put your dog in the right mindset to take in new information.
3. Training Far Too Often
On the flip side of infrequent training is overtraining. You may not know this, but dogs can experience a sort of “burnout” when they have been in a long training session. After all, wouldn’t you feel tired after a long session with a personal trainer – or, perhaps more accurately, after a session with a calculus tutor? It is incredibly important to give your dogs body and brain a rest after training for a short period of time. If you try to extend these training sessions out too far, you will not achieve what you are looking to achieve because your dog will get tired and lose motivation. Ideal training sessions should be about ten minutes in length and spread throughout the day.
4. Feeding Them Human Food
It is quite tempting to give your dog a few scraps from the table during a meal. Perhaps you even let them finish your plate or foods you don’t like. Well, besides the obvious problems with this situation – such as feeding them something canine-toxic or not giving them proper nutrition – you can also create a four-legged beggar. When your dog associates your mealtime with getting food, they will almost certainly begin to beg for table scraps every time you are eating. This can be a mild annoyance for you – and if you ever have guests over that don’t care for dogs or may even be allergic for them, it could be a serious problem. Thus, you should account for this problem early and refuse to feed your dog table scraps ever.
5. Calling Them for Discipline
A lot of people will call over their dog in order to discipline them. This may be perceived as generally harmless, due to the nature of the situation. However, it is a very bad idea to put into your dog’s head. When you call your dog, they are coming to you because you have already taught them that doing so will grant them some reward – affection, treats, a click from the clicker, or another positive reinforcer. If you call a dog over to punish them, you will throw off their whole conception of being called. Instead of being seen as an action that will result in something positive for your pooch, they will be confused and may even avoid coming to you in the future. If you need to discipline your dog, don’t call them – just go get them without saying their name.
6. Bad Timing
One of the core day-to-day training tasks is to use some sort of positive reinforcement – such as a positive word, treat, or clicker – in order to show your dog what behavior is desired. However, this must be done within seconds of them accomplishing the task that you want them to. If you give the reinforcer to them too early or too late, they will not understand what action you are trying to reinforce. During the early stages of training, you need to focus on one command at a time and reinforce the action right after it is performed. This ensures that there is no way for your dog to misinterpret the reward and the associated action. This will also help them to perform it in more stressful situations, as there will be a strong positive reinforcer associated with the action.
7. Trying to Force a Response
Sometimes, you may come across a situation where your dog simply will not perform the desired action. In this case, it is crucial to take a step back and examine the situation. You must identify where the confusion is stemming from and deal with this disconnect directly. You should never try to force your dog to complete a trick. Not only will trying to accomplish the same task over and over frustrate your dog – it may also disappoint you. Dogs are keen when it comes to reading the emotions of their owner. If they sense any sadness or disappointment when learning a new task, they might stop doing it altogether in order to avoid this negative consequence. So, if you are having trouble with teaching a new command, it is best to stop trying for the day and pick it up again at a later time.
8. Taking an Overly-Rigid Approach
Dog training books, courses, and films have all been designed to apply to the majority of canines and are often backed with strong empirical science. However, not all dogs are the same. The methods outlined in your particular training resource may not work for your canine. Thus, it is important to develop your own personal training regimen that works for you and your pooch. Much like humans, each dog will have a unique outlook on life that extends to how they perceive training. It would be impossible, for example, to use the same training methods on three-month-old puppy and an 8-year-old dog – especially when either the puppy or the dog has come from a notably strict or lenient environment. In these cases, you need to spend a lot of time working out the best way to train your pup for the great life they have ahead of them.
9. Using Too Much Emotion
During dog training, you may find yourself becoming frustrated at their failures and elated with success. However, it is incredibly important to not let your emotions leak into your verbal cues. For example, if your dog makes a mistake or does something naughty, your first instinct may be to raise your voice or get angry. However, this can hurt your dog’s esteem and may cause undesirable reactions to your presence. On the other hand, responding with too much positivity can also end up ruining some of your training. A high-pitched, elated tone will make your dog’s energy levels skyrocket – and this is not the ideal state for learning new tasks or even practicing old ones. The best tone of voice that a dog owner can use during training is a calm, measured, and neutral tone.
10. Overly-Harsh Disciplinary Actions
Discipline is an unfortunate necessity of owning a dog. They will not always be the perfect pooch. Some breeds are also more inclined to get into trouble than others. Whether the problem is with digging, knocking over the trash, scratching at the door, or barking, harsh discipline is never the answer. Physical punishment, for example, should always be avoided. Instead of disciplining your dog harshly – though a firm ‘no’ is fine – you should try to catch the problem early. If you see that your dog is about to engage in a problematic behavior, you should try to sidetrack them or distract them with something else. For example, a dog that tears up trash could be offered a bone and praise before this occurs, showing that their desire to chew can be indulged in without making a huge mess.
11. Overuse of Treats
Treats are a valuable resource when training a dog. However, using too many treats (or using them improperly) can affect your dog’s physical health and demeanor. One mistake that many people make, for example, is showing the treat before asking something of your dog. While this will undoubtedly cause your canine to respond quickly, they are doing so for the treat only. You should always conceal the treat and then provide it after your dog has accomplished the task at hand. This will ensure that they are performing intrinsically rather than for the treat. In addition, treats can be substituted with praise, petting, love, and attention – this will ensure that your dog remains healthier and does not end up depending on dog treats for performance.
12. Improper Energy Management
Dogs run the range of energy levels. Some might be very lazy and won’t get up for much, whereas other dogs seem to never sit still. You need to provide your dog with the appropriate amount of exercise – at least 20 minutes of walking at a brisk pace every day. You will need to provide a more-energetic dog with more time outside and exercising, as well. When a dog is full of pent-up energy, they will not listen as well and may not take on new commands very easily. This is why it is so crucial to manage your dog’s energy levels. The ideal state that your dog should be in is not one of massive amounts of energy – but they shouldn’t be tired out, either. Instead, your dog should be well-exercised and calm.
13. Not Using Crates Properly
A lot of dog owners refuse to use crates, seeing them as inhumane or punishing for an animal. This could certainly be true in the case of a rescue, puppy mill dog, or other animal that had a bad experience with confinement in the past. After all, an animal should never be confined for long periods of time. On the other hand, dogs are naturally den-dwelling animals. You can play into this instinct through the use of a crate. You should make your dog’s crate feel like a small, personal cave for them to relax in. It should be a safe space – and thus should not be used for punishment too frequently. If you crate-train properly, your dog might even end up laying in it at random points throughout the day. It is their den, after all.
14. Beginning Training Too Late
It is common knowledge that dogs are easier to train during their puppyhood stage. This is what makes it so important to begin training early in your dog’s life. Of course, adult dogs can still be trained. It just takes more repetition and effort in order to achieve the results that you desire. One thing that many people look over, however, is setting up house rules as soon as a new canine enters your home. The misconception is that this can be overwhelming, particularly for a young puppy. However, training – especially house-training – should begin as soon as your new dog crosses your threshold. This will ensure that they know who is in charge in the home as early as possible.
15. Forgetting to Proof Commands
To ‘proof’ a command means to ensure that your dog will perform the desired action in many different locales. It may be quite easy to get your dog to listen to you in your home, for example, where there are few distractions. It would be a different story altogether to try to achieve the same results at a busy park – let alone a dog park. The ‘proofing’ process should begin after you have established the action and reward in the comfort of your home. You should gradually introduce more external stimuli as you continue to reinforce the command. Eventually, your dog will listen to you in all sorts of environments – regardless of who or what is around.
16. Using a Reactive Training Method
Reactive training methods are those in which you do not interact with your dog until after a behavior has occurred. This is particularly relevant to discipline actions. For example, if your dog is a barker and you wish to quell this response, waiting until after they begin barking would be a mistake. Instead, you should take on a more proactive role in stopping this response. Before your dog engages in any undesirable behavior, you should learn their cues and try to stop it before it starts. This will make the external stimulus that caused the behavior – such as a passing car or pedestrian – take on a more positive light. This is especially true when you provide a positive reward in advance (i.e., a bone) that doubles as a distraction from the undesirable behavior.
17. Reinforcing Improper Behaviors
It may seem obvious that reinforcing the wrong behaviors will lead to a dog not performing as expected. However, there are a few situations in which it is not immediately evident that an improper behavior is being performed and subsequently reinforced. For example, as mentioned before, a dog that hangs around the dinner table should never be rewarded with food. Other situations in which improper behaviors are commonly reinforced are during barking and fear responses. For example, if your dog begins barking and you yell at them to stop, they will perceive this as you barking alongside them and will thus be reinforced. Comforting a dog during a fear response – especially with irrational responses to thunder or other loud noises – will also cause them to continue to react in the same way in the future.
18. Repeating Commands
Another major mistake that many people make during training their dogs is the repetition of cue words. For example, if you tell your dog to sit and they do not do so right away, it may be tempting to tell them to sit over and over again until they do this. However, in your dog’s head, they will then associate the repeated use of the word ‘sit’ with performing the task. If your dog doesn’t perform the task right away, don’t repeat the word. Instead, move on to a different trick with a different cue word after waiting for a short period of time. This will ensure that your dog doesn’t associated the repetition of cue words with the action. Instead, they will ‘sit’ or ‘lie down’ right when you ask them to. It merely takes effort and repetition.
19. Lack of Confidence
Dogs, as we have mentioned several times throughout this article, are very perceptive creatures. They have an innate ability to pick up on the emotions and feelings of their human companions. However, this also extends to their ability to discern whether you are feeling confident or not. Canines are pack animals. This comes with group dynamics in which confidence is a key aspect. After all, the most confident dog in a pack – or wolf, if you want to discuss their ancient ancestors – is often the alpha. If your dog decides that you are not confident enough in your demeanor to be the alpha, they will probably refuse to respect your wishes. This will make it nearly impossible to train your canine properly, as they will not acknowledge your inherent role as the head of your home.
20. Inconsistent Actions
The final mistake that we will discuss is inconsistency in training. If, for example, your dog gets rewarded for an action one day and it is completely ignored the next day, they will get confused. This may lead to them not performing the action at all. After all, if they do not know that it will result in a positive reward or other experience, they may decide that it isn’t worth it to engage in this behavior. It is crucial during the training stage to maintain a consistent pattern of rewards. Dogs, as we have mentioned several times, learn only through repetition and reward. It is a long, arduous process – particularly with high-energy or distractible breeds – but will result in a well-trained canine companion that will stay by your side for many years to come.
Hopefully you have learned something from this article. As long as you avoid these twenty common mistakes, you will surely find success in training your new canine. Paired with a guide – such as a book, film, or physical course – you and your new companion will work closely with each other for many years to come.