Training your dog isn’t easy but understanding just a few common dog training mistakes can make your life 100x easier as you work towards a well-behaved pup.
On today’s show, we give you a list of HUMAN MADE mistakes, and how to fix them! This will help you train your dog like a pro in no time.
Hello and welcome to Dog Works Radio. I am Michele Forto and the lead trainer of Alaska Dog Works. Here we help humans and their dogs have a better relationship. On today’s show, we are talking about 21 common dog training mistakes and how to fix them. Let’s get started, shall we…
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WAITING TOO LONG TO START TRAINING
The Mistake: Some people wait until their dog is a little bit older or ‘mature’ to start training their dog, sometimes even as late as 6 months old.
It’s NEVER too late to start training a dog, just because you may be a bit behind, doesn’t mean all hope is lost. You CAN teach old dogs new tricks, but it’s typically easier when they’re pups.
How to Fix It: Let’s make it simple, right now is the best time to start training.
As early as 7 or 8 weeks old (most people don’t even get their puppies until they are about 12 weeks old), puppies can start learning simple skills like sit and stay. As soon as your puppy is in your home, start training them.
Typically, the younger the puppy, the shorter their attention span (just like children), so keep the training sessions brief, positive, and engaging.
NOT TRAINING ENOUGH
The Mistake: Most obedience classes out there only gather to formally ‘train’ once a week, and that’s often the only time people train their dog, unfortunately. Some people think a long session once a week will do the trick.
How to Fix It: Dogs should be trained every single day. Like any habit or behavior, repetition is one of the keys to success.
Make a goal to train your dog for at least five minutes every single day. You might be thinking, five minutes is barely any time, nothing will get accomplished. While it’s true that a longer session (15+ minutes) would be better, five minutes every single day compared to 15 minutes once or twice a week will be more beneficial.
Repetition and consistency are two of the most important factors for training your dog. Put a reminder in your phone, on your calendar or on your fridge, whatever works for you! Being accountable to someone (like your spouse, parent, or friend) will help you stick to your schedule.
THINKING ONE APPROACH IS RIGHT FOR EVERY DOG
The Mistake: Assuming that one certain technique or tip that has worked for another dog will work exactly the same way for your dog.
How to Fix It: As with most things in life, different dogs (and people) respond differently to varying requests, situations, people, dogs, and life in general. I personally we have Siberian Huskies (only about 11 months apart in age) and they each have extremely unique personalities.
One of my dogs, Raegan, doesn’t find as much satisfaction from treats as she does from verbal praise, and petting. On the other hand, my Bodhi will do almost anything for a small piece of chicken! I’ve learned to cater my training to each of their needs.
Simply put, a video, tip, or technique that might work perfectly for one dog may not work as well for your own dog. So, be sure to try out different techniques and find out what your dog responds to best.
The Mistake: Treating bad or good behaviors with different responses each time they happen. Let’s be frank, being consistent in life is extremely complex.
Think about your pup’s behavior real quick…
Sometimes your dog barks and it doesn’t seem to bother you at all so you ignore it, and your pup stops. At other times (maybe you had a tough day at work) your dog barks and you raise your voice at her trying to get her to stop. When we are inconsistent with our dogs like this, it confuses them as to what we expect from them.
How to Fix It: Strive to be 100% consistent with your responses to your dog. Make it a habit that, for example, every time you come home your four-legged friend doesn’t get any attention until they sit. Instead of sometimes requesting this but other times letting them jump on you, attempt to be very firm in the behavior you desire from your pup.
This can be pretty difficult when you have multiple humans in your household, especially children. Setting ground rules with the humans in the house for how behaviors should be addressed is just as important as setting ground rules for the pup. You can even decide together on these “house rules” for training and put them on your fridge so everyone can be held accountable.
Here’s the bottom line: praise the good or correct the bad behaviors the same way every single time.
IMPATIENCE WITH YOUR DOG’S PROGRESSION
The Mistake: Expecting your dog to learn behaviors, difficult or seemingly “easy” ones quickly, perfectly, and instantaneously, then becoming frustrated when they don’t.
How to Fix It: When you learned to ride a bike, did you make it elegantly down the street after one attempt? No sir, buddy! Odds are you fell over and got frustrated, vowing you would never ride a bike again. After some help and correction, likely from a sibling, friend or parent, you slowly learned how to ride your bike.
Just like with riding a bike, your dog is NOT going to learn how to walk perfectly on a leash after one training session. Brand new, and difficult, behaviors will often take months of consistent practice to hone in and master.
Practicing patience with your pup will pay huge dividends in the long run. If you get angry with your dog as you train them, you’ll see the effectiveness of training sessions decline. So, stay patient and remember your pup is just like a little kid learning to ride a bike.
The Mistake: Using forceful, bullying, or dominance-style discipline methods to get a dog to behave.
How to Fix It: Although there is much debate in the dog training world about this topic, organizations like the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and other official organizations have cited the negative effects of dominance and force techniques in training dogs. Some negative effects include inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals.THINKING ONE APPROACH IS RIGHT FOR EVERY DOG Click To Tweet
At Alaska Dog Works, we believe that a science-based, positive-reinforcement dog training program is the most effective, long-term solution for training your pup. Positive reinforcement is a hands-off, reward-based training method. Yes, it takes lots of patience, practice, and persistence but it’s worth it in the long run and has proven to be effective in almost all situations.
INCORRECT TIMING WITH REWARDS/PRAISE
The Mistake: Praising or rewarding your dog too early or too late for successful requests. For example, waiting too long to praise once your dog is doing a “look at me”
How to Fix It: Helping your pup understand new behaviors is all about repetition and timing your praises correctly. This takes practice on your part!
Especially in the beginning, you want to quickly praise correct behavior while they are in the act. As soon as your dog diverts their attention from a treat on the ground while teaching “leave it”, you must reward instantly. Timing your praise will help your dog understand exactly what they are being rewarded for.
Practice makes perfect! If you need attention help be sure to check out our Ascent course. You can find out more here.
USING YOUR DOG’S NAME IN NEGATIVE CONTEXT
The Mistake: Yelling, screaming, or scolding your pup with their name. Also, using their name as a punishment.
How to Fix It: Simply put, NEVER use your dog’s name as a part of a punishment. Your dog should associate their name with only positivity. Instead of saying your dog’s name when they are doing something wrong, say “No”.
One way to create a positive association is to practice skills like “look at me” and “come” while using your dog’s name in a positive manner.
“Bodhi, come here”.
Once he gets to you, give him a treat and plenty of praise. With repetition, your pup will associate their name with positivity and be much more likely to respond and be attentive to their name.
REWARDING NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR
The Mistake: Giving your dog attention, aka a reward, for their negative behavior like barking or jumping. If your dog barks and you immediately say their name and give your attention, they perceive it as a positive thing.
How to Fix It: Although it can be difficult, you must ignore and or redirect your dog’s bad behavior. It’s important to remember that dogs associate our attention to them as a reward.
For example, when your dog barks at you, you want to ignore the behavior until it stops and then praise and reward. Another technique is to get them into an impromptu training session. As you redirect their attention, you can praise for good behavior, like performing a lay down.
Personally, we feel the redirect method is most effective.
NOT “PROOFING” A BEHAVIOR OR SKILL (new environments)
The Mistake: Thinking that if your dog knows how to stay inside without any distractions that they’ll replicate that good behavior outside with a dog running by.
How to Fix It: With any behavior you teach your dog, it’s vital to practice that skill in a variety of situations, distractions, and scenarios.
As you teach your dog a skill, start inside with zero distractions. Remember, you are in control of the environment, and that’s how it should be!
Once your pup has mastered that specific behavior while indoors, introduce some distractions (while still inside). Once they master that, take it outside and practice in a controlled environment. From there you progress upwards in difficulty.
Eventually, you can practice having your pup stay as a bicyclist passes by, for example. Remember, dogs need to learn incrementally and gradually, just like we humans do with anything.
BRIBING INSTEAD OF TRAINING
The Mistake: Using treats or praise as a bribe instead of a reward.
How to Fix It: This mistake is both common and difficult to recognize. The key to success in avoiding a dog that only reacts to bribes is to keep your dog guessing about treats.
As you progress with training your dog, you will want to gradually decrease the frequency of rewards given. Work to keep your dog guessing whether they will get a treat for a successful behavior or not.
Eventually, your dog should be able to cycle through all of their skills without needing to visually see the treat they’re working for.
One point on this… you should always use treats throughout your dog’s life, just less frequently in some cases. Would you like your boss to stop paying you for your work just because you’re good at it?
GETTING AHEAD OF YOURSELF, and your dog
The Mistake: Trying to move to difficult behaviors too quickly.
How to Fix It: Although It’s similar to the impatience mistake, this one is a bit more about trying to do advanced tricks or skills before you nail the basics. You need your pup to learn how to lay down before they can, for example, roll over.
Another note on this is to think about which behaviors really are worth your time and effort for your dog! Do you really want to spend hours teaching them to “play dead” if they are still jumping on every person they see?
Focus on the basics and progress from there.
YELLING AT YOUR DOG
The Mistake: Using a loud voice or getting angry at your pup when they are distracted or not responding to requests.
How to Fix It: Dogs are extremely skilled at reading our body language and tone of voice. Keeping your training sessions positive and enjoyable for your dog is really important. If they are scared when training, how can you expect them to want to perform the requests you ask of them?
Strive to keep an even temperament, easier said than done, and tone of voice whenever training your dog. Of course, there may be situations where danger is present and a stern and strong voice is necessary to get your dog’s attention, but that is much different than yelling or screaming at your dog in anger.
NOT BEING AWARE OF FEAR AND ANXIETY SIGNALS, tail tucking, ears pinned, etc.
The Mistake: Not recognizing when your dog shows signs of fear or anxiety during training sessions. These signs often include things like tucking their tail between their legs, pinning their ears back, and cowering away from you.
When a dog is fearful during training, it can often lead to aggression and keep your pup from learning.
How to Fix It: Practicing a positive-reinforcement based method of dog training is one of the best ways to ensure your dog doesn’t come to fear training sessions. For example, use gentle methods of leash training vs choke collars.
Oftentimes, even with positive reinforcement training, your dog might show signs of anxiety when learning new behaviors, especially in a new environment. It’s important to remember that each dog learns at a different pace and if signs of anxiety are being shown it may be a sign to step back and give your dog a small break.
I’ve found it best to take a break from training and play a nice 5-minute game of fetch when my dog starts to become anxious or overwhelmed during training sessions.
LEAVING FOOD WITHIN REACH
The Mistake: Leaving food within reach of your dog, when untrained, and expecting them to not get into it.
How to Fix It: As dog owners, we have the responsibility to control our dog’s environment, especially when they are still a puppy or being trained. In most situations, a dog chewing up a shoe, getting into the food they aren’t supposed to, or having an accident in the house is due to a lack of controlling their environment.
Dogs don’t innately know what food is okay or not okay for them to eat. If you leave things out, their curiosity and natural desire to eat will likely lead them to eat whatever they find.
Before you get a dog or do it now if you haven’t yet! be sure to puppy-proof your home. This includes taking food off of counters, making sure cabinets with food or cleaning supplies are closed, and in the beginning stages, being within eyesight of your dog at all times, try hooking them to you with a leash whenever in the home.
The Mistake: Repeating a verbal request more than once. For example, “Buddy sit, sit, sit, SIT”. The problem with this is that it conditions your dog to believe that not performing a skill on the first ask is okay.
How to Fix It: Only verbalize a request once, period. If your dog doesn’t perform the task that was asked, try to get them to perform the desired skill with a treat.
For example, if Buddy won’t sit when you ask, use a treat to “lure” him into a sit. Luring is all about using a treat to guide your dog to where you want them to be, whether it sits, lay down, stand, or come.
For more in-depth training using a lure, check out our Ascent Program we cover this topic in more depth. You can find out more here.
TOO LONG OF TRAINING SESSIONS
The Mistake: Not paying attention to signs that your dog’s attention is waning and letting training sessions go too long.
How to Fix It: Every dog and dog breed is different, so it’s important to monitor their attention span during training sessions. Typically, the younger your dog, the shorter their attention span will be, just like children.
If after 15 minutes of training, your dog starts to be non-responsive to requests, it might be time for a short break! Oftentimes, a quick 5-minute game of tug or fetch can help your dog refocus on the training session.
So, the earlier you are in your training program the shorter your sessions likely will need to be. As your pup gets more comfortable and used to training, you can lengthen sessions as you see fit for their personal needs.
OVER-RELIANCE ON TREATS
The Mistake: Becoming too reliant on treats and your dog creates a “dependence” on them to perform a command.
How to Fix It: Within the first year of training, treats will be very important in helping your dog understand the fundamentals of training. It can take an extended period of time using treats (make sure you have a high-value currency treat like beef liver) to help your dog internalize a skill.
As your dog starts to deeply understand and consistently perform a skill, it’s time to start phasing out treats and practicing intermittent rewarding. For example, during training sessions, you may start to only give treats for a well-performed “sit” every other time or every third time. This intermittence in treats helps your dog stay alert and even excited to perform each skill, it almost becomes more of a game for them, in a good way!
Keep in mind that when introducing a new environment to your dog, treats will often need to be reintroduced completely to help your dog focus. I’ve found that you want your dog to consistently be able to perform a skill for at least a few days in a row before you start phasing out treats.
Bottom line, keep your dog guessing as to when the treats will come.
BEING OVERLY EMOTIONAL
The Mistake: Letting frustration or anger spill over into your training sessions.
How to Fix It: Dogs are very keen at sensing our emotions and feelings. It’s important to maintain a calm demeanor as you train your pup. This doesn’t mean you can’t get excited when a request is successfully performed or act somewhat disappointed when your pup clearly disobeys you. In fact, these types of emotions can help your dog understand what you desire from them.
The problem is that when you become angry or frustrated with your dog, your communication line with your pup will almost instantly be broken. So, keep a level head, take a break if you need one, and use emotions to help communicate your desires to your pup!
BEING REACTIVE, NOT PROACTIVE
The Mistake: Only reacting to “negative” behaviors instead of being proactive about ensuring they don’t happen.
How to Fix It: Again, the responsibility to help your dog know what is right and wrong falls squarely on your shoulders as the pup’s owner. With that being said, you can be proactive in helping avoid potentially negative situations.
For example, if your dog has chewed up your sandals more than once, don’t you think you could be more proactive by either cleaning up your shoes or controlling where your pup is allowed to go? Being proactive with dog training is sensing when a bad behavior might occur and get rid of the trigger to a bad behavior before it can happen. This takes time, practice, and of course, your attention and energy.
This is especially true when teaching your dog to walk on a leash! If you anticipate your dog is about to pull, take action. You can put your dog into a sit, change directions, or at least get them to perform a “look at me” to recenter their attention on you, instead of what they are lunging towards.
In our Ascent Program, we cover this topic in more depth. You can find out more here.
The Mistake: Not being in charge of training sessions and letting your dog control the situation.
How to Fix It: Let’s be clear, I’m NOT talking about being the “alpha” or dominating your dog. Nope, not at all. What I’m talking about it showing confidence while training and giving your dog clear and concise directions.
Just like with young children, being “in control” doesn’t mean being dominant or violent, rather it’s about controlling their environment. You wouldn’t let your kid eat candy all day every day… is that an alpha move? No. It’s called being a parent.
Similar to children, your dog needs to look to you, literally and figuratively, for their directions and to know what behaviors are correct. As you show confidence in what you want from them (consistently) you will help them understand what it is you want. As this understanding grows, you’ll experience a deeper and stronger relationship with your pup.
At the end of the day, that’s what training is all about. Creating a stronger and healthier relationship with your pup. So, remember to celebrate the victories when training, and love your pup the entire way!
DOG TRAINING MISTAKES RECAP
To ensure your dog will learn new skills to pay the bills, be consistent, direct, and clear with your training sessions.
There are so many new skills and behaviors your dog is trying to learn, so remember to be patient and do everything in your power to help your pup be successful with training.
These 21 common dog training mistakes happen far too often, so let’s work on fixing them so our pups are happier, healthier, and better behaved.