The Top 5 Most Important Dog Training Mistakes to Avoid
People always ask me how I, as a professional dog trainer, make dog training look so easy and how can they can improve their techniques?
I came up with what I believe to be the 5 most important reasons people have difficulty training their dog to work effectively for them.
These are the 5 Most Important Dog Training Mistakes to Avoid, in what I believe to be the most important order.
#5 Lack of Practice or Effort
I have said it before (sometimes I feel like I talk about the same things) but I say it again because it is soooo important!
Practice is crucial! Your dog WILL NOT learn at obedience class once a week. I use to tell all my dog obedience students this on the first night of class, and YES most were appalled that I would admit it 😉
My dogs will drop on a hand signal or a verbal command (if they can hear it) at more than 50 yards away, even on a crowded beach! The reason my dogs are so impressive and attentive is not because I am a dog trainer…it is because I practice and I teach them daily.
These daily lessons get them use to listening to me and they listen in times of stress simply by default. That is…they are soooo use to doing it at home, that when I add distraction and they hear my voice it is their default to just do what I say, when I say it!
But, if they are not use to listening to me daily; if they don’t have 95% obedience around the house and the yard they will never listen in a crowd of dogs and people!
So simply put, practice, practice, practice!! Get out there and work on your obedience and having fun together, then add more advanced obedience to your curriculum as you are more and more successful! Dog training takes actually activity and effort!!
#4 Poor Timing
Timing is essential in dog training! Poor timing means you are rewarding the wrong behavior. If I click and treat my dog the instant BEFORE or AFTER he sits, he does not understand that SIT is what I want. He thinks that I want the behavior he is performing the moment the clicker goes off!
Practice your timing on your husband, or human kids and see if you have good timing and they understand what you want! If the humans in your life are having trouble understanding what you want, chances are your canine is set up for failure! For help check out our previous blog, A Clever Exercise to Try Tonight.
Incorrect timing just sends the wrong message and prolongs your dog’s ability to learn accurately. Don’t get me wrong, even I click too early or too late sometimes; it is inevitable! But you must understand and do your very best to click at the right moment so that your dog can excel!
#3 Rewarding the Wrong Behavior
Along those lines, are you rewarding the wrong behavior? Does it feel like your dog is training YOU?
Does your dog demand for you to feed him, throw his ball, or do anything else to fulfill his needs?
If you not only allow him to bark at you and then you do what he wants you are telling him that is exactly what you want! It is as if you are saying PLEASE bark in my face when you want something.
Not only does poor timing affect your ultimate dog training goals, but simply inadvertently giving in to your dog sends a very specific message!
Do you pet your dog when he paws at you, nudges you, or puts his face in your lap? If you do, you are encouraging the behavior!
When you see a negative behavior rear its ugly head in your home, ask yourself “What does my dog get out of this behavior?” and then try and change the reward he is getting, whether you are giving it to him or he is rewarding himself!
How often does a behavior bother you at one time but not at another?
Is it a problem when your dog jumps on you ALL of the time, or do you allow it occasionally; say when you come home and he has missed you or when you are not dressed up?
Is your whole family on board with keeping your dog off of the furniture, or does one member of the family let the dog in the bed or on the couch when you are gone?
Do you make your dog listen to your commands sometimes but not others? Sometimes he sits, sometimes he doesn’t and sometimes he gets in trouble for not listening but not all the time!
If you allow some behaviors some of the time, if some of your dog’s family members allow some naughty behaviors with them, and if you don’t reinforce obedience commands the FIRST time you give them; you are setting your dog up for horrible failure!
Your dog does not know when you are dressed up; when he can and can’t jump on you!
Your dog has difficulty understanding I can get in the bed or on the sofa when “dad” is gone.
And, your dog should know with assuredly when he is giving ONE command you are serious about his compliance ALWAYS.
This being said DO NOT give a command you cannot reinforce! If your dog isn’t likely to come when called or sit at 20 yards away, off leash…don’t tell him to! By telling him to do something and him choosing to ignore you, you are ruining his obedience. Put him on a leash and work on certain scenarios while he is under your direct control!
#1 He is Intimidated and Scared by the Threat of Physical Pain and Punishment
Although most people think that physical correction and punishment solidify behavior and increase their likelihood of not happening again studies show that this is not the case.
Not only is punishment not effective for learning, because it comes AFTER the fact it is also not conducive to learning!
Fear inhibits learning. What is your biggest fear? Now imagine yourself; locked in a coffin, covered in spiders, or falling off of a skyscraper…could you LEARN something new while dealing with your fear? Chances are your ability to learn a new skill would be seriously affected. During this stress could you listen to and comply to given instructions even if you knew how to do it? I probably couldn’t!
Your dog is probably terrified when he incurs a beating, and compulsion and even if it is during or after he has jumped on you, chances are he doesn’t understand the intricacies of why you just lost your temper. In his mind, he is simply excited to see you and wants to be closer to you!
It is not popular, but thankfully a recent reader admitted to the occasional hitting, and yelling at her dog. She also admitted that although she hit him, he still never seemed to learn. She wanted to learn a new way to interact and train her dog.
I applaud her for admitting to something that most of us would never admit to, even if it is true sometimes.
So, I was able to hopefully shed some light on why this happens. Number one, we have already discussed: Punishment is not successful at teaching behavior or the lack thereof. And, fear reduces the ability to learn and listen.
The other aspect of physical manipulation, punishment and pain is that under these conditions animals are not willing to TRY to learn for fear of failure and ultimate pain and punishment.
It may not make sense to you, but I implore you to put yourself in your dog’s paws.
You have a boss that speaks another language and you don’t understand your job requirements. Every time you make a mistake, you get hit in the face. Now add a little inconsistency, sometimes you get hit in the face after a behavior and sometimes you don’t. He also yells at you A LOT. So when he tries to teach you something new and starts yelling…do you try a number of likely behaviors or do you just shut down in fear and brace for the inevitable beating?
I shut down the minute someone yells at me. The quickest way to get me to be quiet, shrink into myself, and focus on anything BUT you, is to yell at me. I HATE yelling and temper tantrums (from humans) I expect them to some degree from dogs!
Your dog needs to be comfortable to show you a variety of behaviors and know with assuredly that there will be no pain or terror if he chooses the wrong path. This confidence allows your dog to feel safe with you and know that there will be no horrifying experiences when working with you. Probably the worst that will happen is that you will take his toys and treats away for a while, or deny him access to you (his favorite person) or you will better control his behavior using a leash the next time.
Dogs using positive reinforcement are not only willing but they are excited to show a gamut of diverse behaviors when they are trying to learn something new. There is NO FEAR of failure. It is much easier to train a dog that is willing and excited to learn than to train a dog that is afraid of making a mistake.
But, the minute a true cross word, angry face, cross eye, or actual hitting/kicking or the like enters the equation their willingness to learn declines and you see signs of fear and sadness.
This is why it is so important that you be in a good mood, have had a good day, know what behavior you are working on and work together as a team to be successful. As soon as you start getting frustrated, recognize your limits and stop training before things escalate past a point of no return. Always end training on a good note!
As humans say, “We can forgive but we can never forget”. Your dog feels the same, except he is so much more likely to forgive wholeheartedly but when you get mad and start to act the same way you did in the past when you were mad, he can’t ever forget.
First thing to do is put your hands down and vow never to use them again.
Second is to figure out WHY something is making you so mad you revert to violence
Third is to figure out how to change that scenario by teaching your dog using positive reinforcement what you want and expect from him.
You may have to brush up on your clicker training; and I will yet again plug Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes!
Dog psychology, operant conditioning, and positive reinforcement goes a lot farther at building your relationship and trust than yelling, screaming, hitting, kicking and beating ever will!
I always go back to when I worked with big cats. If I hit, kicked, corrected with a painful collar when working with these large cats…I would probably either be dead or missing some digits and or body parts! Because I use my mind and not my brawn while I worked with them, we practiced, we had good timing, we tried desperately not to reward the wrong behaviors, and we were consistent with ourselves and anyone else who would be allowed into our inner sanctum.
If you are a reformed punishment, or physical type trainer and you are looking for success….you must go back to square one and build your relationship together. Start over and teach him to trust you. YOU are in control of your emotions and you know when you are reaching a point that you need to stop if you get frustrated. But hopefully as you change your style and you dog recognizes how your relationship has changed he will be more willing to learn and make mistakes and build a strong relationship together!
Make an effort to avoid all of the intricacies of the list I have just made. Study them, then click on the links provided that will give you more intricate information about the information in the subheadings.
Knowledge is power! If you can already admit you might have started off on the wrong paw, you are already placing yourself on the road to recovery and building a lasting relationship with your dog and awesome obedience!!