Are You Making These 10 Training Mistakes?

Ten common mistakes and how to avoid them

You would think that after all this time in history, one might think that dog training would become easier or even almost second nature to humans. However humans have a tendency to fall into bad habits themselves and can ruin a relationship between the dog and the owner. usually small mistakes do not have much on a resilient dog, however more serious mistakes can cause many years of stress and heartache, not to mention frustration. This article is therefore aimed at pointing out the top 10 mistakes that dog owners make, which could be improved upon with some helpful tips. This points are strictly to do with training technique and do not take into account socialization or exercise.


1. You are not training your dog enough

Most of us are teaching basic behaviours and routines to our dogs. However when the relationship stabilizes, we quite often allow our dogs to go on auto-pilot mode. Consequently, response times for important key behaviours can get worse. Quite often a dog won’t even respond. This degradation is a result of a lack of practice; if you play tennis only once a year, you’re going to be terrible at it, right?

So instead of “training and forgetting,” keep your dog’s develped behaviours sharp by working them now and then randomly and regularly, several times a day. Try different commands ike “Sit” for dinner,  “down” at the dog park, “wait” at doors; be unpredictable and spontaneous. Then, every month, teach a new additional behaviour, a trick will help to keep your pet’s mind and motivation up. The larger your pet’s skill set of behaviours, the smarter he/she gets, and the more important you become.


2.You are repeating commands too often

This is a common issue, especially among new owners with challenging puppys. The dog owner has taught a behaviour such as “sit” however, due to distractions, confusion, or bad technique on the dog’s part, the pet doesn’t  respond. The dog owner then asks repeatedly until and after the sixth or seventh attempt the dog finally halfheartedly sits down. This stalling becomes a learned behaviour, and one that is very hard to break.

This often happends with behaviours that have not been fully proofed, or with a that dog doesn’t particularly like to perform. For instance, headstrong dogs, hate to lie down, because it is an admission of deference. Timid dogs also try to resist lying down, a position they might feel too unsafe.

When we teach “sit” I do so as if it’s a fun trick; we treat the reward at first, praise, then work it into other locations, reducing the treat rewards along the way while increasing praise. We make sitting, coming, or lying down when called the greatest things to do.

Once you are happy and sure a dog knows a particular behaviour, ask only once! If the dog ignores you, it is either because you haven’t taught it properly, or the puppy is distracted or simply rebellious. Take your dog to a quiet spot and ask again; if he/she still doesn’t respond, go back to basics and re-teach, and avoid the mistake of asking too many times, or of making the behaviour appear to be dreary or unbeneficial. If you suspect your puppy is simply blowing you off, do not be afraid to show your disappointment. Do this by saying in a convincing tone: “No; sit.”

Another tip; after asking once without response, try waiting a moment, then while looking your dog square in the eye and moving in a bit closer. Mostly this will be enough to get your dog to listen. Then you should praise!


3. Your training sessions run too short or too long

Trying to teach new behaviours to a dog is a process of evolution, not revolution. The secret here is in knowing that it is usually going to take multiple sessions to perfect a new behaviour.

The time you spend on a training session should reflect some positive results. As soon as you attain some obvious level of success, you should reward and then quit. Do not carry on and on, as you will likely bore your dog, and actually force him/her to be conditioned to become disinterested in the new behaviour. Also, don’t end a session until there is some evidence of success, even if it is a moment of focus or an attempt by your dog to try to perform. Remember that ten one-minute sessions in a day will always trump one ten-minute session.


4. Your dog’s obedience behaviours are not generalized to varying conditions

If you teach Fluffy to “sit” in the quiet of your family room, that’s the only place she will reliably sit. It’s a mistake that many owners make; failing to generalize the new behaviour in different areas with varying conditions and levels of distraction will ensure spotty obedience at best.

To generalize a behaviour, first teach it at home with no distractions. Then, gradually increase distractions: turn the television on or have another person sit nearby. Once that’s perfected, move out into the yard. Then add another person or dog. Gradually move on to busier environments until Fluffy will perform consistently, even on the corner of a busy city street. Only then will the behaviour be “proofed.” This generalizing is especially vital when teaching the recall command, a behaviour that might one day save your dog’s life.


5. You rely too much on treats and not enough on praise, esteem, and celebrity

Treats are a great way to initiate a behaviour or to reinforce that behaviour intermittently later on. But liberal use of treats can often work against you. There can develop in the dog’s mind such a fixation on food that the desired behaviour itself becomes compromised and focus on the owner diffused. Think of it: you’ll rarely see hunting, agility, Frisbee, or law enforcement dogs being offered food rewards during training or job performance. Why? Because it would break focus and interfere with actual performance. Instead, other muses are found, including praise and, perhaps, brief play with a favourite toy. Most of all, reward for these dogs comes from the joy of the job itself.

By all means, initiate new behaviours with treats. But once Fido learns the behaviour, replace treats with praise, play, toy interludes, or whatever else he likes. Remember that unpredictable treat rewards work to sharpen a behaviour, while frequent, expected rewards slow performance and focus. Also, understand that you are a reward as well; you responding happily to something your dog has done will work better than a treat, and have the added effect of upping your “celebrity quotient.”


6. You use too much emotion

Excessive emotion can put the brakes on Fluffy’s ability to learn. Train with force, anger, or irritation and you’ll intimidate her and turn training sessions into inquisitions. Likewise, train with hyperbolic energy, piercing squeals of delight, and over-the-top displays of forced elation, and you will stoke her energy levels far beyond what is needed to focus and learn.

I tell students to adopt a sense of “calm indifference”—a demeanor suggesting competence, and a sense of easy authority. A laid-back, loving, mentoring kind of energy that calms a dog, and fills it with confidence. If your dog goofs up, instead of flying off the handle, back off, and try again. Likewise, if she gets something right, instead of erupting with shrill pomp, just calmly praise her, smile, then move on. She will gradually imprint on this relaxed attitude and reflect it.


7. You are reactive, not proactive

Dog training is a lot like the beautiful martial art of Tai Chi, with equal parts physical and philosophical. It takes timing, technique, and stamina, as well as a devotion to understanding the canine mind. It is not a skill that can be learned by watching one half-hour television show or from reading a few books. It takes time.

As a result, many dog owners have not yet mastered the timing and insight needed to train as capably as they might like. Like someone playing chess for the first time, they react to their opponent’s moves instead of planning their own.

When you simply react to Fido’s misbehaviours, you lose the opportunity to teach. Instead, practice your technique; anticipate his reactions ahead of time, becoming more proactive in the process. For example, if trying to quell a barking issue, instead of waiting for the barks to start, catch Fido right before his brain says “bark,” and distract it into some other, more acceptable, behaviour. Know that whatever stimulus is causing the barking needs to be either eliminated or redefined as a “good thing” in the dog’s head. This takes experience and a proactive role on your part.


8. You are inconsistent

Dogs need to feel that their mentors and providers are consistent in behaviour and in rule setting. If you vary training technique too much, especially in the beginning, you’ll diminish your dog’s ability to learn. For instance, if one day you stay patient with a stubborn dog, but the next day lose your cool, she won’t be able to predict how you’ll react at any given moment. This breaks confidence and trust. Instead, stick to a consistent methodology and be unswerving regarding what is suitable behaviour. For instance, if Fluffy isn’t allowed on the bed, but you let it happen two times out of ten, that’s inconsistent. Set rules and stick to them.


9. You lack confidence

Loss of confidence is a weakness, and I think that, as natural predators, dogs can sense it instinctively. It’s why frightened people get bitten more often than calmer individuals.

Show a lack of confidence and Fido will exploit it. That’s not a condemnation of your pet; it’s just a dog’s nature. To avoid this, simply work him more and attain some training successes. Attending a class with him can work wonders to increase your confidence, as can you spending time with other dogs. Try trading dogs with a friend every so often for the different experience. Take your dog into different venues, and push yourself and your dog to learn more. Practice!


10. You don’t train to the individual dog

Every dog has a distinct personality and behavioural profile. Though breed helps determine this, the individual dog’s character must be understood before training can succeed. As a trainer, you must determine what methods will work best with your dog.

For example, most retrievers are very sociable and can handle lots of people or dogs around them. But try this with a Chow Chow or Shiba Inu, and you may be in for a surprise. Likewise, a dog with a high food drive will respond to treats, while a dog with a low food drive may require a different muse. A shy dog will fare poorly with a robust training technique, whereas a swashbuckling dog might not even hear the gentle appeals coming from a trainer with a less hardy style. Think timid Toy Poodle versus rowdy Rottweiler.

If you have a shy dog, plan on showing a saint’s patience. Train peacefully, with little distractions at first. Train to the dog’s limitations, but plan to gradually sneak in social situations to desensitize and build confidence. If your dog is a big, bulldozing lummox, be just as big, just as hearty. Know that this dog can be challenged more than that timid dog. And know that, because of its size and strength, you simply must achieve control over it, especially in social situations. For dogs in between, reason out a training strategy based upon personality, size, age, energy, breed, and history.

If you stick to these basic guidelines, you’ll slowly redefine yourself as the resident trainer, and not just your dog’s concierge. Practice, succeed, be confident, and have fun with your protégé!

Author: Steve Duno


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