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Common Dog Training Mistakes

Are you training your dog? The fact that you are training your pet at all means you're doing something right. Don't let minor setbacks get in the way. Though they may seem small, you may be surprised to learn that certain factors can slow down your dog's progress. 

Here are the most common mistakes people make during dog training. Are you guilty of any of these dog training mistakes?

Waiting Too Long to Start Training

Training should begin the moment your pet comes home with you, regardless of age. Don't wait until they get older and develop bad habits. In training, the goal is to shape your pet's behavior and teach them how to respond to specific phrases.

Dog training is not the same as behavior management. Young puppies might not be ready to learn advanced actions, but you should begin to work on house training and basic commands. Over time, you will forge a deeper bond with your dog. He will mature and grow accustomed to the routine of training sessions. Then, you can try fun things like dog tricks and advanced training, like agility or animal-assisted therapy. 

Not Training Enough

Training is not a one time thing. You will get the best results if you train your dog regularly, even once he has mastered an action or cue. Pick one thing to work on at a time and hold short, productive training sessions at least two to three times per week.

Find fun new things to teach your dog, but occasionally revisit the old basics. Your dog is never truly finished training. Ideally, you will always be training your dog, even as he ages. Ongoing training can help keep your dog's skills sharp. Also, training sessions are fun for your dog and a great way for the two of you to bond.

Sticking to one training source

No two dogs are the same, so reading just one book on dog training isn’t going to help. There are many successful dog training styles and programs out there, therefore you need to take advice from several sources and use all the information to develop your own training program.

Try out a few different things with your dog and see what works best. Combine different training styles to customize a plan that fits your pet and you. You might even want to try a few different training classes. Don't give up too fast, but also don't be afraid to change things up if something isn't working.

Inconsistency

Consistent responses are essential to dog training on every level. When you are inconsistent in training, you confuse your dog. You may also find yourself accidentally reinforcing undesired behaviours.

A few common examples of inconsistency are as follows-

Making a rule that your dog is not allowed on the couch - You soon find yourself making the occasional exception and letting him up there for one reason or another. If you turn around and scold him for being on the couch, he won't understand why it's allowed one moment and not the next.

Begging - Not giving your pet food when you’re eating will help prevent the habit of begging. Your pet might try it a few times at first, but consistently ignoring or saying "go to your place" or “no begging” will discourage begging. However, if someone gives him a bit of food, he will associate begging with a reward and he'll keep begging in the future.

Rewarding your dog when he "sort of" does something - If you are training your dog to lie down, you only reward him when his whole body is on the ground. However, if you give him a reward for "lie down" BEFORE his whole body touches the floor, you are being inconsistent. The next time you say "lie down," he may become confused and give you the incomplete version again.

Impatience

Dog training takes time, and each dog has a different learning pace. Try not to get frustrated because your pet isn't catching on to something as quickly as you hoped. This will only make things worse because your dog will likely become stressed or frustrated.

If your pet is grappling to learn something, consider whether or not this is a good time to train. Has the session gone on for too long? Remember to keep the training sessions short  for about 10 to 15 minutes and end on a positive note. You may even try breaking down the behavior into smaller parts and train each one separately. 

An example of impatience is you asking your pet to sit and s/he doesn't. So, you keep saying the word "sit" and they finally sit after 3 or 5 times of saying sit. Then, you reward them with a treat. Basically, you are teaching your pet that the command was merely a suggestion and they can wait to sit until you say it 5 times. Instead, consistently say the command once and wait for the result. If your dog does not comply the first time, you should wait several seconds and start from the beginning (getting his attention first).

Harsh Discipline

Using punishment in dog training is not very effective. In general, dogs are more likely to perform for rewards via positive dog training. Harsh discipline involves actions such as yelling, hitting, alpha rolls, staring down, grabbing the scruff of the neck and leash jerking. These actions can have consequences such as:

  • Provoke an aggressive reaction from your dog, putting you or other people in danger. 
  • Cause your dog to become fearful.
  • May result in physical harm to your dog.

If you think harsh discipline is necessary so you can "assert dominance" over your dog, then you are going about this all wrong. The training process should be a fun way to bond with your dog, not a bullying session.

Getting the Timing Wrong

Your dog won't know he has done something right unless you tell him in a way he can understand. Here's where positive reinforcement and timing comes in. Many trainers suggest using a clicker or a short word (like "yes") to mark desired behaviours. Then, immediately follow up with a reward to be sure it's associated with the clicker or word. Make sure this all happens within a second or two. 

If the reward comes a few seconds too late, your dog may associate the award with another action. Positive reinforcement is especially important during early training when you are trying to get your dog to connect actions to cue words. 

For instance, if your dog is peeing in the house and you don't catch him until he is done, then there is nothing you can do. Any punishment after the act will be associated with something else and not the action of peeing in the house. Your dog may learn to be afraid when there is pee on the floor, but he won't actually learn not to perform the action unless you catch him in the act.

Reinforcing the Wrong Behaviour

A common recurring mistake made in dog training is to accidentally reinforce undesired behaviours. You may not even be aware of it. A mild example includes letting your pet in the house right away when he barks, or even giving him a stern talking-to when he misbehaves.

Dogs are social creatures who seek our attention. Giving attention of any kind can tell your dog that his current behaviour is good and should continue. To many dogs, even negative attention is better than no attention. If your dog is doing something unwanted, like jumping up on you, whining or begging, the best thing you can do is to either deny attention or simply ignore until the behaviour stops.

Calling Your Dog to You for Something Unpleasant

You wouldn’t want to go to a person if you knew you were going to get in trouble, be yelled at, or have some other bad things happen and neither would your pet. Every time you call your pet to you in order to do something unpleasant, you are essentially punishing him for returning to you. Eventually, it will discourage your dog from coming when called. 

Having a strong recall is one of the most important things you can teach your dog. Don't ruin it with this mistake.

If you have to do something your dog won't like, such as a bath or a nail trim, go and get him instead of calling him. If you are angry about something, calm yourself down before issuing any kind of command/cue to your dog. Remember - your pet will learn nothing from being punished or yelled at once the undesirable behaviour has already occurred.

Failing to Proof Behaviors

Proofing a behavior means to practice a command in different settings with various distractions. We tend to forget about this essential part of the dog training process. Once your dog has learned to ‘sit’ on command in your living room, all s/he knows is that sit means "put my bottom on the ground in the living room." When you are at the park and other dogs are around, the word ‘sit’ might mean little to nothing to them if not practiced in different settings. 

Some dogs are better at generalizing than others. Most take training very literally. When you start training an action, begin in a quiet, controlled setting. Then, move to different locations with each session, gradually increasing the number of distractions. This will really help fine-tune your dog's reactions to your cues.

Happy training!

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