When a desired behavior is not displayed, a dog owner may grow frustrated and blame the dog. However, it is highly likely that the dog owners are at least partially to blame. They commit major errors in training their dogs which eventually results to undesirable behaviors like biting, refusal to train, and stubbornness. Dogs are not humans and the common folly that dog owners commit is they expect their pets to communicate in the same way that humans do, not in terms of language but in terms of actions.
Here, we will explore, in each section, the common dog training mistakes that owners commit and the different ways to avoid them. Understanding common mistakes can be a key in achieving dog training success.
Mistake #1: Relying Solely on Training Time
It is unwise to conclude that once a behavior was taught, the training should stop and you should move on to the next behavior or trick. Dogs are not entirely like humans, who continue to remember what is right and what is wrong.
Many people expect their dogs to go on autopilot once the relationship of the skill and reward was stabilized or formed, only to see the dog backslide later on. Once this happens, a dog may have delayed responses to your command or worse, he will not even respond positively.
The reason behind this is lack of consistent practice. Similarly, you will not remain good at any skill if you only do it every so often. Consistency is the key. A mandatory exercise is apt to keep a dog’s positive behavior intact. Occasionally practicing a behavioral skill with your dog will provide the needed refresher to keep your dog behaving the way you desire.
Additionally, you will need to issue the command or give your dog practice time in both random and at regular intervals throughout every day, not merely during the planned training time. This should keep him sharp and responsive all the time and while at it, you can simultaneously train him new skills.
Mistake #2: Depending Too Heavily on Lures and Treats
It is a neat trick – getting a dog to behave because there is an instant reward.
For example, many dog owners who teach their dog to go lie down on his stomach, or the “down” command, use a treat while the dog is sitting. The trainer would lower the treat to the ground, allowing the dog to sniff. Once his nose is on the floor, a clicking sound, or a verbal acknowledgement like “yes” or good boy” is introduced, which serves as a verbal marker.
After which, the treat is fed to the dog. If the dog goes up, the trainer will say something like “No” or maybe shake his head for disapproval. The luring process restarts once the dog goes down again.
The problem with this technique comes when owners do not gradually remove the treat or the lure during the training process. This causes both the owner and the dog to rely on the presence of the treat and lure, which makes the behavior unrepeatable without it. This defeats the purpose of training because you want your dog to follow your command without the need for a stimulus.
To remove the lure gradually, use it until the time the dog lies down easily. Once this quickness is a repetitive behavior and after a dozen or so repetitions, you can begin to disengage the lure. To do this, stand in front of your dog, with a visible treat on one hand, and say the command—“down” in this case. If the dog complies, give him the treat. If he does not, you need to go back to luring. You need to keep repeating this until he follows your order without the treat.
Do not forget that praises, building esteem, and making the dog feel like a celebrity can go a long way in training. Treats will usually shift your dog’s focus and interfere with the performance whereas praise will not. Once a desired behavior is displayed consistently, replace the treats with praises and adoration and be consistent about it.
Mistake #3: Lacking the Conviction to Train Positively
When dog training does not seem to work quickly, the owner may be inclined to give up, concluding that the dog is hopeless. Or the owner may resort to a negative means of training, such as jerking the dog’s collar or worse, beating him.
The most effective way to train a dog is to build trust. This essentially allows him to try out the things you want him to do without the fear of getting hurt. He knows that he will be rewarded if he is right, and he does not fear getting hurt if he is wrong.
Lack of conviction or dedication to building trust can ultimately result in a dog becoming aggressive or disengaged. The future of an aggressive dog becomes questionable as he may have to be put down. If the dog becomes completely unwilling to participate in the training exercises, then the training borders on impossible.
Many owners turn their training technique into coercion, a process by which they mix positive and negative training styles. They do this by punishing a dog who fails to perform on cue, while rewarding the dog who performs well on the same cue. This technique is confusing to a dog.
The cue is somewhat poisoned because the dog associates something negative with it. The cue therefore becomes ambiguous, unclear, and the dog will no longer make a sound judgment whether the cue will bring good things or punishment.
Positive training, coupled with your patience and commitment, is the best training experience as it will ensure a stress-free and intimidation-free relationship between you and your dog. This is a training challenge that is more about you as the owner that it is about the dog. If a cue does not seem to work, you can always find another that will. Choose wisely.
Mistake #4 Employing Too Much Emotion when Training
Too much emotion stunts a dog’s abilities. If you show your anger, frustration or disappointment, the dog will sense this and might refuse to cooperate. If you are likely to turn the training into a grilling session, the dog will associate every training session with punishment.
In the same manner, if you are too happy when the training shows good results, you may be stoking your dog’s energy levels far beyond what is necessary to keep him motivated to learn. Once this excitement is gone, he will no longer get the same reactions from you and this will affect his performance.
To get this corrected, you need to project an air of calmness. You have to show your dog, through your actions and demeanor, that you are the leader of the pack, the alpha. You need to convey that you are competent, laid back, and that you have a sense of authority. Animals, dogs included, are highly sensitive to the moods of people. They can pick up on your agitation, anxiety, or nervousness. You need to be in control of your emotions so as to not distract your dog or send mixed signals.
If you convey confidence and calmness, the dog will reflect this attitude and the behavior will be imprinted. If the dog does not do what you want, just relax and repeat the process. If he does, do not squeal with delight. Just keep calm and praise the dog. Smile at the dog, rub his head and move on. Slow and steady is the best for longterm results.
Mistake #5 Lacking the Consistency and Confidence to Train
Any endeavor must be done consistently to succeed. Masters should make their dog feel that they are consistent in any type of setting or circumstance. For a dog to learn, there must be a consistency of timing. Your dog needs there to be regularity for practice sessions. Many dog owners make the mistake of procrastination, or setting the training schedule aside in favor of something else.
The best time to train your dog is the moment both of you are awake. A good example is when you take the dog out to relieve himself. In this situation, it makes sense that you teach him how to wait at the door. In addition, you must stick to a routine. Although dogs cannot tell the time, routine schedule adherence creates a biological time clock in them. It also sets their expectations and helps them prepare themselves for the training.
Another important aspect of consistency is your training strategy. If you keep on changing your approach, then the dog will get confused. If you show patience, keep being patient. The dog will notice if you change this behavior to being irritable. This is important so the dog can assess your predictability.
A dog who knows how you will react will perform better because your behavior, along with your command and expected result, is imprinted in your dog’s memory. Your consistent behavior allows the dog to draw the line between desired and undesired behaviors. Along with your consistency, your confidence is a key factor in the success of dog training. Dogs are animals who live in packs, like wolves. They need leadership to submit. In the absence of a confident leader, they will dominate. Dogs are natural predators and have the instinct to sense weakness or fear. This is why it is often found that frightened people are bitten more often that individuals who have strong characters.
Your dog will exploit your lack of confidence because it is their natural born tendency. This is what they do when their leaders begin to deteriorate and show weakness. If you tend to be skittish, stretch yourself by spending time with other dogs to boost your confidence.
Mistake #6 Treating All Types of Dogs the Same Way
Each breed of dog has a temperament. Within breeds, each animal has its own personality. It is your responsibility to study and observe them accordingly. A technique that works for an aggressive dog will not necessarily work for a passive breed. Without this assessment and knowledge, your dog training will not succeed.
For example, retrievers are, in general, very sociable. This dog breed will behave really well with a lot of people and other dogs. They are best suited to be trained in public parks or be trained simultaneously with other dogs.
Another trait to consider is their drive for food. Some dogs have a strong and positive response rate to food so using treats is highly effective during training.
If a dog tends to be shy, he will not perform well in extremely rigorous training situations.
Now it is time to interpret the results. If the dog scored a perfect A, then you have a dog who is bright and dominant. Dogs like this are interactive and will require heavy concentration from you. These dogs require consistently high intensity training and attention. This type of personality will require you to gently, but assertively insist that you are the master.
If the dogs scored a perfect B, you have a dog who is easy-going and content. Dogs like this are not overly motivated when it comes to training. They would rather be left doing what they want if they have a choice. This type of personality will require you to commit to consistent training and frequent refresher “courses” in acceptable behavior.
If the dog scored C in all tests, you have a dog who has a weak self-esteem. Dogs like this feel threatened and will need constant care. Your best approach for dogs like this is to prioritize esteem-building activities. You need to build trust and confidence before moving to rigorous training exercises.
Mistake #7: Poor Timing During Training
Many dog experts will tell you that your reflexes must be quick enough to react appropriately to what your dog does. According to this theory, the dog will only understand the relationship between his action and consequence if the consequence happens almost immediately after the behavior.
The most common accepted timeframe is within five seconds. However, this is far too long. If at all possible, you must respond within one second. This period or timing is very crucial to dog training and discipline. By the time you five seconds have passed, your dog may have already done another action. This will create a disconnect between the action that it will relate to the consequence.
Dogs are not like children with whom you can communicate and reason even if several hours have passed. The best way to achieve perfect timing, specifically in positive behavior training, is to use a clicker/sound maker, which you should have with you all the time.
For every good behavior displayed, press the clicker so the dog will recognize the sound. In the absence of a clicker, use positive words like “yes” or “good boy” to reward the experience. You can then give the treat or pat the dog.
Remember, poor timing slows down learning and confuses the dog. It will eventually lead to frustration for both of you and derail you from your training goals.
Mistake #8: Refusing to Crate Train
By nature, dogs are den dwellers. They naturally look for small, dark areas where they can feel safe. Without proper crate training, a dog may not be house trained at all. Although some dogs hate crates, do not make the assumption that it is a conscious choice that they made.
Somewhere out there, a previous owner may have made bad choices which traumatized the dog. If used properly, crate training can be a very effective tool for further training. Dog crates are available in many sizes and styles. The most common are the open-wire types made of plastic with a metal tray at the bottom. When choosing a crate, make sure the dog can stand up and turn around.
You need to put this into consideration when buying a crate for a puppy. It is better to buy a crate in anticipation of his future height because by the time he matures, introducing him to a new crate may be a problem.
The rule of thumb is to crate train a dog for no longer than one hour per day for every month of age, the maximum being 10 hours. Accordingly, it is advisable to accompany each session with aerobic exercises before and after crate training. Do not leave your dog in the crate for long periods if he is not yet accustomed to it. Chances are he will panic and destroy it or worse, hurt himself.
Crating is highly recommended as a workday routine that will last until the dog is past adolescence. If your dog has an aggressive attitude displayed by chewing and other destructive behavior, you must crate train him for at least 18 months.
During the transition, the dog must not be left alone in the house for long hours. An aggressive and curious adolescent dog will leave your home in shambles if left alone and free to roam.
Mistake #9 Employing Punishment to Train
A dog will eventually realize if he has behaviors that will result to positive outcomes. As a result, the dog will repeat the behavior on subsequent occasions. While positive reinforcement is the most hailed method of training, the result can take longer than negative or averse-based training.
This is why many dog owners use negative punishment to train dogs like the use of aversive collars. It brings desirable results faster than positive reinforcement technique. What you may not realize is that aversion-training methods that hurt the dog can result in bad implications later on. Time and time again, it has been shown that any method of training that uses punishment will have risks such as:
Increased fear and anxiety, Decreased learning ability, Increased aggressiveness, Confusion and Physical injury
By using aversion-based training method such as punishment, a dog may develop aggression. A dog will learn to respond to a perceived threat and will soon realize that aggression is an effective behavior to remove the threat. If you hurt a dog who displays aggression, you are inducing fear and anxiety, both of which do not remove the underlying cause of aggression.
The dog will only feel dominated; it will not make the dog less worried about the very thing that caused his aggression because the root cause is still there.
Pinning the dog to the ground or blasting him with water will only provide a temporary fix to his aggression. Many dog owners commit to this quick-fix mistake. The dog will still see the threat that caused his aggression and if this threat is not eliminated, the aggressive behavior will resurface one day.
If your dog is strong-willed and positive training has been ineffective in spite of repeated efforts and consistency, mild aversion techniques can be employed. It is vital, however, to be measured and safe in your use of such methods so you do not cause additional problems.
Mistake #10 You Believe in Dog Myths instead of Facts
The lack of firm knowledge about dogs and their behavior puts you in a position where you will believe myths that have no scientific basis.
Below are the most common myths that dog owners believe and the reality behind them.
MYTH: A dog who can’t be trained is either stubborn or stupid.
REALITY: Although canine behavior is comparable to human, the truth is they all learn, albeit some will learn faster and some will take longer. Some dogs require more training and guidance. When a dog does not seem to learn fast enough, often it is the trainer that is doing something wrong. It is very likely that the task the dog is asked to perform is unclear. Earlier, we have mentioned that dogs get confused, too. The source of confusion is the trainer and should be analyzed to determine the problem.
MYTH: The minimum age to train a dog is 6 months.
REALITY: This myth came from one school of thought where trainers use aversion-based methods. Obviously, you cannot kick a puppy or use an electric shock collar on him at a very tender age. Today, many experts indicate that you can train puppies as soon as they begin to relate toward their surroundings. In fact, the sooner you start with the training, the higher your chances are for succeeding.
MYTH: Positive reinforcement will only work with neutral or passive dogs but not on aggressive ones.
REALITY: Positive reinforcement works with all types of temperament. It is not a question of what type of dog it is but a question of how effective the training method was used. If you really think about it, large mammals like the killer whales and dolphins can be trained with nothing more than the positive reinforcement approach. So why is there a reason that you cannot do the same with a dog?
Furthermore, we have mentioned earlier that aversion-based training can lead to serious implications like aggression and fear. Positive relationships and pleasant experiences are the two things that will make a dog of any temperament obedient.
There is nothing more rewarding than having a dog who is well-behaved, calm and obedient. The gateway for you to have a dog like this is you, the trainer or owner. Your actions shape the dog for what he is. Your consistency and determination will provide the dog a meaningful life and establish a meaningful relationship between the two of you. A dog is in no position to control himself or his fate. The owner is completely accountable for what the young puppy will become.
An appropriate assessment of a dog’s training needs is where any trainer or dog owner should start. Armed with this knowledge, you will understand the underlying causes of your dog’s behavior and, therefore, use the right approach. Failure to do so can be at the detriment of the dog and shorten his life. Many dogs have been put down because they were misunderstood. Many owners fail to realize that as humans, they are responsible for molding their dog’s personality.
Be both the teacher and the student-train your dog while also learning who your dog is. This will forge a trusting relationship that will bring years of joy to you both.