Our four-legged friends make our families complete — at least, that’s what we animal lovers believe!
Still, pet ownership takes some work, especially when it comes to dogs. Intuitive, sensitive, and oftentimes energetic, canines need more than just physical care; they need love, exercise, mental stimulation, and yes, even (gentle) discipline!
That’s why it’s essential for you, as pooch parents, to know how to train a dog — for everyone’s benefit.
Not only do humans appreciate the good behavior, dogs thrive with rules and structure. Training will also help you and your pups communicate with one another, enabling everyone to happily co-exist.
But communication between you and your pet isn’t always easy, and if you’re not careful, it can lead to some dog training mistakes.
Although it’s usually unintentional, these errors can lead to confusion and frustration on both sides, and it can even reinforce your pal’s bad behavior.
We asked 169 dog training professionals* from around the world to share their best dog training tips and to explain the mistakes they most often see. Wondering if you’re accidentally making them, too? Read on to see what they had to say.
Common Training Mistakes Dog Owners Make
Inconsistency is the “easiest way to confuse a dog,” says Jamie Naggar of Happy Pets NYC, LLC.
To that, Nicole Rigger of Pets A Go Go shares an example. “Allowing your pup on the couch when he jumps up on it one day or in one situation, when it is not a consistent rule, [is a common training mistake] ,” she says. “Owners need to think through what they [ultimately want] and abide by that.”
In other words, if you decide you aren’t going to allow Fido on the furniture, you must stick to that rule all the time. Making exceptions for “special occasions” — or when you just don’t feel like enforcing the rule — will just confuse him.
When it comes to ineffective training methods, “scolding for the wrong reasons is a big one,” explains Melissa Burg of Companion Animal Behavior Training. She adds that commanding your dog to “come” then disciplining him will teach him not to come when called.
Want him to obey? When you call his name, shower him with positive reinforcement like treats, pets, and praise, instead.
Michelle Jackson of Michelle Jackson Dog Training agrees that too much negativity will only discourage your companion. She poses the question, “If a dog is always wrong, why should [he] want to work for [his] owner?”
Missing Teachable Moments
So your dog mastered an advanced trick… that’s great! It may be locked in his mind for now, but it’s imperative to keep practicing to keep his skills sharp.
Ann Davidson of Canine Therapy Corps says she often notices pet parents missing everyday opportunities to keep up with training. “ [Dog owners] approach training as something that they do in a specific time frame and not something that is ongoing throughout their daily life,” she explains. “Many people miss great teachable moments to reinforce desirable behaviors or teach useful skills simply because these opportunities do not fall within their ‘training time’ — training time is ALL the time!”
How Do You Reinforce Good Behavior In Dogs?
The fact is, pets and people don’t always speak the same language. It’s of utmost importance that pup parents learn how to communicate with their canines; likewise, they need to read what their dogs are trying to say back.
“One of the main issues I deal with as a behavior consultant and trainer is one of clear communication,” says Sue Brown of The Light of Dog. When her clients are having trouble with training, “often the problem is not that the dog is trying to be naughty or ‘spiteful,’ but rather that the dog does not understand what is expected,” she clarifies. “Much of my job is helping owners learn to communicate more clearly with their dogs.”
Jaimie Scott of Jaimie Scott Dog Owner Training also says that communication is key. “Sending mixed messages is the most common and biggest mistake I see dog owners make in interacting with their dogs,” he shares. For instance, “Letting your dog walk in front of you sends your dog the message that he/she is in charge and makes your dog MUCH less likely to listen to you.”
A final point: throwing multiple commands at your canine at once will likely leave him puzzled.
Instead, be patient and start slow. “Work on one [command] at a time so [as] not to overwhelm the dog,” suggests Kerry Southern of Southern Training. “Once they have that down, go to the next.”
Remember That Training Should Be Fun (Not Frustrating)
While dog training can be serious business, don’t forget it can be a wonderful bonding opportunity, too!
There’s nothing like spending quality one-on-one time with your pup, plus dogs naturally love pleasing their favorite people. “Training should be a fun experience for both you and your pet,” reminds Ann Davidson of Canine Therapy Corps.
However, “It requires a lot of patience and emotional management. If you find yourself getting frustrated, stop the training session and start at another time when you have a clear head.
You're never going to have a successful training session if you go into it frustrated.”
Fade The Lure
Oftentimes, pet parents train their companions with dog training treats then wonder why they don’t listen when there’s no snack in sight.
“They never fade the lure,” explains Mary Thompson of Happy Hound University.
“What this means is that they teach the dog behaviors using food lures (such as putting a piece of food in front of a dog's nose and luring them into a sit, then giving them the cookie) but never teach the dog to sit without the cookie present. [This] creates a dog who will only perform the behavior when ‘bribed’; this is easily fixed using positive methods.”
Don’t Give In To Bad Behavior
Just like positive reinforcement can solidify good behavior, when used at the wrong times, it can also encourage bad behavior (even if it’s unintentional). For instance, if your dog steals your shoe and you chase him around the house, he’ll likely be pleased you’re “playing” his game.
Even if you’re angry, engaging in his antics is positively reinforcing the behavior!
Jody Karow of Go Anywhere Dog™ says many pet owners fall into the trap of giving in to attention-seeking behaviors. “When your dog jumps up, attention is what he's after. When you begin flailing your arms yelling ‘off,’ ‘down,’ ‘stop,’ ‘enough’… attention is exactly what your dog achieves.” Instead, “removing yourself and all your attention is a much more effective strategy.”
In other words, if your dog jumps up on you when you come through the door, one way to discourage his behavior might be to turn your back and walk away.
Consult With A Professional Dog Trainer
All in all, getting help from a professional trainer is hands-down (paws-down?) the best way to instill desirable behavior in your dog.
Angel Wasserman of Paws in Training says that often, pet parents “receive false information or advice from the internet or well-intended friends.”
This is where training expertise comes in. “To fix a behavioral problem, the root cause of the behavior must be correctly identified before you apply a training principle,” Wasserman points out. “If you don’t do this first, the ‘training’ is not likely to work.”
She shares a story from first-hand experience: “I once received a call from a potential new client. Her friend (an existing client) gave her the training protocol I issued to address her dog’s barking. The protocol didn’t work for her dog and she wanted to know why! The ‘why’ was because her dog was barking for a different reason than the other client’s dog. When we got to the root cause of why the new client’s dog was barking, we were able to apply the correct protocol for her problem.”
In conclusion, Burg sums it up simply: “What works with one [dog] may not work on another.” That’s why it’s essential for each animal to be assessed by an expert on an individual basis.
Hungry for more dog training tidbits? Keep your eye out for the next installment of this guide, which is chock-full of dog training tips!