Dog ownership can be incredibly rewarding, and provide years of lasting enjoyment. However, training your dog and bringing them up in the right way is no easy task, and there are numerous mistakes that dog owners across the world make when interacting with their furry companion.
In this article, we take a look at ten of the most common dog training pitfalls, and how you can avoid falling into them!
#1 Rewarding the Wrong Behaviour
Everything you do with your dog sends a message- whether you mean it to or not. One of the most common mistakes that dog owners make is to encourage undesirable behaviour in their pet by rewarding them for it, increasing the chances that they will repeat it in the future.
For example, if your puppy greets you by jumping up when you enter the house and you reward him with praise, don’t be surprised when he continues this behaviour as he gets older. Something you may have found adorable in a tiny puppy becomes very difficult to deal with in a fully grown dog!
In your dog’s mind, attention from you is one of the greatest rewards that he can get. If he realises that by jumping up or charging over to visitors gets your attention, he’s likely to keep doing it over and over again.
The key to avoiding this training pitfall is to make sure that any negative behaviour does not get rewarded with anything that your dog could see as pleasurable- whether that is treats, playtime or any kind of attention from you. He’ll quickly learn that the way to get your attention is by behaving himself!
#2 Treating Your Dog Like A Human
It’s very easy for us to see our four-legged friends as just another member of the family, and treat them as if they were people just like us.
However, your dog has a completely different way of looking at the world, and doesn’t process information in the same way as we do.
Dogs live very much in the moment, and don’t understand the potential long-term consequences of their actions. They rely on use to realise that, and make decisions that will keep them safe and healthy in the long run.
For starters, that means not constantly feeding them delicious but highly fattening treats throughout the day, just because ‘he’s so cute!’. Your dog will happily scoff them down without any thought of the potential damage that it is having on his health. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are looking out for your dog, as unlike us he doesn’t know what is best for him.
In the same vein, don’t get mad at your pet when he behaves like a dog. We’ve heard from owners who get upset with their dog when they dig holes, for example. Sometimes, a dog is just acting out their basic instincts, and it is not healthy for us to impose a human value system on them. Instead, look at ways in which you can redirect the behaviour to reach a compromise for both you and your dog.
Consistency is something that we talk about a lot at Dog Training Genie, and for good reason. Dogs are creatures of habit, and if you constantly change the way you interact with your pet, you’ll quickly find that the effectiveness of your training regimen is diminished. Looking at the bigger picture, inconsistency can damage the bond between you and your dog, as well as create a lack of trust.
Make sure that you establish specific rules and are meticulous about using the same words for commands- once you’ve decided on a cue word don’t start changing it! It’s also important that you remain consistent with the way in which you reward and discipline your dog’s behaviour. Don’t, for example, tolerate jumping one day and punish it the next.
Finally, don’t let your mood affect the way you treat your dog. If you’ve had a bad day at work, don’t take it out on your pet- if he behaves correctly make sure that you still reward him with treats and praise. If you don’t, and you let your mood affect your interactions, your dog will become confused and you can seriously undermine the effort you’re putting into training.
#4 Punishing Your Dog For Coming To You
This is a mistake that many owners make everyday without even realising it.
Picture the scene: Your dog is in the park, having lots of fun running about, seeing all the sights and smelling all the smells… and you call him over. Being an obedient dog, he heads straight over to you… and you immediately put his lead on and take him home. It won’t be long before he realises that coming over to you when you call his name means that the fun is over- and he’ll stop responding when you call him.
To avoid this happening, teach your dog that responding to your calls is a good thing. When he is outside and enjoying himself, call him over from time to time. When he does, reward him with praise and the occasional treat- then let him carry on by saying ‘Go Play!‘, or a similar phrase. He will soon learn that coming over to you is a positive experience, and won’t associate it with the end of playtime.
#5 Thinking That Your Dog Will ‘Grow Out Of It’
A dangerous mistake that a lot of owners make when their dog is a puppy is to ignore problem behaviours such as chewing or jumping up.They give him a free pass on the assumption that he will ‘grow out of it’ as he gets older.
Unfortunately, this is not the case- this approach can actually cause long-term issues with your dog’s behaviour. As mentioned earlier, dogs are creatures of habit, and the longer they are allowed to get away with undesirable behaviour, the more likely they are to believe that it is acceptable. This can lead to the creation of deeply embedded habits that are extremely difficult to get rid of.
It’s vital to understand that inappropriate behaviours such as these are not just a ‘phase’ that all dogs go through- they are unacceptable and something that all dog owners should look to put an end to as soon as they emerge.
#6 Infrequent Training
When teaching your dog a new command, how do you measure success? For many owners, as soon as their dog obeys the command a few times in a row, they consider it ‘done’ and move on to the next one. It is no surprise that when they call upon their dog to obey the command a few weeks later they don’t get a response.
The key to ensuring that your dog achieves mastery of any command is to practice it often and in short bursts. Dogs don’t have a great attention span, so make sure that your dog is engaged with your training sessions by limiting them to 10 minutes or less. Reinforce the commands by firing them at him throughout the day, and praising him when he obeys you.
#7 Not Varying Situation or Location
Following on from mistake #6, we frequently hear about owners who encounter problems when training their dog because they are only used to hearing a command in one location.
For example, if you always train your dog to ‘Sit’ in the same spot of the kitchen, facing the door, you may find that when you issue the command elsewhere, especially if there are distractions such as other dogs around, your dog does not respond.
To ensure that your dog fully understands the commands that you’re teaching him, you need to vary the locations in which you issue them.
In the initial stages of teaching a command, make sure that there are limited distractions. As he gets more comfortable, continue training in environments with more going on, such as at the park or on the sidewalk.
Eventually, your dog will respond to your command and carry out the behaviour in any circumstances.
#8 Taking Your Dog Inside After He Has Relieved Himself
When training their dog to relieve themselves outdoors, many owners make the mistake of bringing them back inside as soon as they have finished their business.
Unfortunately, similar to mistake #4, this can undermine the effectiveness of your training.
Your dog loves to be outside, and if he realises that as soon as he relieves himself he’ll be ordered back indoors, he’ll start to take longer and longer to go to the bathroom.
The solution to this problem is simple- reward your dog for going to the bathroom outside with some playtime, or even by beginning his walk after he has relieved himself. This will quickly teach him that the sooner he gets his toilet business over with, the sooner the fun can carry on!
#9 Keeping The Leash Too Tight
There is something of a paradox when it comes to walking with your dog on a leash: if you try to prevent him from pulling by making the leash tight, he is more likely to pull against you. This is a behaviour known as ‘opposition reflex’, and is common to all dog breeds.
By keeping a tight leash, you are actually teaching your dog to pull against you, making the chances of a pleasant walk far less likely.
Ensure that you keep your dog’s leash short enough for you to maintain control, whilst allowing enough slack for him to walk without needing to pull against you.
#10 Using Pain As A Training Aid
This is a mistake that we wish was much rarer- however the use of pain and physical punishment is something that occurs far too often.
With the years of research invested into dog behaviour, and the wealth of information available on positive training techniques, there is no need to use intimidating and painful training methods such as choke or shock collars.
These methods build a relationship based on fear and dominance, and do nothing to create a lasting bond between you and your pet.
Are you guilty of any of these mistakes? Are there others that you think we’ve missed? Let us know and join the discussion in the comments below!