Are you making these training mistakes? In this post, you will learn the seven most common mistakes, how to avoid them and subsequently, learn how to master dog training. This guide also includes lots of helpful advice on how often you should train your dog.
- Train your dog using games: Training your dog should be fun! Everyone knows it is easier to learn when you have a good time, so try implementing some games into your dog training regimen.
- Six weeks to a well-trained dog: Using this schedule as a guide, you can teach your dog the basics in about six weeks.
- Positive reinforcement: There are many different ways to train a dog, but most dog professionals agree that the positive way is the best for both the dog and trainer.
How to Master Dog Training
After thousands of years of practice, you may think that training a dog would be an almost intuitive, natural process for us humans. Too often, we actually make honest errors in training that result in repeated misbehaviours and strained relations. Owing to the resilient nature of the dog, minor mistakes rarely result in catastrophe. But significant errors can cost owners (and dogs) years of frustration.
I have therefore listed the seven biggest training mistakes I see owners make and offer alternatives to improve your chances of keeping you and Fido on the straight and narrow. Note that these are related to training techniques only and not to other essential areas such as socialisation, enrichment, or exercise.
You Do Not Train Your Dog Often Enough
Many of us do teach basic behaviours and routines to our new dogs. But once the relationship stabilises, we often allow our pets to go on so-called “auto-pilot”. Unfortunately, response times for important behaviours can worsen; often, a dog will not even respond. This reversal is simply a function of a lack of practice; if you play golf only once a year, you will not be good at it, right?
Dog Training Techniques
Instead of “training then forgetting”, keep the established behaviours of your dog sharp by working them regularly and randomly, several times every day. “Down” at the dog park, “Sit” for dinner, “wait” at doors; be spontaneous and unpredictable. Then, each month, teach a new behaviour, a trick will do, to keep your dog’s mind and motivation up. The more extensive your pet’s repertoire of behaviours, the smarter he or she gets, and the more critical you become.
You Repeat Commands
This is often seen, especially among new owners with difficult dogs. The owner has taught a command such as “sit”, but due to distractions, bad technique, or confusion on the part of the dog, the pet fails to respond. The owner repeatedly asks until, after the sixth or seventh attempt, the dog halfheartedly sits. This stalling becomes a learned behaviour, one that is hard to break.
This often occurs with behaviours that have not been fully learnt or with one the dog does not particularly like to perform. Dominant dogs, for example, hate to be told to lie down, as this is an admission of submission. Timid dogs also resist lying down; it’s a position they may deem too unsafe or scary.
When I teach the command to “sit”, I do so as if it is a fun trick; I reward with treats at first, praise, then work it in other locations, reducing treat rewards along the way while increasing recognition. I make coming when called, sitting, or lying down, the most important things to do.Avoid the mistake of asking multiple times, or of making the behaviour seem dreary or unbeneficial Click To Tweet
Once you are sure your dog understands a behaviour, ask only once! If you are ignored, it is either because you have not taught it properly, or the dog is distracted or simply rebellious (yes, they can be!). Take your dog to a quiet spot and ask again; if he still does not respond, go back to basics and re-teach, avoiding the mistake of asking multiple times or of making the behaviour seem dreary or unbeneficial. If you suspect your dog is simply being awkward, do not be afraid to show your disappointment in him by saying convincingly, “no, sit”.
Another tip; after asking once with no response, wait a minute while looking your dog squarely in the eye and moving in just a bit closer. Often this action will be enough to get the dog to comply. Then praise!
Training Sessions: Too Long vs Too Short
Actually, teaching new behaviours to a dog is a process of evolution, not revolution. The key is knowing that it is usually going to take many sessions to perfect the new behaviour.
Time spent during a training session should reflect some positive results; as soon as you attain some obvious level of success, reward, then quit. Do not carry on and on, as you will likely bore the dog and actually condition it to become disinterested in the new behaviour. Likewise, do not end a session until some evidence of success is shown, even if it is a moment of focus or an attempt by the dog to perform. Remember that 10 one-minute sessions in a day are better than one 10-minute session every time.
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Your Dog’s Behaviours are Not Generalised to Varying Conditions
If you teach Fido to “sit” in the quiet of your family room, that’s the only place he will reliably sit. It is a mistake that many owners make; failing to generalise the new behaviour in different areas with varying conditions and levels of distraction will ensure sporadic obedience, at best.
To generalise a behaviour, first, teach it at your home without distractions. Next, gradually increase distractions; turn the television on or have another person sit nearby. Once that is perfected, move out into the garden. Then add another person or another dog.
Gradually move on to busier environments until Fido performs consistently, even on the corner of a busy city street. Only then will the behaviour be “proven”. This generalising is especially vital when teaching the recall command, a behaviour that might one day save your dog’s life.
You Rely on Too Many Treats and Not Enough On Praise
Treats are undoubtedly a great way to initiate a behaviour or to reinforce it intermittently later on. However, liberal use of treats can often work against you. There can develop in the mind of the dog such fixation on food that the desired behaviour itself becomes compromised and focus on the owner diffused. Think of it; you will rarely see agility, hunting, law enforcement or Frisbee dogs being offered any food rewards during job performance or training.
This is because it would break their focus and interfere with the actual performance. Instead, other rewards are found, including praise and, perhaps, a short play with a favourite toy. Most of all, the reward for these dogs comes from the pleasure of the job itself.
However, you can initiate new behaviours with treats. But once your dog learns the behaviour, replace the treats with play, praise, toy interludes, or whatever else your dog 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. You responding happily to a task your dog has done will work better than a treat and have the added effect of upping your mastery of dog training.
You Use Too Much Emotion
Excessive emotion can put the brakes on Fido’s ability to learn. Train with force, anger, or irritation, and you will intimidate him and turn training sessions into something to be dreaded. Likewise, train with too much energy, piercing squeals of delight, and over the top displays of forced joy, and you will stoke his energy levels far beyond what is needed to focus and learn.
I tell people to adopt a sense of “calm indifference” – a demeanour suggesting competence and a sense of accessible authority. A loving, laid-back, mentoring type of energy that calms your dog and fills it with esteem and confidence. If your dog makes a mistake, instead of flying off the handle, back off and try again. Likewise, if he gets something right, instead of erupting with a shrill voice, just calmly praise him, smile, then move on.
He will gradually imprint on this relaxed attitude and reflect it.Dogs need to feel that their mentors are consistent in behaviour and in rule setting Click To Tweet
You are Reactive, Not Proactive
Training a dog is a lot like the beautiful martial art of Tai Chi, with equal parts physical and philosophical. It takes timing, technique, and stamina and a devotion to understanding the complexities of the canine mind. It is definitely not a skill that can be learned by reading a few books or watching one half-hour television show. It takes time.
Because of this, many dog owners have never mastered the insight and timing needed to train as efficiently as they might like. Like someone playing chess for the first time, they react to the moves of their opponent instead of planning their own.
When you simply react to Fido’s misbehaviour, you lose the opportunity to teach. Instead, practice your technique; anticipate his reaction 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 your dog right before his brain says “bark” and distract it into some other, more acceptable, behaviour. Knowing that whatever stimulus is causing the barking needs to be eliminated or redefined as a “good thing” in the dog’s head.
That takes experience and a proactive role on your part.
I hope you enjoyed this article on how to master dog training. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please leave them below, and I will get back to you.