5 Common Dog Training Errors
You have heard the saying “training is simple but not easy”. Learning the principles behind dog training is usually very straight forward but putting them into practice with your pet is the difficult part.
I need to mention up front that I am not a professional trainer by any means but I do know what I am doing and have trained many dogs over my career. So what better way to teach you by showing you some of my own errors!
Below are five of the top mistakes when dog training. I have made all of these mistakes myself and changing them has definitely improved how the pets react.
So what exactly can go wrong?
Allowing the behavior you are trying to get rid of
This is probably the most common problem that I see. I had someone once tell me that they bought a crate and a bed for their dog and that he chewed it up. They bought him another one and he did the exact same thing. This repeated time and again and after a few beds being thrown away, you can imagine that the owner was not too happy. Clearly the dog is becoming a professional at chewing beds and keeping his time occupied by doing so.
If your dog is having behavior problems it is because the bad behavior is being reinforced. This usually not deliberate, I know, but it is being reinforced. However, this behavior is basically the same as giving the dog a treat every time he chewed on the bed. If you want to teach your dog to do something different, you will need to take action to make sure to prevent fun actions such as chewing on the bed.
Let’s say that your dog usually crowds up to the back door and runs outside every time you open it and you want to teach him some good manners. You would probably start with a door that is inside your house and work on the specific behavior that you want to reward and then reinforce that behavior with good.
However, every time you want to take your dog outside, they continue to crowd the back door and rush outside when it is opened. Getting outside is good reinforcement for doing this and nothing you have done has stopped it. If you want to get their behavior in check, you need to prevent your dog from practicing the unwanted behavior.
If you are unfamiliar with this word, it simply means that you fail to break down the behavior you want to teach into small enough steps for your dog to understand. An example would be that you want to teach your pet to get onto a mat and lay down. Slowly, the dog starts to understand the cues given. If you stand next to the mat and give the cue the dog will lay down. Even if you stand a few feet away from the mat and give them the cue, they will go to the mat and lay themselves down. Next, you try and put the mat in the corner of the room and give them a cue. Now your dog is confused and does not understand because you did not take the time to break the training into small enough steps.
Not generalizing cued behaviors
Dogs are very good at noticing everything that goes on around them at all times. They are always paying attention but they just are not as good at generalizing as we are. Sometimes we as trainers do not understand this.
For example, your dog may know the command sit if they are in the living room facing the front door. However, they may not understand this same command if they are standing on your washer and probably will not understand if you are lying next to your dog. You might have thought that the dog was responding to the verbal cue that you gave them but in reality, it was probably the fact that you were in your living room and the dog was facing the front door while you had treats or a clicker. That was the actual cue that your pet understood.
Not understanding the dog’s cue
This leads directly into not knowing what the dog’s cue actually was. A lot of the time it is not what we think that it is. A lot of the time they will pay attention to the language of our bodies and props. Most of us think that our dogs understand these verbal cues much better than they really do. If you want to learn what your dog understands as a verbal cue, you will have to practice generalization but also get yourself out of the way for the final test. Get someone else to do it that may have different body language and see what they really understand.
Training when your dog is over stressed
If you have ever gone to a training club or a dog training school, you have seen this in action. The environment is noisy and full of people and other dogs. If your dog is not scared, there is still lots of chaos and this makes training hard. This is a great time to pay attention to the body language of your dog.
You need to get your dog accustomed to that environment before you start training them. If they are over stressed then your training efforts will be futile at best. Taking this into consideration will pay off in the long run for sure!