by Steffi Trott
As a professional dog trainer, I know that every owner only has the best intentions when it comes to training their pups. Everyone wants their dogs to be well-behaved and a joy to be around.
But did you know that you are probably making some really common mistakes in your training? These mistakes not only slow down your progress, but can actually demotivate your pup and make him enjoy training less. Whether you are working with a brand-new pup or an adult dog with reactivity issues – there are some mistakes you really should stay clear of.
Today I want to share with you the 7 most common training mistakes I watch owners make – as well as how you can avoid making them!
#1 Unrealistic Goals
Nearly every owner starts out highly motivated when it comes to dog training. I have watched some owners work with their dogs as many as 5 times a day in the beginning – but only the beginning. After a week or two the novelty factor of training your dog wears off, and then work, daily chores and other hobbies become too important to keep up with dog training.
The more unrealistic goals you have starting out, the higher the chances that you will not be able to keep up with training. I recommend that owners set themselves the goal to train 5 minutes once or twice a day. This is doable even for very busy people.
Don’t set yourself the goal to work with your dog for 1 hour every day, as you will most likely fail. Instead, make a realistic training plan and stick with it!
#2 Not considering breed-specifics
We often hear “It is all how you raise them” This could not be farther from the truth!
In fact, a dog’s behavior will heavily depend on his breed characteristics and genes. We did not domesticate and select dogs over centuries for nothing. Your training needs to take into account your breed’s original purpose.
A herding dog like a Border Collie may have high motion-sensitivity and needs to be taught to not chase trucks or nip kids. An independent breed such as a Husky will need extra work on his recall. A social butterfly like the Goldendoodle needs to be taught to respect others’ space and behave in public. By considering the breed’s specifics, you can target your training much better.
#3 Not giving the dog 100% attention
If you are training you expect your dog to give you his complete attention – but this needs to be true the other way around as well!
Do not train with the TV on, don’t look at your phone and don’t let family members or other pets interrupt you. The more distracted you are, the less focus your dog will have as well!
#4 Drastic Advances
Most owners tend to advance their dogs’ skills too rapidly. If a dog has just learned to sit in the living room he is not ready to try out his sit at a busy park. Every time you are advancing a behavior you need to do it as gradually as possible. This would mean that you rehearse the sit in the living room, then your hallway, then your entry area, then outside your front door, then in your driveway etc. This way your dog can gradually expand his skillset to more and more locations.
If you try to take your dog’s newly learned behaviors to too many places right away, he will fail and regress in training!
#5 Not sticking with a plan
Training takes time. If it wasn’t a complex skill to master, nobody would do it as a job!
If your trainer gives you a training plan you should stick with it for at least a few weeks before moving on and deciding it did not work. Many owners throw the towel after just a week of trying – this is nowhere near enough!
Your dog will change his behavior gradually over time. This is the same for humans who want to change deeply ingrained behaviors! Don’t give up right away, especially if your dog is an adult already. You should never make the mistake of:
#6 Expecting instant change
If you are actively training your dog, you are doing so because you are unhappy with a behavior he shows or you want to teach him a new one. Unless your dog is a very young puppy, chances are that he already has a deeply ingrained history of performing said behavior.
There is no magic word your dog trainer can teach you that makes your dog change his behavior. What your trainer will do is develop a plan with you that lets you modify the dog’s behavior in a lasting and effective way. But is this instant? No. Don’t expect instant change, because it will not happen.
#7 Not appreciating the good
As humans we have a tendency to focus on the bad and not on the good. This is no different for dog training! Don’t make the mistake and forget how far you have come. Do you have a teenage pup who is struggling with leash walking skills? Think back at the days when potty-training was hard and how this is no problem anymore! Consider how well your dog has already learned to sit and stay and bring back his ball … chances are that you have already taught him a ton of skills. Now you need to remember those and appreciate your learning journey!
Don’t make the mistake and never think back at where you started out and how much your sweet pup has learned since.
The Bottom Line
It has been said many times: “Dog training is actually people-training.”. The most common mistakes I see as a dog trainer are mistakes in owners’ attitude, consistency and expectations. If you can become a patient, understanding and thoughtful trainer you are already halfway there on your way to a well-mannered pup. Make time and space for training without expecting instant change or setting unrealistic goals. Stick to a plan and always appreciate all the positives traits of your pup.