Common Dog Training Mistakes You Might Be Making
According to experts, you could be causing more confusion.
Your dog has very little impulse control on his own. He will bark at everything and everyone, jump on people when he greets them, or run out into the street to chase a squirrel—that is, unless you train him not to do those things. Training is good for both you and your dog. Not only does it deter your dog from causing an embarrassing scene when you go out together, but it's also a way to protect your dog from doing things that could harm him. But you have to go about training the right way if you want to be successful—having your goals in mind at the outset is the best way to do this.
"Because every family has different needs, training is not one-size-fits-all. Some families don't need their dogs to be able to walk next to them in perfect 'heel' position," explains Tristan Rehner-Fleurant, behavioral rehabilitation manager at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. "What is important is for each individual family to identify what behaviors are most important to them to live in harmony with their dog." You don't always need to hire a dog trainer for the entire duration of your training, but Rehner-Fleurant recommends enrolling your puppy in an obedience class or working with a professional trainer for a few sessions until you feel comfortable with continuing the training on your own. Ultimately, your dog needs to be able to obey you or behave well on his own.
You're raising your voice (even a little bit).
One of the most important things to avoid is yelling at your dog. Yelling can cause stress and fear, which could create behavior problems in your dog. It also has the potential to ruin the close relationship that you could have enjoyed with your dog.
It's all about figuring out what your dog sees as a reward. "The most important thing with training is to investigate what your pet finds rewarding, and use these rewards, such as tasty easy-to-dispense treats or favorite toys, to reinforce certain behaviors, as opposed to yelling which can induce stress and fear," says Rehner-Fleurant. "Having multiple rewards available that you can rotate to keep things fun and exciting for the dog is beneficial." And if you're worried about weight gain when you use treats as rewards, then just portion your daily meals differently to account for the treats that you give.
You don't understand dog body language.
Your dog communicates with you. Are you listening? Unlike people, dogs do not use words to tell us what they are thinking and feeling. "In order to set your dog up for success, it is important to become familiar with canine body language. Research shows pet caretakers are good at noticing extreme signs of stress or fear, but less able to detect more subtle indicators," explains Rehner-Fleurant. "It is easiest to alter behavior before the animal reaches the point of showing more obvious signs, so detecting problem areas early on can be super helpful."
By taking the time to understand what your dog is trying to tell you, positive or negative, you can begin to build up a rapport with your dog—which goes a long way in making your training sessions more successful.
You waited until there was a problem.
Training your dog can take a lot of work, but you should take the time to work with your dog on his behavior. Don't wait until there is a major problem before you address it. "Pet parents often seek out a behaviorist as a 'last resort,' but an early consultation with a qualified behaviorist to discuss normal behavior, early behavioral warning signs to looks for, and ways to increase the odds of a happy, well-adjusted pet can save a caretaker emotional and financial stress in the future," says Rehner-Fleurant. Educated about dog behavior and what you can do to ensure that the experience is good for both your dog and for you.
It's also helpful to know what is considered normal for your dog. If your dog is exhibiting a behavior change or showing fear or aggression, Rehner-Fleurant says to contact a veterinarian or behaviorist who can rule out physical causes and work with your animal to address the issue from the right angle.
You think you only need to train once.
Training your dog is not a one-and-done deal. As your dog ages, you may need to train and re-train as needed. "Pet caretakers should think of training as an ongoing process throughout their pet's life, and not just a moment in time," explains Rehner-Fleurant. "There is a period where you will be teaching your dog a new skill or working through a behavior concern which will require consistent and methodical training until your pet has learned this skill and generalized it to everyday life. Once your dog understands this skill or has improved in their behavior, it will be important to continue practicing to maintain this new behavioral response."
Successful dog training takes time and effort to achieve. You can always ask for help to make sure that you are getting the results that you want to get. And you want to also use it as a way to become closer with your dog so that the both of you have many enjoyable years to come.