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Top 10 Mistakes People Make When They Are Training a Dog

Training a dog can seem like a daunting experience to a new trainer. How do you teach a dog to perform a task well? Quite often I hear questions like "How do I make him understand this" or "I want my dog to do this but he...". It's really important to make sure you understand the principles of teaching and learning. Training gets better with time, as it's a skill. However, since your dog is taking this journey with you, it is your responsibility to make it fun and positive.

So, I'm glad you are doing your research. I hope you can learn from the mistakes of the trainers that came before you. So, here are the 10 most common mistakes people make:

1. Constantly reaching for the treat box.

Positive dog training means you use rewards. Food is ONLY one of the things that you can use as a reward.

It helps to list all the things that your dog enjoys and give it to him when he shows behaviour that you like. For example; If your wants to go outside and jumps on you in excitement, instead of saying "no, sit, behave" you could say nothing and go away from the door. When he is sitting and calm, you move closer towards the door and open it. This teaches him that he gets rewarded for being calm. If you ask yourself what your dog wants, it helps you understand him better.

If you act like a treat box, your dog is going to 'treat' you like one (pun intended).

Do you feel like your dog only listens to you when you have food in your hand. This is probably why.

2. Looming over your dog.

Looming means bending over your dog in a way that appears large or threatening (to your dog). You probably don't mean to but especially with smaller breeds, the size difference makes the person bend over the dog.

This can actually seem very intimidating to the dog and would slow down any learning or training. This is because directness is generally associated with conflict with dogs and your dog doesn't want to fight with you (I hope).

The side profile helps or sit lower so that you are closer to his level or take a chair if the task is less demanding. You can stand and drop treats or feed them from the side. You will notice a big difference in how your dog responds.

P.S. Your dog sees the same image that you do when you accidentally open your selfie camera. Think about that.

3. Bad Response Time

We normally don't work with a clicker as new owners complain about how it's difficult to manage the clicker, the dog and the treats. We use something called a marker word instead e.g. Good boy/girl. This word is used before the treats are delivered as it "marks" the exact behaviour that the dog got right. It helps with clarity and replaces the clicker.

As I tell my clients, you have exactly 2 seconds to let the dog know that he/she has done something right. This is called good contiguity.

4. Not Using Enough of Hand Gestures

Dogs look at the human while the training is going on. Humans tend to talk a lot and since dogs don't speak English or whatever language you do, it just sounds like a lot of jibber jabber. More often than not, we are holding the treat in one hand and guiding the dog into the position we want e.g. a sit, a down, a spin.

The treat is normally in a fist or it's in between 2 fingers. With repetition this is the hand gesture that your dog sees before he 'sits'. He will think that this hand gesture means you want him to sit. You can add the words later. If you prepare a sequence it is easier for your dog to follow.

For example : You say the word "sit" and then lure your dog into that position, then you say "clever dog" and release the treat. This is clear communication about what you want the dog to do. With time you will notice your dog picking this up faster as it becomes predictable.

5. Only Indoor Training

Variety is VERY important. Do you remember the first time you had to give a speech?

I'm sure you rehearsed it in your room. When another person came into the room or if someone started playing some music, I'm sure that disturbed your focus. What about when you had to give that speech on stage? It's the same speech why couldn't you just say it the same way as you did in your room? Your puppy feels the same way. There are too many new trigger and way too many stimuli to concentrate, learn and perform.

Have you ever said, "My dog listens to me at home but the minute we go outside he doesn't" This is probably why; training a dog in different situations helps your dog adapt to various situations.

6. Saying the same word over and over.

Does this sound familiar?

"Rover, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit".

If I had a rupee for every time I heard this, I would be a rich woman. You only need to say it ONCE. Imagine you are billed on the number of times you say a command. You would use your words wisely.

This can be confusing to the dog as they don't know if the command is 'sit' or 'sit, sit, sit, sit, sit'. Give your dog time to actually do the command. You might need to start from the basics and make REALLY EASY to understand. Look at the other mistakes and see if they are coming in the way of your training.

7.Moving too fast.

I notice people getting very excited when a dog gets something correct. For example, when a dog decides to listen to you and leave the food. All of a sudden it becomes about seeing how amazing your dog is by challenging him with larger pieces of food (almost immediately).

"You must SET YOUR DOG UP to succeed"

This means you must gradually take your dog to the goal. If your goal is to teach your dog to stay in one position, would you say stay and then walk 8ft. away and expect him to stay in that spot? I really hope not. Your dogs should know how to stay if you are a foot away for 10 seconds before you increase the time and distance. Start of with baby steps, make things VERY easy for him to understand. Dogs feel frustrated too, especially when you don't speak the same language. If your dog fails, it is your fault as the teacher.

8. Forgetting to smile

Over time, your puppy realizes that when a human smiles it is a good thing. No one looks angry and then gives the dog some treats. Dogs have the ability to recognize visual and auditory cues of positive and negative emotion in humans and other dogs (Albuquerque N, 2015). This is a very important social reward that is used daily. People are unaware of how to use this as a reward.

You should use it in the same way you would appreciate or praise a human for doing the right thing. My advice is the genuinely recognize that your dog is learning and be happy with each step of the way. It will make your training more positive.

9.Ignoring External or Internal Circumstances

I find this mistake to be subtle yet equally important. I'll give you an example. A client and I were training their dog to solve a dog puzzle. In order to do this the dog needed to learn how to pick up a small piece of the puzzle which had a treat under it. After several trials, one of my trainees pointed out that the piece of plastic seemed slippery. We tied a piece of cloth on it for better grip and in a few trials the dog was able to pick it up.

The problem wasn't with the training or the dog, it was with the equipment.

You will face instances where there is something in the environment that is hindering your training or your dog is feeling unwell or unmotivated. Ask yourself; Is your dog PHYSICALLY able to do what you are asking?

Take lots of breaks, don't push things, just modify it or try again later.

10. Too many expectations.

Expectations are the rock to any relationship. The weight of disappointment can drag you down when things don't go your way. Believe me when I tell you, they are not going to go your way. Your dog is going to fart at the wrong times and chase that cat on the same day you taught him a recall. You might even step in some poop. Humor and a positive attitude is going to get you there.

Brush it off, laugh it off and keep going. The key is to appreciate the positives and take note of the negatives. Remember your dog is only a dog. He is going to lick his but and bark at the wrong times but he will try his hardest to learn and work with you. Don't make this a stressful experience for you or your dog. Do your homework, make your plans and enjoy the experience of having a dog.

We sure as hell don't deserve them.


Albuquerque N, G. K. W. A. S. C. O. E. M. D., 2015. Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biology Letters, pp. 1-5.

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