10 common dog training mistakes

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Are you getting a new puppy and want to start training the right way? Or are you already training your dog? It's important to train your dog to build a stronger bond and keep them mentally engaged. There are however certain mistakes that tend to show up with various dog owners.

These are 10 of the most common dog training mistakes:

  1. Not rewarding behaviour On many occasions I see dog owners not rewarding their dogs for good or even great behaviour. Either they don't notice it, don't have any treats with them or simply don't feel like it. If I ask them why they didn't reward their dog, sometimes I get the answer 'He knows that's what he needs to do', or 'He only does it because he wants a treat'. It is of the utmost importance to reward every behaviour you want to enforce in your dog. It might be the case your dog is working for your treats at the moment, but he needs the feedback. This can be phased out once the behaviour becomes natural, but give this some time. Some people do complement their dog with their voice, but not every dog gets the right feedback from this. If your voice isn't linked to a reward in the dog's mind, it's just you talking. Some owners even find excuses not to reward their dog. It took him 4 calls to come back to me or he did all the previous exercises wrong, so he doens't get the reward. But especially in these cases, you should reward your dog for the one thing he did right. This way he'll have a reason to do it right immediatly next time.

  2. Bad timing Timing is key in dog training. Your dog will link the reward to the latest behaviour he showed. So if you ask your dog to sit and a milisecond before you reward him, he stands up because he sees you reaching for your treats, you are in fact rewarding the standing up because he sees you taking a treat. Because of this, some people prefer clicker training. In my opinion, rewarding with your voice can have the exact same effect as long as you time it right. By saying 'yes' or 'good boy' after the behaviour, you buy yourself some time to give the treat. In the first training sessions however, make sure to have your treats in your hand already. This makes you able to give them faster.

  3. Not generalizing Dogs are bad at generalizing. Because of this, often people will tell you he does know how to 'sit' on command, he's just not willing to do it outside the house. Though it may seem strange for humans, this is very common in dog training. For your dog to be able to listen to you everywhere, you should train in as much places as possible. By training this way, he'll be able to understand that the command means the same no matter in which environment he is.

  4. Waiting too long before starting 'It's just a puppy, I'll start training him when he gets a little older'. People sometimes put off training their dog because he's too young. However, as they say: 'What's learned in the cradle is taken to the tomb'. Teaching your puppy when he's young builds a solid foundation to continue training. You should not put any pressure on your puppy, but some positive training sessions early on (I take a few minutes multiple times a day) can give you a headstart in bonding with your new compagnion.

  5. Not being consistent One of the most common dog training mistakes is not being consistent. Most often, people aren't even aware of them not being consistent. But picture this: When you greet your puppy in the morning, you might be very enthusiastic and when he puts his paws on your leg, you greet him with a pet on the back. When you get home after a day of work however, you don't want him to put his paws on your leg because you have nice clothes on. For your dog, there is nog consistency, he doesn't understand the difference. But one moment he is allowed to put his paws on you and gets petted, one moment you don't want him to. Since it's 50% enforced and 50% not wanted, he'll just take the odds and keep doing it.

  6. Putting too much pressure on your dog When training your dog, don't put too much pressure on them. Training needs to be pleasant for them to get anything from it. Pressure, just like with humans, leads to stress, which isn't beneficial for learning. Give your dog time and space to understand what you ask of him. And if he doesn't understand, be gentle and guide him into the right behaviour. In the long run, this will have far more positive results.

  7. Using punishment Some people tend to punish their dog if he does something wrong. These punishments can range from ignoring to yelling or even hitting a dog. In my opinion, punishment is one of the worst things you can use in dog training. Not only can it make your dog more insecure, it can also ruin the bond between you and your dog. If your dog makes a mistake and you punish him, you feed his insecurity. Maybe he just didn't understand what you expected of him. And how can he trust you if you aren't there to help him understand? Be sure to keep it positive and help your dog if he doesn't understand what you ask him to do. This way he'll know you'll always have his back.

  8. Recalling only for unpleasant things Many dog owners experience problems with recalling their dog. I find this the most important command to teach your dog. One of the main reasons these problems commence is because people only recall their dog when the fun stops like to put them on a leash, when leaving a dog park, for vet visits,... Make sure to recall your dog often for fun games, like a game of tug of war. Or when at a dog park: recall your dog, reward him and let him play some more. If you train your recall like this, your dog will learn a recall isn't necessarily followed by something unpleasant.

  9. Treating every dog the same Just like with humans, every dog is different. Which also means training can be different for different dogs. In dog classes it's important to recognize these differences. Some dogs might need food to be stimulated at first, some will be more rewarded by play time. Acknowledging these differences is the first step in being able to train different dogs.

  10. Not giving all of your attention to it When training your dog, make sure you are fully commited to it. It is important to be fully present with your mind before engaging a training session. If your mind keeps wandering off, you'll not be able to provide your dog with the right feedback to make it a productive training session. Because of this, it's more advisable to make training sessions shorter, not longer. On top of this, if you let your mind wander off, your dog will probably do the same. Since you're not engaged in the training session, neither will he. So he'll just find other things to do, like sniffing around for example.

One little surplus: One extra common dog training mistake is that people sometimes tend to try and explain their dog what they expect of him. Your dog however, doesn't understand human language. He only understands the words you already learned him. So instead of explaining with your voice, gently guiding your dog to do what you expect of him will have more success.

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