Everyone at the veterinary hospital knew Sarg.
He was a 60-pound Shar-Pei with an attitude almost as big as he was! He would literally try to eat your face if you touched him. His owner insisted, due to his diligent “training,” that he could safely restrain him during procedures.
Until the day he couldn’t.
Marking the first time in my career I had to administer first aid to a human. While waiting on the ambulance.
Several stitches later, Sarg and his owner wound up being fine. But his story highlights all the possible ways dog training can go wrong. Even when we think we’re doing it right.
Aggression is probably one of the worst outcomes. But dogs can also develop fearful and anxious behaviors from bad training.
So here are 9 ways you might be training your dog all wrong and how to fix it!
Number One Dog Training Mistake!
You’re rubbing his nose in it when he has accidents in the house.
Contrary to popular belief, rubbing your dog’s nose in his mess doesn’t make him think “I’ll never poop inside again!”
A dog’s short-term memory isn’t that good and they don’t find urine or feces as gross as we do. Instead, you should focus on teaching your dog the right place to relieve himself.
- Feed him at specific times
- Don’t bring him inside until he’s gone potty
- Reward good behavior
- Confine him to a crate when you can’t be on hand.
Number Two Dog Training Mistake!
You’re roughhousing with your puppy and encouraging her to bite you.
We’re not even going to lie here- playing with puppies is great fun! The trouble comes in when you accidentally teach her it’s okay to chew on your hand or snap at a toy. It won’t be so cute when she’s a full-grown adult.
Instead, think of playtime as an opportunity to teach your dog useful lessons, such as letting go of a toy on command and fetching.
- Designate specific toys for play
- Store them away from your dog when not in use
- Don’t allow her to start playing until you’ve invited her to do so
- No matter what, don’t encourage her to bite you or others.
Number Three Dog Training Mistake!
You only use food as a reward.
Sure, food can be a great way to train your dog, but it’s not the only reinforcement you can use. In fact, overusing food can lead to it not being as effective over time.
- Other things that work are praise, toys and games.
- The trick is in how you reward your dog and not what you use.
Number Four Dog Training Mistake!
You say no but give your dog what he wants anyway!
If you tell your dog no, and then do exactly what your dog wants you to, you’re teaching him he doesn’t need to listen.
Jumping up and begging at dinnertime is a prime example of this. Your dog begs, you say no to correct him and then hand him his food anyway.
- A better approach is to help your dog learn self-control by waiting until he is calmly sitting down.
- Then offer him his bowl.
Number Five Dog Training Mistake!
You give up and hire a dog trainer to fix it all for you!
There’s no replacement for a knowledgeable, quality dog trainer but they can’t make all your problems go away. Dogs learn by repetition– doing the same thing over and over until it becomes a habit.
- In order for this to work, you also have to respond the same way every time.
- Hiring someone to train your dog is great but be sure you can make those lessons stick.
- Have them train you too.
- This way, all their hard work- and your investment- isn’t lost at home.
Number Six Dog Training Mistake!
You think training only happens when you’re doing it on purpose.
In reality, we are training our dogs every single time we interact with them. When my own dog was younger, I taught him that my sofa was off-limits. As he got older, I would find myself sitting down after work and inviting him to join me. Now, he thinks the sofa is his own personal cushy spot.
(Honestly, it’s a little awkward when guests come over and sit on my sofa. The dog climbs up there too, squeezing between them, sigh.)
Through my own daily habits, I’d accidentally trained him to do the very thing I didn’t want him to do.
- Try to pay attention to the signals you send your dog when you’re not in training mode
- Once you make a rule, don’t break it.
Number Seven Dog Training Mistake!
You rely on a bark control device or invisible fence to solve your dog’s problems – without any help from you.
Unfortunately, dog training aids are just that- aids. They can’t magically teach y our dog to stay put or stop barking. While there’s no doubt these devices can make the process a lot easier, they still require you to put your own time and effort.
- If you’re interested in a training aid, be sure to research what you’ll need to do in order to use it effectively.
Number Eight Dog Training Mistake!
Your dog has a retractable leash.
In theory, retractable leashes might seem like a good idea. The problem is that your dog is never going to walk without pulling. Think about it: by design, a retractable leash teaches your dog to pull when he wants to go further.
They’re also annoying and dangerous. The excess length can get tangled around legs, tripping you and your dog. The “retracting” mechanism can also stop working, leaving you stuck with a dog that’s 25 feet away and no way to reel him back in!
- There’s plenty of reliable leash training methods you can choose from, but avoid retractable leashes.
Number Nine Dog Training Mistake!
You keep your dog away from people and other dogs.
At any age, socialization is very important for dogs. They must learn to interact safely with other pets and people. Keeping your dog isolated won’t make her more loyal to you. Even if you believe there will never be an encounter with another animal or person, there will be.
At some point in your dog’s life, she’ll need to see a veterinarian. She’ll be handled by strangers and asked to sit calmly in a waiting room full of other animals.
- Ideally, you should start socializing your dog in puppyhood, but it’s almost never too late.
- Start small and gradually increase the number of animals and people she’s exposed to.
- Keep her on a leash and under control while you gradually work up to bigger things, such as visiting a dog park.
We live and learn!
If you find yourself doing any of these things, don’t feel bad!
If you were to ask five experts a question about dog training, you’re likely going to get five different answers. The truth is that there are many ways to train dogs effectively. But the underlying principles are all the same: dogs learn by conditioning.
They will avoid things that are unpleasant and seek more of the things they like.
So, the next time our dog turns his big, soulful eyes our way, we’ll think twice about what we’re teaching him!