29 Aug 7 Common Dog Training Mistakes
Whether you realize it or not, every action you make around your dog is either reinforcing or punishing specific behavior. Obviously, we all want our dogs to exhibit desirable behaviors, so it’s best to understand what works and what does not when it comes to dog training. Try to avoid these common dog training mistakes.
1. Confusing “Positive” with Permissiveness
Using positive reinforcement techniques during dog training doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog won’t receive corrections.
For instance, let’s say that your dog has a habit of jumping on people. This is unacceptable social behavior for any dog, even if they are the friendliest of pooches. A “positive” approach might look something like this.
The dog is leashed but attempts to jump on a person who comes to greet them. As the owner, you restrain your dog and ask the person to stop outside the range of the leash until the dog sits. Then, once the dog is sitting, he can get all the petting and cuddling he desires.
Correction does not require you to swat, shout, or intimidate. You can be firm (not allowing the dog to go and greet the person) and once the dog is exhibiting the desired behavior (sitting calmly), then you can reward (allowing the greeting).
2. Giving Your Dog Too Many Treats
How many of you have every potty-trained a toddler? Nobody frowns at the idea of giving a two-year-old a sticker or a Skittle if they “do their thing” in the toilet. It’s an effective and acceptable way to teach a desired behavior.
However, we wouldn’t expect a 30-year-old to need a gold star each time he left the restroom.
It’s the same with your dog.
Training your dog using treats as reinforcements works and when accompanied by a sound cue (such as a clicker or a word) it can show your dog what is acceptable behavior.
However, once your dog is consistently obeying your command, then it’s time to wean him off the treats. Intermittently, substitute praise for the click and the treat. Slowly lengthen the time between treats until your dog will obey solely for praise.
3. Accidentally Reinforcing Undesired Behavior
A common mistake made during dog training is unintentionally reinforcing an undesired behavior.
One of my friends found that her dog had an uncanny sense of smell. So, to “show off” her dog’s skill to her friends, she would hide a piece of bread somewhere in her house (the dog absolutely LOVED bread) and send him off to hunt for it. The dog got where he could locate the bread anywhere in her home in less than one minute. Pretty cool, except, the dog would “find” the loaf of bread on the counter, the pantry, in the kids’ lunchboxes – you get the point!
It’s pretty hard to correct a behavior that you have encouraged. After all, how was this dog to understand that not all bread was the same?
4. Not Staying Consistent During Training
You need to be consistent. If you don’t want your dog to jump on the furniture, then don’t call him up “just this one time.” No matter how pitiful he looks, if you don’t plan to share every meal with him, don’t give him food from your plate.
Successful dog training relies on consistent guidelines, positive reinforcement, and understanding consequences. Don’t send mixed signals!
5. Messing Up the Timing
The results of training are optimal when the reward occurs immediately following the desired behavior. For most actions, this means within one to three seconds.
This is true whether you are giving praise, clicks, treats, or any combination of reinforcers. Teaching your dog the meaning of markers will give you a couple of seconds of breathing room if you need to dig out a treat.
If you aren’t on the ball, and you wait longer than one to three seconds to give reinforcement, there is a good chance the dog won’t associate the reward with the behavior you are hoping to reinforce.
This will confuse your dog and you could actually end up reinforcing an entirely different behavior than the one you want.
6. No Variety
Another common mistake involves only training in one location. So, you’ve taught your dog to sit on command during Puppy Training School. Are you practicing at home? Inside? Outside? At the vet’s office? The pet store?
Your dog needs to learn that the behavior is not tied to a specific location. Practice, practice practice!
7. Never Moving Past the Initial Stages of Training
In some ways, this mistake is related to the “too many treats” issue. Many times, a lure is used to make a dog understand what you would like him to do. For instance, you may take a treat and lower it to the floor to get him to lie down. At some point, you should cease to lower your hand to the floor (or offer that treat) in order to get your dog to lie down. Instead, dog training should progress until your dog will obey a spoken or nonverbal command without a “bribe” or extra coaching.
If you avoid these common dog training mistakes, then you can expect success. Granted, it’s a lot of work, but the reward for YOU is a happy, joyful relationship with your canine friend.
Since 1998, College for Pets has been helping owners train their dogs and other animals. If you would like more information on how your dog can live up to their full potential, contact College for Pets today.