7 Mistakes People Make When Training Their Dogs

What Not to Do When Training Your Dog

Have you recently adopted a new furry pal? Or are you trying to teach your old dog new tricks? Don’t get overwhelmed by all the dog training materials out there. Here are seven common mistakes to avoid when training a dog, from David Michael Sanders, CPDT-KA & Behavior Consultant, and Owner of Zen K9.

1. Procrastinate

Don’t wait to train your dog! It is a common misconception that a dog should be mature before starting a training program. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite not being able to see or walk, puppies are taking in information at birth. Scent imprinting for diabetes detection can start as early as three days old. Puppies can be taught to eliminate in a litter box or puppy pad as early as 4 weeks and offer basic obedience behaviors by 10-12 weeks.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when training their dog is… allowing unwanted behaviors to become inadvertently conditioned. For example, one of my clients does not want her dog to jump on guests. Her son and daughter both encourage the dog to jump on them when they get home from school and her husband taught the dog to give paw for a treat. These are all highly reinforcing interactions to the dog. This encourages him to lift his paws for a reward. Add excitement and we have a jumping out of control dog that thinks he is doing exactly what he is supposed to.

Remember we don’t get what we want, we get what we reinforce. It is imperative to instill wanted behaviors while the puppy’s brain is developing so behavior becomes reflexive and second nature. It is much harder to counter condition a dog that has been pulling on a leash and jumping for years than it is to teach a puppy how to sit politely and walk on a loose leash.

2. Misuse Equipment

Equipment failure can lead to injury and in some cases death. Make sure everything is secure, of good-quality and sized appropriately. I’ve seen cheap collars and leashes stretch and break. Wear comfortable clothes for mobility and shoes for agility. I do not recommend flip flops or retractable leashes, especially when working with strong dogs. For more information on equipment check out my book “YES!” A Basic Dog Training Manual.

3. Distracting Environment

One of the most common mistakes I see people make when training their dog is… trying to teach a new behavior in an over-stimulating environment. Many pet store puppy classes end up failing for no other reason than there are too many distractions!

If you are having trouble getting your dog to perform a behavior, move onto something else; change environments, look at your mechanics, then try, try again. If the dog still won’t perform the behavior, perhaps you are not being clear enough for the dog to understand, or the dog does not have the proper motivation.

4. Lack of Motivation

When learning from humans, dogs learn by working for something they like or working to avoid something they don’t like. Another big mistake people make when training their dog is failing to understand what the dog finds positively reinforcing. If the dog doesn’t like the treats you have, then they are not a reward. If the dog doesn’t like being touched, affection is not a reward. Use what your dog loves the most to reward good behavior.

If the dog doesn’t find anything rewarding and is still completely disinterested, this could be a personality trait or possible emotional damage from a past traumatic experience. The dog should be checked out by a veterinarian. Make sure your dog is healthy both mentally and physically before starting a training regimen.

5. Unrealistic Expectations

If the dog’s instinctive responses are hardwired, there is not much we can do but safely manage a behavior. We do this by being selective on what environment we choose to put the dog in. Unrealistic expectations are common with dog owners. We all have an ideal of what we want our dog to be. Sometimes what we want and what the dog is capable of are two different things.

Understand the parameters your dog can function in and operate within those parameters, while slowly and systematically working through behavioral issues one at a time. If you try to take on too much at once the dog may feel overwhelmed and shut down. It is important to keep training fun and engaging!

6. Bad Attitude

When you are working with a dog, take a personal inventory of yourself. Ask yourself “How do I feel right now?” If you don’t like how you feel, how do you expect the dog to feel any differently than you? Many people focus on the wrong thing while letting their emotion dictate their responses.

For example, if you are nervous, anxious or frustrated, there is negative energy projecting towards your dog. It can be easy to focus on the end goal, while forgetting about creating an effective approach. For example, a dog refuses to come to its person because the dog is slightly fearful. Not realizing why his dog won’t come to him, the person gets angry, frustrated and punishes the dog when he finally gets a hold of it. This is a response based on emotion, bruised ego and lack of understanding. In this case the dog needed to feel safe and trust its human.

7. Timing

If you have to correct your dog, it’s too late! The dog has already gotten away with the unwanted behavior. Don’t wait until the dog misbehaves to correct it. Be proactive! Based on your dog’s past responses, anticipate what it’s going to do and redirect it towards a wanted behavior. Timing is everything. Dogs are rhythmic. If you can find rhythm in your mechanics the dog will follow much easier. If you are stumbling and fumbling the dog will also be confused! Use clear and concise verbal markers so your dog has a clear understanding of what you want.

Good Luck With Your Training!

Training takes time and patience. If you feel like you need some help, you can read about my services here and contact me here. If you like this blog and would like to learn more check out my book “YES!” A Basic Dog Training Manual. For more training tips and other dog information, check back soon for more blog posts.

David Michael Sanders
CPDT-KA & Behavior Consultant
Owner: Zen K9 LLC
Founder & Training Director: Vet’s Best Friends
Keynote Speaker on Behavior and Training for:

  • AZ Dog Smart Academy
  • Maricopa County Animal Control
  • AZ Dept. of Juvenile Corrections

If you are looking for a new career and love working with dogs, become a dog trainer! Check out AZ Dog Smart Academy for more information on how you can become a certified trainer!

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