My Biggest Dog Training Mistakes
I have a shelf full of dog training books. I’m a member of dog training and dog behavior groups on Facebook. I’ve trained my dogs to respond to voice commands AND hand signals. We’ve gone to so many classes that the training facility gave me my own key. But I still make dog training mistakes. It doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been training dogs, or how experienced. You’re eventually going to make a mistake. Here are some of my biggest dog training mistakes.
Not Enough Practice
Once upon a time, Bentley and Quincy would sit at the door and politely wait to go outside until I told them it was ok. A squirrel could even run by the open door, and they’d stay put. These days, if I reach for the doorknob, they’re jockeying for position, trampling the cat, and stepping on my feet. The only thing that changed with our training routine is that I got lazy and stopped being consistent…. Actually (this is a safe space, right?) we haven’t been doing any training for a while. And it shows. As soon as I started practicing with them again, the started shaping up. Pretty soon they’ll be model citizens again!
Not Paying Attention to Your Dog’s Cues
Each dog is unique and requires a tailored training experience. What works for Bentley does not work for Quincy, and the reverse is also true. Bentley understands commands and new hand signals a lot more readily than Quincy. If I point and tell Ben to do something new, he looks and tries to figure it out. If I point and tell Quincy to do something new, he looks at my hand and comes running to get pet. They each need training that’s individual to their learning style.
Then there’s the little signs they give that they’re tired, or over stimulated, or that something else is wrong. This past weekend, we went on a short hike to the river. At one point, Bentley was trailing behind and not keeping up. That was weird, since he’s usually obsessive about being in the lead. I kept calling him and gently pulling on his leash when calling did no good. Each time I called, he’d walk a few steps, then sit down again. For a brief moment, I was annoyed that he was being so stubborn, but then it occurred to me that something might be wrong. I went back to check on him, and discovered that he had a small branch stuck in his butt fur that made it difficult to walk. He wanted to obey, it was just hard to comply with the collection of foliage in his fluff.
Training When You’re Tired or Frustrated
One particular agility training session comes to mind for this point. After a rough day in the office, I got off work late, rushed home to get Bentley, then rushed to the training center for class. I was hungry, but if I stopped for food, I was going to be late. I tried to let go of the stress of the day, but without a moment to catch my breath, that was difficult. Bentley, meanwhile, had his worried pug face going. He’s very alert to how I’m feeling, but due to a previous abusive home, he always thinks my bad mood is his fault. As preoccupied as I was with my own worries, I didn’t notice his.
We had the worst training session ever. Afraid that he was making me mad, Bentley was reluctant to do anything at all. He would sit down in the middle of the course and look worried and confused. He ran around jumps instead of going over. He pooped in the tunnel. In his heightened state, he charged at the other dogs and barked whenever he got near them. I wasn’t mad at Bentley, but he could hear the tension in my voice from my bad day, and he couldn’t tell the difference.
I gave up halfway through class and told the instructor that we’d have to come back another day and practice alone. It was the best choice to make at that point. In fact, I should have stopped sooner. We went home and had dinner, then ice cream and bones (I’m sure you can deduce who had what…) and felt a lot better.
Training when you’re stressed will give your dog subtle cues that you’re upset, and many dogs will take it personally. It’s also easier to lose your temper and set your training back by weeks or months because now your dog has had a bad experience. If you’re having a rough day, do both of you a favor and have a good playtime instead. Or cuddle on the sofa. Something to release stress and relax. The training can wait until a better day.
Have you experienced any of these dog training mistakes? Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below!
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