4 Big Mistakes You Can Make Training Your Dog & How to Avoid Them

Training your new puppy or adopted adult dog (or your old dog that needs to learn something new) can be fun and enriching for both of you. It’s also a great way to build your dog’s confidence and deepen the bond you share with your dog. Talk about a win/win.

There are a few mistakes that new dog parents make that can ruin the experience for your dog and you and can even cause significant behavior problems for your dog.

I’m sharing those mistakes with you today and also explaining what to do instead so you and your dog have a great time learning with and about each other.

Mistake #1: Using aversive tools & techniques

Using aversive tools and techniques. These would include electronic collars, choke and prong collars, jerking on the leash as a punishment, rubbing their nose in their potty accidents, spraying the dog in the face with water dog shock collar and remote deviceor anything and everything that is meant to be punitive and punishing. I often say to my dog training clients: if you wouldn’t do it to a human toddler, don’t do it to your dog!

The Fix: Positive reinforcement

Dogs are smart, sensitive and wonderful creatures. They want to learn and to please you. They want to learn the rules and fit into your household. When you use only positive reinforcement tools and techniques such as clicker training, giving treats to reinforce the behaviors you want, praise, pets and playtime with you as rewards for doing what you want them to do, dogs grow into confident, happy, emotionally stable and well-behaved canine family members.

The difference here is that the mistake is punishing your dog for doing something you don’t like (and remember, your dog doesn’t know he is doing anything wrong, he’s just being a dog) versus rewarding your dog for doing things that you do like so your dog feels good and will do those things again.

Which way would you rather be taught?

Mistake #2: Having unreasonable expectations

Having unreasonable expectations for your dog and yourself. Let’s say you bring home an eight month old mixed breed dog from the shelter who was born on the streets and has lived most of her life in the shelter. She has a wonderful personality and is adorable and is also completely untrained. This dog is going to be doing a ton of things you wish she wouldn’t as she adjusts to life in your human environment. This is when people get cute black and white puppy chasing personfrustrated and return the dog to the shelter or say its a bad dog or refusing to learn or any number of other projected emotions based on the frustration of cleaning poop off your floors or deflecting a jumpy dog.

You thought it would be easy and it isn’t. Maybe you start to wonder if you made a mistake.

The Fix: Time, patience & professional support

Believe me, I have been there! What you need to do now is cut yourself some slack, you’re only human. Cut that poor canine some slack as well. As I mentioned in the fix for Mistake #1, this dog wants to fit in and please you. She can’t graduate college in a week when she’s never been to preschool. Take your time to show her how you want her to behave, give her lots of praise and treats, work with a professional positive trainer on the stuff that seems beyond your abilities and spend as much time as you can enjoying your new pup and getting to know all about her. Not only is that more fun than getting frustrated, it will deepen your bond with her which will help you both through the tough lessons.

Mistake #3: Getting the wrong dog for your lifestyle

Not doing your homework.  This one may feel controversial to some folks but it really is a huge mistake too many people make. Mistake #3 is getting the wrong dog for your lifestyle. You hear about that really smart border collie that knows all the words and you want one, too. I don’t blame you, they’re awesome. However, if you live in a tiny apartment, work 70 hours a week and are exhausted all the time, this is absolutely not the dog breed for you. Sometimes we just aren’t a fit for the breed that looks so awesome to us. A border collie needs a ton of enrichment and exercise, they are like having a middle-schooler in three different sports.

The Fix: Choose Lifestyle over Looks

mastiff dog held on leash by woman dog trainer

How do you avoid making this mistake? Think lifestyle over looks. Review your lifestyle and what you want from a dog, visit a few shelters, ask questions and then decide. You will find the right dog for you and both of you will live happily ever after. I guarantee there is a gorgeous dog that is just right for you waiting in a shelter to meet you.

Mistake #4: Working with the wrong kind of trainer

Working with a trainer who allows any of the above. Dog Training is currently an unregulated field meaning that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer regardless of their training credentials or actual skill level. There are also very differing schools of thought around dog training. There are far too many trainers out there using abusive training methods who subscribe to outdated pseudo-science for justifying their behavior. There are trainers who advocate purebred dogs over rescues* and certain breeds over others. These folks will make your and your dog’s life harder and less happy.

*I have no problem at all with purebred dogs, just trainers who exclusively advocate for bred dogs versus rescues. No one breed is better than another. As the potential dog parent, YOU get to choose.

The Fix: Trust your gut

How do you avoid ending up with the wrong trainer? Think about training as working with a partner not a hired hand. Read websites and ask questions. Above all: trust your gut! If you are being told to do something with your dog that just doesn’t feel right, question it and decide for yourself if you will follow that advice. I made too many mistakes with Jake in the beginning by blindly following advice from trainers I didn’t do any research on. The different types of trainers are easy to spot. Read my article here to learn which one you want to work with (hint: positive reinforcement trainers only). This article tells you what to look for when hiring a trainer.

There you have it. 4 Big Mistakes You Can Make Training Your Dog & How to Avoid Them

woman dog trainer squatting next to german shepherd dog

Avoiding these mistakes isn’t difficult once you know what they are and how to solve them. Its all a matter of using the best techniques, having patience and compassion for yourself and your dog, doing your homework and working with excellent positive trainers.

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