Many common dog training mistakes get in the way of your dog learning. Most people have no idea these common errors exist, though!
While professional dog trainers make dog training look simple, it’s far too easy to do it wrong. Dog training mistakes include simple things like practicing for too long plus more complicated errors surrounding timing, reinforcement, or other technical concepts. If you want to become a better dog trainer and handler, then keep reading. You’ll get an overview of the most common dog training mistakes plus tips on how to avoid or fix them.
Dog Training Mistakes: Training For Too Long
Training for too long results in increased frustration for both dog and trainer. It also causes your dog to retain less material and, furthermore, can build a lack of focus and enthusiasm into behaviors. You don’t need to train for 20 minutes at a time in order to get results. Stick to frequent, short (2-5 minute) sessions multiple times throughout the day and watch your dog’s progress soar.
Dog Training Mistakes: Not Training Enough
Oddly enough, not training enough is just as common, if not more common, than trying to train for too long at a time. It’s too easy to train your dog for a few minutes one day and then, before you know it, 4 or 5 days have passed with zero training time. Falling into this dog training trap means spending your time perpetually going back over things you’ve already worked on instead of building new skills and polishing old ones.
Set a timer on your phone for the same time every day to remind you to do the bare minimum — 90 seconds to 3 minutes of active, focused training on a single skill you’re seeking to teach. Do this every single day. If you can, add additional sessions throughout the day for quicker progress.
Dog Training Mistakes: Under Reinforcing
If you want your dog to work for you, you have to pay them for their effort and attention. Trying to get your dog to work for pats on the head is akin to someone trying to get a professional photographer to work for “exposure.” No one likes it and the idea is just insulting.
Reward your dog frequently and well with things your dog finds valuable. Note: just because you think your dog should like something doesn’t mean they do!
Behaviors that aren’t reinforced don’t stick around. This doesn’t mean you have to carry a pocket full of cookies around forever. It just means that in the beginning, especially when introducing a new behavior, you need to pay your dog for doing this thing until you can get the behavior on cue reliably in a variety of places. Later on, once the value for the behavior has been built, you can reward it intermittently.
Dog Training Mistakes: Overly Reliant on Treats as Bribes
If your dog requires you to have a treat in your hand before they’ll perform a behavior or respond to commands, you’re doing dog training wrong. Treats and cookies are not bribes. They’re rewards. Your dog should first offer the behavior or respond to a cue and afterward, he receives the reward. Avoid this dog training pitfall by keeping treats in your hand only as long as absolutely necessary to show your dog what you want from him. Then, keep treats in a pouch or on a nearby table. Consider using a training marker to “snapshot” behaviors for your dog so they know precisely what you’re rewarding them for if it’ll take you more than half a second or so to get a treat and hand it over.
Dog Training Mistakes: Bad Timing
Bad timing kills dog training. Timing is notoriously difficult to master but it’s one of the most important dog training skills. As an example, if you are trying to reward your dog for sitting, but you verbally mark (see above) or hand a treat to them as they stand, you have reinforced the total opposite of what you want. Timing is everything. The late Dr. Sophia Yin offers a great guide on building technical skill for timing in dog training.
Other Dog Training Mistakes
In our next post in this series, we’ll be covering the following common dog training errors, plus how to fix them:
- Asking For Too Much
- Asking For Too Little
- Too Much Talking – repeating commands, chatter, etc.
- Poor Management of the Environment
- Expecting A Dog to Be Anything Other Than a Dog
- Thinking Your Dog Knows More Than He Does
- Training While Emotional
- Taking Failure Personally
- Not Enough Exercise or Stimulation
- Harsh Handling (corrections, calling them to correct, etc.)