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Top 7 Mistakes Most Dog Owners Make


1. Expecting Too Much, Too Fast

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could teach your dog to sit, stay, lay down, play dead, roll over, and shake all in one session? Amazing, sure. Possible? Probably not. Wouldn't it be nice if you could learn to speak a foreign language in just one course? It's the same concept for dogs. Dogs aren't born speaking our language. We bring them into our homes, our lives, our culture, and it is crucial that we teach them what we expect of them slowly, and at a pace they can handle. This is why my sessions are never longer than one hour. It is so important to make sure your dog is really understanding each concept before moving on to the next. Some dogs can learn "sit" immediately, and some might take awhile. Don't move on to training a new behavior until your dog can perform the current behavior with distractions and without fail every single time. Start slow. When training "stay", I start by having the dog stay for one second, and immediately rewarding. I add 5 seconds a week. I don't leave the room. I don't turn my back on the dog. It's a slow process. When the dog can stay for up to 30 seconds with me facing him than I'll have him do the same thing with me turning my back and walking around the room. Set your dog up for success by rewarding the small things. And never repeat commands. As I said, your dog wasn't born speaking English. Imagine that you are visiting a foreign country where you don't speak the language and someone on the street asks you to do something. You are trying to process the request when they continue to yell the same command at you, over and over again. Now imagine again that the same person says the command once, slowly, and gives you a moment to really process it. Imagine that they add hand signals or perhaps a drawing and give you a chance to understand. Wouldn't you feel much more comfortable doing what was asked when you were given a moment to process the request? Your dog isn't much different.

2. Lack of Consistency

Dogs, and all animals for that matter, learn based on instinct and association. If Action "A" leads to Result "B" than the dog will either repeat action A or refrain from every doing action A again. However, if Action "A" produces a different result every time than the dog is going to have a hard time deciding what the result is supposed to be and if the action should be repeated or not.

One of the biggest setbacks for dogs is when their handler lacks consistency. It is vitally important as a dog parent that when you are training, the dog's actions lead to the same result every single time. If a dog gets a treat every time he is asked to sit than of course he is going to sit every time he is asked. If a dog gets attention every time he jumps up on you, even if it's negative attention, he will keep doing it. Hey! It worked once! If every time the dog barks at the mailman, the mailman gets in his car and drives away, the dog will always bark at the mailman. He has no way of understanding that the mailman is going to get in his car and leave anyway. He barked. The mailman left. It works every time so why not keep doing it! So when we are working on adding new behaviors and changing problems behaviors it is crucial that the reward be the same every single time. Otherwise we run into a common training problem called "extinction" - meaning that behavior that worked once doesn't yield the same result anymore so the dog doesn't see the point in doing it.

3. Timing

Again, dogs function on association. If you say sit and your dog gets a "good sit" with a treat the second his butt hits the ground, his butt hitting the ground will be associated with the command "sit". However, if you say "sit" and your dog gets a reward 2 minutes after his butt hits the ground while he is starting to get up and go sniff food he isn't going to have any idea what the reward is for. And the same applies to consequences. Punishing a dog for peeing on the floor after he has peed on the floor is about as effective as seeing someone on the street and punching them in the face for a comment they made last year to a family member. The dog will be completely confused by the actions, and probably will feel resentful and frustrated. And in the worst case the dog will now associate seeing pee on the floor with getting yelled at which will cause the dog to hide every time there is pee on the floor. This is often misinterpreted as guilt. But the dog doesn't hide because he feels guilty. The dog hides because someone peed on the floor and he is gonna get yelled at. That pee is bad (not him). In reality, he likely has no idea the pee actually came from him. This can create a very anxious and stressed out dog.

When giving rewards, or consequences (and I rarely give corrections, I redirect instead) it is vital that the reward, or correction, be administered at the exact second of the action or the dog may not make a correct association. And remember - when it comes to corrections, these are designed to create a negative association. Negative associations create fear. A correction that is off by even half a second can create a negative association with things you may not want the dog to be afraid of, such as other dogs, kids, or people. This is why LIMA (least intrusive method available) and FF (force free/fear free) trainers opt to use redirection instead of corrections. (Well, one of many reasons).

4. Accidentally reinforcing bad behavior

A dog is likely going to repeat any action the produces a positive result. One common mistake is when owners treat puppies different than they would treat a big dog. Golden retrievers are adorable puppies but you certainly don't want an adult golden jumping all over someone. It is important that bad behaviors be ignored or redirected from day one, with consistency. If you pick the 10 lb. puppy up and pet him when he jumps on you he is going to expect the same result at an 80 lb. dog. If the dog is jumping up on people and they laugh and pet him he will continue to jump up on people. Hey! Why not? It worked once. If the dog is barking at passing strangers (because he is afraid) and you pick him up and pet him you just may be unintentionally rewarding him for barking at those bad people. It got him pets and loves right?

5. Adopting a dog without researching the breed's specific needs.

A dog is a dog. This much is true. But a Chihuahua will never be a Doberman and a French Bulldog will never be a Labrador Retriever. Different breeds were created through special selections to enhance specific traits and drives. Sight Hounds are driven to chase, and that means they can and will chase anything. They need a strong recall, impulse control exercises, and a solid stay. They also probably love to chase a ball or a Frisbee. Scent hounds are driven to track. These dogs have incredibly strong olfactory receptors in their nose and once they get on a trail it can be hard to pull them off which means it's going to be very important to focus on training a strong recall and work on building impulse control. It also means you may want to put their strong nose to use and train them to track to enrich their natural instincts rather than punish. Terriers are rodent dogs and they may dig, bark, and can be high energy. Shepherds will herd anything they can, including children. Japanese breeds like the Akita and Chow are bred to guard and do best with strong leadership, or they may just take over. Knowing your dog's breed (or breeds if mixed) gives you ways to work with your dog on enriching his natural instincts and improve his overall quality of life.

6. Calling the dog when he is in trouble

Never call your dog to come to you when he is going to be punished. Of course he will run, and it will turn him off of coming when called for life. Dogs do everything they do for a reason. Even is that reason is to avoid being punished. I have had to rename dogs in the past because even their own name was poisoned from only being used when the dog was being called for a "correction". Save the dogs name, and words like "come" and "here" for when the dog is going to get a reward. Never call the dog with negative intentions.

7. Your dog is under exercised and bored.

Think of your dog as a child. Your dog needs toys, chews, activities, and exercise. Dog's get bored too! Imagine how you would feel if you never got to really leave the house or do anything exciting. A bored dog is NOT a trainable dog. It goes back to knowing your dogs breed. A great dane needs to run for about 2 hours a day, and does not do well in a small house or an apartment. A pug or english bulldog should not be allowed to over exercise, and should be protected from overheating due to complications in breathing from their flat face. And size doesn't necessarily equal exercise needs. A Jack Russell Terrier needs a good hour to run around and burn out every single day, while a mastiff may do fine with limited exercise, as these are lower energy dogs. If your dog isn't getting an opportunity to run around and get their "zoomies" out than those same zoomies may work their way out in other ways.

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