I thought you might like to hear about the most common dog training mistakes that owners make when working on a dog behaviour problem. If you can avoid these, you may not need my help at all in fact (So don’t tell your friends about this article, or I’ll go out of business. Give ‘em my number instead! Shhh…)
Here, then are the four most common dog training mistakes for you to avoid:
- Rewarding Bad Behaviour By Mistake. It happens all the time. You come home from work and Fido jumps up. You fuss him and tell him ‘good boy’, almost before you’re in the house. Fido thinks “Ah-ha. Jumping up gets attention. I will try that more often”. Before you know it, Fido looks like a lunatic with a pogo stick every time someone comes to visit. Sound familiar..? The moral: Don’t reward unwanted behaviour and bear in mind that ‘reward’ means anything pleasurable for Fido – Fuss, attention, play, treats etc. Incidentally, rewarding fearful reactions by cuddling the dog and stroking them can intensify the reaction. It’s human nature to reassure, but it’s not natural for dogs.
- Talking Too Much. I talk a lot, but mainly to people! If you watch me communicating with dogs you’ll see I don’t talk much at all. Talking is more of a human thing. When we’re not understood, we rephrase things or change our emphasis. If you ask the dog to sit and it doesn’t work, then changing the tone of voice and even the words in an attempt to help Fido to understand won’t work. Invariably it confuses him. You know the kind of thing, you hear it every day in the park: “Sit.. sit.. siiit.. siddown.. sit.. Fido sit.. WILL YOU SIT DOWN!!” Add to that the fact that we usually get more stressed and frantic the more we repeat ourselves and you have a recipe for a ‘deaf’ dog. Good leaders are always calm and assertive, never frantic. One good clear command, always the same word, is worth five bad ones every time. Try it!
- Being Inconsistent. Dog trainers are always harping on about this one but it’s a big deal. There’s no better way to slow down your dog’s understanding than to be inconsistent. Think of it from your dog’s point of view: “I jump up on the sofa, they make me get off; I try again, they make me get off; I try once more, they mutter something but I get to stay” Then ten minutes later: “I jump up on the sofa, they make me get off again. Humans are weird and I’m confused but it looks like persistence pays off so I’ll keep trying”. Actually I’m not so sure that dogs think quite like this but you get the idea: Inconsistency brings confusion. Incidentally, if you’re tired, fed up or having a bad day, you absolutely must apply your rules in the same way as ever, regardless. Good leaders in our world are like this too – you always know where you stand with them and that’s a good feeling. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
- Keeping a Tight Leash. If you walk a dog with a tight lead, he’ll usually pull against you. It’s called opposition reflex. Try this in the house: Have your dog sitting calmly with a slack lead. In your normal dog walking position, gently start to pull backwards, very gradually increasing tension. You’ll notice that your dog never falls over backwards because most will pull against the force you apply to stay upright. If you release the tension, most dogs stay in position (they release muscle tension). Some actually walk on, using the forward drive you created. In effect, you’re teaching your dog to pull against the lead. It’s hard not to do it sometimes because the dog pulls first, often before you’ve even got to the door. How to achieve a slack lead when walking the dog is a skill you must learn and you may need a little help with a few techniques to avoid triggering the opposition reflex – but it’s well worth investing a little time and effort to stop a dog pulling on the lead. Walking the dog can be a great pleasure when there’s no tugging going on (and it’s so much better for your dog). You might also want to check out my article “5 Ways NOT To Walk A Dog“
So there you have it, if you can avoid these common dog training mistakes, you’re off to a great start. Dog training and dog psychology isn’t hard to get your head around if it’s explained properly. Clients are always telling me that it’s all really obvious once you know how. I love to hear that – I’m a big fan of the common sense approach!
If you’d like to hear how I can help with a dog behaviour problem – or how to avoid one – please contact me.