Training your dog is an enjoyable, fulfilling, and bonding experience. However, there are some common missteps people make when training their dogs. Through my dog trainer journey I have seen some common mistakes that dog parents make when training their dogs. As a dog trainer who enjoys guiding people on their dog training journey,I have put together what I believe are the 5 common mistakes dog parents may make through their dog training journey. I hope you find this helpful and that it creates a more harmonic connection with your dog throughout your journey.
Behavior Cue Words
Behavior cue words don’t need to be complicated. Keeping it as simple as possible, to one word or short words is always best. Use behavior words that mean what you want your dog to do. i.e.
Down = Lay down
Off = off the furniture
Look = look at me
Also, let’s talk about the word “Okay” in training. To be more specific when this word is spoken. Every “Stay” or maybe you will use “Wait” needs a release word. One of the most common mistakes pet parents can make is using the word “Okay”. Why is this a problem? We use this word so much in our everyday vocabulary that it is easy for mistakes to happen. They have. For example: let’s say you put your dog in a stay, but you are having a phone conversation and during your conversation, you say “Okay”. You will unintentionally release your dog from the “stay”. Then your dog runs off to somewhere you don’t want them to go. Your dog did nothing wrong, they followed your instructions exactly as you taught them. What word(s) should you use? I will suggest to clients that “Free” or “Release” are great. Some people will even use the word “Go”. Use words that mean what your dog will do.
Avoid using the same word for multiple behaviors. What does this mean? The most common example I will see is when dog parents use “Down” for lay down. On the same day use it for something they don’t want them to do, an example would be “Down” for off the furniture or people. Using the same word in this example can be confusing for dogs and gets frustrating for people because they think their dog is being stubborn. In reality, their dog is confused because they are using one word for two completely different behaviors. Pick one word and stick with it. Again your chosen cue word should mean what you want them to do. Off or Down.
Dogs are Visual Learners
A common mistake pet parents will make with dog training is to start saying the behavior cue word they want their dog to do. They expect that their dog will know the behavior and perform it immediately. However, dogs learn faster visually with a hand signal. So without teaching them the behavior, they won’t know what the word means. It’s like me talking to you in Latin and expecting you to understand. Instead of repeating the cue word louder and louder, the more efficient and enjoyable approach for both of you would be to start luring the behavior (which becomes the hand signal). When your dog responds to the hand sign consistently without a treat, you can begin to add the cue word you wish to use.
Work at Your Dog’s Level
We are a microwave society which means we are so used to having things happen now and when we want them. Dog training does not work that way. Training is working at your dog’s pace, not yours. Some days your dog may need to slow it down, other days you may need to push them harder. When working with clients some days their dogs don’t want to work, that is okay. They do get a case of the Mondays too. Then there are days when they are all in and acing training. However it is up to you to adapt to Fido’s level, not the other way around. Set a realistic expectation on what can be accomplished. If you aren’t realistic in the achievable goals, you are setting both of you up for failure. Dog training is not a sprint. Think of it as a Tough Mudder, there will be obstacles, some are fun, others are not. You will get dirty, and sweaty but the payoff is a beer and a special treat for your dog at the finish line.
One of the key ingredients to success in training is Consistency. Without it, training will take longer and results won’t be what you want. Getting off track is easy, so keeping yourself accountable is important. Training sessions should be every day. Sessions don’t have to be long, no longer than 15 minutes two or three times a day. Setting some kind of schedule can help, even implementing training into real-life behaviors works. The more inconsistent you are with training, the more inconsistent your results will be. Training every other day will lead to inconsistent results such as random stays, random recalls, and inconsistent walking nicely on the leash. Behavior like this will lead to frustration for both you and your dog. Consistency will be key to seeing growth in your dog and yourself as a dog parent.
Don’t Forget the Fun
Most importantly, have fun with your pup. You have a new dog and are creating a bond with this new family member. Enjoy the journey, the small successes, the silly mistakes, and everything else in between. It can be hard to see the small successes but they build up and you will see the big wins. As a dog trainer, I see that all the time. Yes, the downs will happen. Dog training may seem tedious but how you approach training with your dog will completely change your journey.
If you have any questions on how to stay focused on your dog training, please feel free to contact me.