As a professional dog trainer, I see many clients with dogs of different ages, breeds, and temperaments. I might work on leash pulling with the first, reactivity with the second, and resource guarding with the third. Whatever the issue is, there are some prevalent training mistakes that most owners make at some point. Knowing what to avoid can accelerate your dog training and set yourself and your pup up for success!
Dog Training Mistakes You Need To Watch Out For
1. Picking the wrong breed.
Unfortunately, many owners end up with a dog whose personality is not compatible with their lifestyle. If you like to Netflix and chill on the weekend, don’t get a German Shorthair pointer. If you like to be by yourself, don’t get an outgoing and social dog like the Bernedoodle. If you are not a fan of brushing your dog, don’t get a Shih Tzu!
Before deciding on a puppy, inform yourself about the characteristics of your chosen breed. A lot of future problems can be avoided by picking one that matches your lifestyle. There are over 200 registered breeds plus thousands of different mixes. Find the perfect one for you.
2. “Taking breaks” from training.
Most owners I’ve worked with start out highly motivated and train their dogs really well for 1-2 weeks. Then life happens, and they take a day off. Then another day, and then another one.
Suddenly they have not trained in a month or two!
Taking breaks from training is a really poor idea as most owners do not start up again. Your dog will also continue to learn during the “break”. He will rehearse unwanted behaviors such as counter surfing or leash pulling. The longer you do not train, the more your dog will train himself and you will not like it!
3. Not being proactive.
Successful training is only possible if you are a proactive trainer. This means that you need to look ahead and identify possible problems before you set out to train.
If you, for example, want to work on a recall and you know that your dog might run away after a rabbit – then you need to put him on a long line and prevent him from taking off.
If you are working with a reactive dog, you have to take him to a place where you know that no dog will run up to yours. Never start to train without a plan.
4. Training more than one dog at once.
If you have multiple dogs, you may be tempted to train them all at once. This nearly never works out. You can think of training like a conversation that you have with your dog. In order to train him well, you have to be an attentive and focused conversation partner.
Training two (or even more) dogs at once is like having a conversation with several people at the same time. You will be a poor conversation partner to all! If you have two dogs and 10 minutes of training time, it is much better spent by training 5 minutes with each dog than by training 10 minutes with two dogs.
You want your dog to pay attention to you and give his very best to do well – and you need to do the same!
5. Not refreshing old skills.
Unless you give your dog regular refreshers, he will forget skills that he learned in the past. If you have, for example, taught your puppy to lie down on a mat and then did not practice this for months, chances are you have to start over at the beginning. The more important a skill is for you, the more often you should refresh it for your dog.
Think of it like fitness: Just because you could run 5 miles once does not mean that you keep this skill forever without regular practice. The same applies to your dog and his skills!
6. Not following progression plans.
If you are working with a professional dog trainer or following a tutorial from YouTube, you need to follow the steps outlined in the training program.
I encounter owners all the time who try to skip steps when it comes to advancing a skill. They might, for example, practice calling their dog at home but then skip practicing in the yard or the park and go straight to attempting to call their dogs in a forest with wildlife. This will not work!
When a trainer gives you a training plan with gradual progression, this is not because he wants to bore you or recommend an unreasonable amount of work. It is because he knows which steps are required to teach behaviors effectively.
Do not skip ahead in training plans. Follow each step and repeat exercises as often as needed. This will let you progress the fastest and teach behaviors that your dog will understand well!
7. Picking the wrong time to train.
Just like people, dogs have sleeping rhythms. While we only sleep once or twice in 24 hours, dogs take multiple naps and have several waking and sleeping periods within a day.
You should always time your training in a way that makes use of these natural rhythms. If you want to work on catching frisbees or learning a new trick, do this when your dog is wide awake, such as first thing in the morning or after his midday nap. If you are planning to train a calm behavior such as “Sit”, “Stay”, or settling on a mat, choose a time when your dog is already relaxed, such as before his midday nap or before going to bed. You can make training a lot easier for yourself by picking the right times for each behavior!
The Bottom Line
Training can be a lot faster and more efficient by following some guidelines. Don’t get a breed that does not match your lifestyle. Train in short but successful sessions with your dog, plan ahead, only train with one dog at a time, and always follow progression plans.
Avoid taking breaks in your training as a break quickly becomes an indefinite suspension. Instead, work a little bit every day with your dog – the more you make this a habit, the quicker he will learn. Get more dog training tips here!