5 Common Dog Training Mistakes and What to Do Instead

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From my first day working with Pixie, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me. Like most shelter dogs, we didn’t know her background, but it was clear that this six-year old terrier mix hadn’t had it easy.

She didn’t know her basic cues like ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ and so on, but someone had certainly tried to teach her some life skills, and my guess was they’d done so using pain, fear, and intimidation. In the beginning, I couldn’t get close to Pixie, let alone get her to trust my attempts to lure her into simple positions.

After several visits, Pixie finally began to relax. When we were able to start work on our cues, I selected hand targeting (where the dog chooses to touch their nose to the palm of your hand) and ‘sit’ as easy, confidence-building tasks that could help us lay a good foundation for future training.

It’s not that Pixie was dumb. Months down the road, she would be playing dead to my finger-gun “bang” cue and weaving around poles. She was shut down, and afraid of my response to her getting a request wrong.

Working with Pixie, I became very aware of the dog training traps that are so easy for even a professional to fall into. In the beginning of our work together, my mistakes could lead to confusion from Pixie that would lead a backslide that could force us to start all over again.

Whether your dog is a learning machine or needs extra care and time like Pixie, these common dog training mistakes are good ones to avoid.

1. Impatience

Every dog learns at their own pace and it doesn’t do you, or them, any good to set a timeline for how quickly they should pick up a new skill.

Be patient! The skills will come.

2. Expecting too much too soon

Along the same lines as general impatience, this one is common. I like to think of building a dog’s ability in any particular cue as equivalent to a child’s journey through school.

What I mean by that is, you wouldn’t expect a 9-year-old learning addition and subtraction to go on to the advanced algebra that kids several years their senior are doing.

Similarly, just because you’ve taught your dog to come when you call inside the house (2nd grade level) doesn’t mean they’ll be able to come when you call at the dog park (college level). To get them to the college level, you need to build their skills through grade school, middle school, and high school levels.

In other words, you need to slowly increase the challenge, building your dog’s ability to succeed in more and more difficult situations over time.

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