Expecting Too Much; Why It’s Ruining Your Dog Training
Many of the things we expect our dogs to do on a daily basis are difficult chained behaviors that go against their instincts and everything they WANT to do.
We start by teaching our dogs simple behaviors like “sit” and “down”.
We take them to dog obedience classes to drill in these simple concepts but we rarely teach them or test them in distracting environments, we just expect them to know that a command is the same no matter where they are.
But dogs think and learn differently and they have difficulty generalizing even easy commands when they are distracted. For more on that read this article by clicking on the link here.
Most of the things we want from our dogs are difficult chained behaviors.
- Expect your dog to give you eye contact and focus while heeling while another dog barks and lunges on a leash from across the street?
- Expect your dog to stop fence fighting on command?
- Expect your dog NOT to pull on a leash no matter what else is going on?
Would it shock you to know that these are very complex behaviors that require many behavior in between that you are expecting from your dog?
And, each of those behaviors in between need to be taught to your dog and established in your training regimen and then tested slowly as you build on it toward your goal.
Overcoming a bad habit, or teaching a difficult behavior may take months.
But People’s Expectations are Too High
But people’s expectations for their dogs are often too high which sets them both up for failure and frustration in the end.
They think once they have taught a few simple behaviors in a sterile environment (one with little to no distractions) that their dog is ready to be tested in the real world amongst lots of distractions.
Eye Contact and focus
I break down and teach this behavior in our companion dog program. If you need help teaching your dog eye contact and focus read this. https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/eye-contact-focus-behavior-broken/
Each session I will get questions from people who started out on the first week in their homes teaching their dogs, and their dogs successfully begin to give them eye contact on command for very short durations (you have to work to extend the duration of the behavior), who then think they can ask for this behavior on command when they take the dog for a walk… only to find that the behavior is gone or they can’t get it on cue anymore.
Their expectations are WAY TOO HIGH
It takes me months to get my dogs to give me devoted eye contact and focus in a distracting environment while heeling.
And, if you don’t build the foundation well; you are making training much more difficult if not impossible.
Your dog learns the command and is rewarded for the behavior in short duration of course in the beginning.
Then you take him out and he ignores your command (because he isn’t ready to be tested to this degree) and he continues to hear the command as you command him over and over and so he learns to ignore this command.
So you went from teaching your dog a command, to teaching your dog to ignore you all in the first week.
Instead you must teach the behavior first in a sterile environment until he understands fully and is 95% reliable, then you begin to add more distractions like environment, then more like squirrels, or kids, or balls etc. until the behavior is again 95%.
Once he has been taught in many environments and you have tested him with multiple distractions, then and only then is he ready for a good walk in an environment you can’t control.
You see, you build a strong foundation first in order to be successful!
Then you back up a bit if you need to when he struggles, and he will struggle they all do, but you have given him the tools he needs to accomplish the goals you have for him.
If you go from new behavior to a walk you haven’t given him the learning and the tools he needs to be successful. You are setting him and YOURSELF up for failure! This is when people get frustrated and think it is too hard, so they must quit! When really, if you take the time to teach your dog in all environments you will end up with a dog that can conquer just about anything.
We all know I love eye contact and focus ;) so let’s talk about another behavior.
Fence fighting! You’ve taken your dog to obedience class, so he should listen when you yell at him to stop fence fighting right?
The truth is that this is a very complex behavior as well.
Instinctively dogs are territorial, so putting another dog on top of your dog’s territory is setting them up for failure or something they are not used to.
Plus, fence fighting for the dogs is FUN!!! They get to run back and forth and bark and snap and be dogs, fence fighting is a good time if you are a dog!
So, oddly enough I recommend teaching your dog to give you eye contact and focus when you have a fence fighter ;)
It is impossible to give you eye contact and focus and still fence fight.
So I tell my clients to teach the eye contact and focus and of course they have to work up to the distraction of having another dog chase the fence and fight.
They must keep their dogs on a leash all of the time to STOP the bad behavior from happening until they can get control of it behaviorally (which can take months).
But you can’t give your dog one or two sessions and expect him to know and comply.
In fact every time he is allowed to fence fight (obviously not being walked on a leash) he is more likely to fence fight the next time. Even if he has been kept from it for a month, that one time he is allowed to go back to the undesired behavior it is as if you are at square one again!
But people have these crazy high expectations for their dogs.
They don’t want to actually train them to comply, and they certainly don’t want to invest the time it takes to change bad or obsessive behaviors.
First you must teach your dog where you expect him to be and what you expect him to do; and leash training takes many steps.
AND, allowing your dog to pull you on leash while you are in the middle of leash training, teaches him to pull!
I recommend my clients STOP walking their dogs on leash until they have taught their dogs where to be and what to do and then work their way up in distractions.
Dogs can be exercised in a multitude of ways without going on a "walk" with their owners. And, many of them are better exercise for your dog!
For more on leash manners and teaching your dog the components he needs to stop pulling click here.
Sometimes you are just expecting too much! Remember you can’t send your kindergartner to college, there is a lot of learning, steps, and a firm foundation you need before moving on to complex behaviors!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.