Understanding How Dog’s Learn
Do you have a dog who doesn’t seem to be learning how to behave as quickly as you’d like, and you’re concerned that if you don’t figure out how get through to him his behavior is going to keep getting worse?
If so, don’t feel bad! Getting stubborn dogs to learn how to be calm, obedient, relaxed dogs is really hard to do if you don’t understand how to read dog body language.
Not learning how to read dog body language is like trying to communicate with someone who ignores things like your facial expressions, eye rolling, or arm crossing when you don’t want to talk. Ignoring the subtle, nonverbal parts of communication ends up creating situations like this:
It’s a funny cartoon, but it’s not that funny when you watch YouTube videos like this, where the dog is OBVIOUSLY giving off signs that he doesn’t want the toddler to be crawling on him, and it ends badly. Remember, a dog’s mouth is a very dangerous weapon if pushed too far, as this poor family found out the hard way:
Obviously, this is an example of a dog showing body language that leads to aggressive behavior. But, dogs show many other types of body language signs too… like fear, happiness & stress. By learning how to read this canine body language and reading your dog’s entire body, life with your dog stops being a one-way conversation and creates a shared communication between pets and their owners.
Knowing that This Secret Dog Body Language Exists, What Should You do About It?
Well… have you ever been in a situation where you had to try and communicate with someone who didn’t speak the same language as you?
Like maybe you tried to learn where the bathroom was in a foreign country and the person you asked didn’t speak English?
What did you end up doing to try to communicate?
Maybe you did some pointing? Maybe you crossed your legs to act out that you ‘had to go’ to get the point across?
In most cases, whenever we humans know we’re not being understood, we try to find some sort of a common language. We know there’s a language barrier, so we turn to other types of communication.
So this begs the question…
What “Language” do Canines Understand?
While it is true that dogs can learn to understand verbal cues and vocalizations…
(because after all they need to know that growling from another pack member means, ‘back the ‘F’ off’)
… vocalizations are NOT the primary way dogs communicate and learn from each other.
The primary way that dogs communicate with each other is actually more through NON-verbal communication.
What we tell our clients here at TheDogTrainingSecret.com is that if you have a dog who is ignoring you, it’s usually because dogs don’t listen with their ears very well… they actually “listen” more with their eyes. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that dogs can’t learn to listen (I’ll actually show you how to get them to listen later on)… I’m just saying that it’s not the DEFAULT way dogs communicate.
To show you what I mean here’s a simple ‘Turning Head’ test you can perform on your dog to see if your dog has this same type of listening problem. By turning your head away from your dog so he can’t see your mouth or your facial expressions, you can find out if your dog was actually listening to the words you were saying, or just reading facial expressions.
Try This Quick ‘Dog Listening Test’
Pretty crazy huh? My dog wasn’t listening at all! He was reading my facial cues! So the second I hid them from him, he was essentially DEAF to my commands. And many, many dogs are like this.
This happens because dogs are experts at nonverbal communication. They are constantly using their eyes, mouth, tails and body posture to try to tell us how they’re feeling. If we want our dogs to learn behaviors as quickly as possible, we first need to get better at understanding the nonverbal communication signals they’re sending us ALL day long.
So let’s first start with…
How to Read Your Canine’s Mind Through Their Eyes
When learning to read your dog’s eyes, you need to be able to identify the three different types of eye cues dogs give you, which are Neutral, Aroused/Anxious, or “Whale Eyes”. Here’s a great video on reading dog eye cues. See if you can look at the image below and match the pictures of dog eyes to the appropriate eye cue type.
Step #1: Match the Dog Eye Images to the Three Types of Dog Eye Cues
Also… watch for dogs who look at you from the corner of their eyes, or avert eye contact. This is a common look for dogs who are feeling fearful. It’s also common for these types of dogs to keep their mouths closed tightly, and hold their breath. If you see a dog doing these things, he’s telling you he’s scared!
Watch For ‘Averting’ Eye-Contact
Remember, if you see a dog exhibiting signs of fear or stress, they will typically respond in one of three ways: fight, flee, or cower.
Humans are pretty bad at actually noticing these signs in dogs. So bad, in fact, that a recent study of dog experts who analyzed dog body language signs in social media pictures where dog owners were hugging their dogs, noted that 80+ percent of dogs were showing signs of stress while being hugged. And the owners had no idea! Learning how to spot these signs is going to make your pooch’s life so much less stressful!
Step #2: Learn How to Read a Dog’s Mind Through Their Tail
The way your dog wags his tail is a fascinating study.
Tail wagging to a dog is like facial expressions to us humans. So just like how we know a smiling person is approachable, and an angry person should be avoided… dogs get that same information from a tail wag.
Here’s a few tips on how to read this nonverbal communication:
Reading Tail Height
How high a dog’s tail is can be a pretty good way to gauge the intensity of your dog’s emotions.
If your dog’s tail is middle height he’s in a pretty relaxed state. If the tail goes straight up, the dog is getting too excited or upset; and the lower it gets the dog is getting more upset or anxious.
But height isn’t the only thing to pay attention to.
The direction your dog’s tail wags, and the speed at which he wags his tail mean different things too.
For example. a tail wagging to the left, like in the images below, is a negative tail wag. A dog wagging his tail in this way is in a negative state of mind. A tail wagging to the right says the dog is in a positive state of mind, and a tail tucked between his legs means he’s feeling submissive.
I recommend taking this chart and starting to pay attention to other dogs while out on walks. See if you can gain some more insights into their emotions. The first time I did this, it was like those videos of people who have their ears cured and hear for the first time; because you realize there is this whole level of communication that your dog has been trying to tell you that you never new about. It’s really pretty cool.
Step #3: Reading Your Dog’s Posture
There are a few reasons you want to make sure you learn how to interpret a dog’s posture.
The first is if you are interested in socializing your dog to other dogs. Socialization is a two-way street with dogs. You need to be able to look at your own dog and read his comfort level around other dogs so you don’t push him too fast and CREATE an anxiety issue. But, even more important, you need to be able to read BAD dog behavior from afar, so you can avoid them.
You don’t want to blindly let your dog walk up to a dominant dog only to end up having to break up a dog fight.
The Pass/No Pass Philosophy
Here at TheDogTrainingSecret.com we teach a pass/no-pass philosophy to people who are training their dogs how to properly interact with others out in the world. What pass/no-pass means is that we want to stay VERY far away from dogs with certain types of posture, as we can tell that they are likely to lunge, bark or attack our dog if we get too close. When people make this mistake and allow their dog to have run-ins with dogs like these, it builds their dog’s anxiety “Head Trash” when they see other dogs (this is especially important when working with a new puppy). So, instead of praying that a dog-to-dog interaction will go well, just walk far around these types of dogs, or step off the side of the path and stay far enough away to prevent an accident.
Here’s an example of dogs you should steer clear of and ones that are ok to walk by:
Also… if you notice YOUR dog doing any of the behaviors in the RED zone on the above graphic, please do other dog owners a favor and steer clear of other dogs, as your dog is not yet ready to interact appropriately. You won’t be doing either dog a favor if you try to approach a submissive dog who’s hiding behind his owners legs, or who seems overly excited to play.
Usually, if you follow those large posture cues you’ll be doing pretty well. But there are some other, more subtle, body language cues that you’ll want to learn how to spot.
Identifying the More Subtle Nonverbal Signs in Dogs
A dog’s posture is the next thing you need to pay attention to, specifically, if you are trying to read a dog who has fear, anxiety or aggression. As with all cues, some can be subtle, and some are more obvious.
Here’s a quick list:
- Excessive Yawning
- Lip Licking
- Raised Hackles (these differ based on dog breeds)
- Heavy Panting
- Avoiding Eye Contact and Lowering his Head
- Rapid Pacing Back & Forth Like He’s Nervous
And to help you know what each of these looks like, here’s a video that shows you examples of each.
How To Spot Fearful Body Posture In Dogs
Are you starting to see why learning to read your dog’s body language is so key in helping him learn how to behave? Who would have thought that whether or not your dog licks his lips too much was a warning sign, right?
Once we better understand how to tell what your dog is thinking through body posture, types of eye contact, and tail position and movement, the question should be…
What Should You Do When You See Signs of Stress in Your Dog’s Body Language?
When your dog’s body language suggests he’s stressed, we believe in using a handful of different strategies for helping them overcome their fears and anxieties, by working ‘Below their Emotional Threshold’ with low level stimulus. We even built a whole course around this called Impulse Control that you can check out here.
Let’s say you have a dog who is fearful or anxious around other dogs. In that situation, take your dog to an area where you know dogs will be, like a park or trail. Experiment with how close you can get to other dogs before your dog starts to show body language cues that he’s feeling stressed. Let’s say in this example that is 30 feet away, and you notice your dog start to lick his lips all of a sudden when he’s that close to another dog.
If 30 feet is the distance where your dog starts to feel stressed, then that’s the place we need to start!
If we try to push it and force our dog to work through his fears while he’s 10 feet from the other dog, that’s too much emotional intensity for your dog to make progress.
Be Wary of Forcing Your Dog to Push Through His Fears
There is a very popular dog trainer on TV that has made a name for himself by using video editing to make it look like he can fix fearful dogs by dominating them and forcing them to submit to his ALPHA will.
I cannot even begin to express how dangerous, and harmful, these approaches are to your dog’s ability to have emotional resilience.
When you take the approach of forcing your dog to confront his fears full on, and at their full intensity, you get one of three responses. Your dog will try to flee, fight or cower. Just like you wouldn’t take someone with a fear of spiders and lock them in box full of Tarantulas (in the hopes that’d they’d just ‘get over it’), we don’t want to flood our dog’s emotional system with overwhelming fear and anxiety. Doing so actually makes it MORE likely that your dog will become MORE fearful, anxious and submissive.
Like these poor dogs who’ve been trained to cower submissively by a dog trainer who uses electric shock as a consequence the second their dogs get out of line. Is this what you want your dog to look like?
Don’t Take That Approach, Do This Instead…
Instead of using methods like the trainer above, we want to use training methods that teach our dogs to be calm and relaxed when in the presence of things that get them overly emotional.
We want dog’s that look like this while out on a walk: happy, calm and well adjusted, and NOT like the video above.
By taking the time to learn how to read the different types of anxious, excited, fearful and aggressive body language that dog’s are displaying, we take a HUGE leap forward in our ability to be better communicators with our dogs. Better communication leads to a deeper bond, and more obedient behavior.
How Do You Get Your Dog To Understand YOU?
To get any living creature to learn we need to provide some type of motivation. And professional dog trainers have long ago discovered that there are only 4 ways to motivate an animal, so whether you are looking to help your new puppy stop doing an unwanted behavior or you’re trying to teach your old dog some new tricks, you only have four options.
Here’s a video that explains them pretty clearly:
We here at the dog training secret like to focus only on the giving of rewards, and the taking away of rewards because research by Hiby et al and Blackwell et al found that dogs trained using only positive reinforcement are more obedient than dogs trained with punishment. And that dog’s trained with punishment are more excitedable and more aggressive.
Plus in a study about the affects of training small dogs versus large dogs by Arhant et al the researchers determined that small dogs are even more negatively affected by punishment based training, and ended up being even more likely to become aggressive when trained with punishment based methods.
So for those reasons, we focus on teaching dog obedience through a more positive reinforcement based dog training approach.
Many dog trainers and owners think this means we only believe in food bribes for our dogs.
This could not be further from the truth. Sure, we like using food rewards during training sessions when they’re available, but there are LOTS of other methods for raising a well-behaved dog besides just using a treat.
The truth is that anything a dog desires can be used as a reward to help him learn, as long as you set up training games that allow him to earn those desires as a reward; or set up games that takes those rewards if we’re trying to get rid of an unwanted behavior.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite positive reinforcement dog training rewards…
7 Powerful Ways To Motivate Your Dog To Learn FASTER
Prey drive is a dog’s built in genetic desire to chase small things. After all, chasing down small animals and game is how dogs have survived all these years; so it makes sense that there’s a hard-coded genetic behavior that makes dogs want to chase things.
That’s why you have dogs that LOVE to chase cats, chickens, balls, cars, kids on bikes and practically anything else that moves 😉
For dogs that have strong pretty drive and love to chase things, it can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because your dog can be trained to literally do ANYTHING, if it means chasing something like his favorite ball. But if not taught how to control this desire it can turn into an obsession and develop into a really undesired behavior. For example, I rescued the Chocolate Lab in the video below, who’s previous owners had built up my Labs prey drive; but completely neglected to teach him how to control it.
The result, was a dog who would uncontrollably bark at any moving ball, whether it was one I’d just thrown or one being thrown to another dog 100 yards away on the far side of a park.
As the video shows, if you are clever, you can set up positive reinforcement dog training games like this one, that teach your dog how to control his emotional outbursts to get his reward. This method allows the dog to learn what we want him to do WITHOUT having to resort to negative, aversive methods and techniques to fix your dog’s behavioral problems.
To see the entire process for how I finally trained this dog to control his prey drive click here.
Here’s the thing with prey drive though…
While the dog in the above video had TOO much prey drive, and we had to teach him how to control it, some dogs have practically NONE. And this can be a big problem too, because if this type of dog is not food motivated, or prey drive motivated many trainers end up feeling like they have no way of motivating their dog to obey.
They’ll say things like “My dog doesn’t like to chase a ball”
But what they don’t know is that this drive can be TRAINED! We call it building Play Drive, and its one of our favorite positive reinforcement dog training techniques to use on certain types of dogs.
It’s taught be using what we call flirt poles, to get your dog excited to play games of chase, but in a way we can control.
Once you’ve built up some prey drive in your dog it allows you to use that drive as a powerful motivator when out and about with your dog in public. If you’ve got the kind of dog that likes to run off towards animals like squirrels or cats, taking the time to build this prey drive into your dog allows you a replacement reward that you can give your dog for ignoring squirrels and cats; because you can train your dog to learn to anticipate a fun game of tug or chase with a flirt pole, whenever it sees squirrels or bunnies.
Done consistently enough your dog can be trained to no longer want to chase bunnies, but to realize that the sight of a bunny or cat means he gets to play a fun game with YOU. It’s a VERY powerful bit of reverse psychology that’s one of our favorite positive reinforcement dog training techniques.
Many dogs LIVE for exercise, whether that’s a simple walk, going out for a run, or the desire to pull (like Huskies who were bred for sled dog work). Dogs with this type of primary motivation often whine, bark and get overly excited whenever they anticipate that they’re about to get some exercise.
Dog’s that have this as a primary motivation need to be managed in one of two ways.
First… you need to live by this rule:
Seriously, if your dog is the kind of dog who starts to freak out, spin around and whine whenever you go to grab your car keys… PUT the car keys back if your dog whines. Otherwise you are LITERALLY training your dog to whine! So many problem behaviors are ingrained this way. Owners give in to their young puppies desires early on, and then are surprised when their pup grows up into a dog who has behavior problems.
It’s ok if your dog gets excited, but it has to be done appropriately. Your dog needs to behave through the entire process of anticipating exercise.
Basically if at any point your dog whines, you do what we call “work backwards”. If your dog starts whining as you pull the car out of the driveway… pull it back in, get him out of the car, shut the door and try again. Make it your mission to be able to back out of the driveway with a quiet dog.
The same goes for any other step too. If your dog whines when you grab your coat or keys, put them back and try again in 30 seconds. Don’t just yell at your dog, but still reward him with a fun walk.
This is one of those positive reinforcement dog training techniques that can be used to fix a lot of other unwanted behaviors in your dog too. Like how I used it to get this Golden Retriever to stop barking at me whenever he was tied up:
That’s how you can use your dog’s exercise motivation to get him to behave.
Many people don’t realize that if you have a dog who likes to jump up on you or guests who come over to your home; or the type of dog who is just a bubble invader… you likely have a dog with a petting motivation that you can use to your advantage.
If you have a dog like this there’s a very simple game you can start to play that will train your dog to sit at the feet of anyone he wants to be pet by, instead of jumping up on them or rubbing his wet nose on their hand.
It’s called the ‘Sit For Pet’s rule and it’s my FAVORITE puppy training game for getting puppies to stop jumping up; and it works great for older dogs too.
Basically, you teach your dog that you don’t get pet if you’re begging for pets in a way that’s annoying and invasive. Instead you need to sit for pets.
If you’re consistent with this enough, your dog will run over to new guests and sit at their feet. As a bonus tip, teach your dog to read the hand cue of hand out for petting. This is a universal cue that all people who might want to pet your dog give to dogs. So by teaching him to sit when he sees it, your dog will start to sit for EVERYONE who has an interest in petting him.
One tool that can make this easier, is an automatic treat dispenser. By having one of these loaded up with treats, you can hit a button when your dog sits for guests who come over, and the machine makes a beep noise, letting your dog know he’s earned a treat, without having to run to the fridge every time.
This works so well, that it is VERY common to have the postman come up to my house, and see all my dogs sitting at his feet waiting for pets. It works, TRY IT!
Freedom is another powerful motivator. Dog’s love to charge out into open space, run down a road, take off into the woods or dive into a pond. They were born to be free.
One way that you can use a dog’s freedom motivation in your dog’s life every day, is when it comes to going through doors. Dog’s with a high FREEDOM motivation often act like a ballistic missile that seems like its aimed at your knee caps.
This is unacceptable dog behavior, and can be dangerous for the elderly or young children; not to mention ANNOYING!!!
Fortunately for you, but unfortunately for me, I was stuck house sitting a dog that had this problem a while back and decided to shoot a video on how I fixed this dog’s door barging habit in just a few minutes. It shows you how to teach your dog to make eye contact with you, if it wants you to open the door, instead of being laser focused on the opening crack of the door.
An often over looked form of motivating your dog to stop doing unwanted behaviors is play. Recently I was travelling through the Portland Airport, (a GREAT airport by the way)… and the reason they are so great is because they use working Drug & Bomb dogs to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to checking for explosives or dangerous materials that may be coming into their airport.
These drug dogs will, go back and forth sniffing people for hours, and the ONLY tool their handlers use to motivate the dog to do the behaviors he wanted, was a quick 30 second game of tug every 15-20 minutes.
Of course, there’s a process to building up a dog’s desire to do a behavior for that long of a period of time, where he’s willing to work that hard for a game of tug, but none the less, that’s what he was working for. Just a quick game of tug with his owner.
This is a POWERFUL tool for motivating your dog, (especially a young puppy with lots of energy to burn) and is especially helpful when you need your dog to behave for long periods of time.
When it comes to using treats to get dogs to behave, dog owners often make the mistake of thinking that by using treats as a way to motivate your dog, you make it so he’ll only obey you when treats are present.
This is NOT a problem if you use a concept that we call Random Rewarding.
Random Rewarding works on dogs using the same psychology that Las Vegas slot machines use to train humans to ignore their fear of losing money and convert that fear into a hopeful excitement about possibly winning money. Even though that reward is RARELY given 😉
Just like a slot machine addicts people by giving you a combination of small rewards, no rewards and BIG rewards at random times… by randomizing when and what types of treats you give your dog when he does something, and randomizing how long it takes you to give him a treat, you can train dogs to work for long periods of time without any food present.
By randomizing when you give rewards using a process like our ‘Simon Say’s’ process that we teach in our Hands Off Dog training course, you end up training the dog to obey you without having to have food treats on you. The treats can just sit in a ‘Dog Cookie Jar’ on the counter! By teaching the dog that the treats come from the counter, and not in a ‘bait bag’ attached to your person, dogs quickly learn that they need to obey you whether or not they can smell treats on you, because they know there are treats on the counter in the other room.
By ingraining the pattern of going to the ‘cookie jar’ enough times, after your dog has done a behavior you’ve asked him to do, you can easily train a dog to work for treats, without always having to have the treats on you. It’s definitely one of my favorite motivating tools for positive reinforcement dog training.
For example, let’s say you have a puppy who doesn’t like to come when he’s called, and instead likes to run off in the other direction. Puppies do this, because they have a fear based around the idea that if they come to you, you will make their playtime STOP.
So if you don’t give your dog some type of reward after he comes when you call, you are literally PUNISHING YOUR DOG and making him less likely to obey you the next time you call. But if you start to randomly give your dog treats from the counter every time he comes, it will convert that fear from always being on his mind, to HOPEFUL thoughts about whether or not he’ll get a treat this time.
Are you starting to see how different animal behaviors require different motivators to change?
Positive reinforcement dog training isn’t just about relying on verbal praise and petting to get dog obedience. Those types training programs will only work on the most basic obedience behaviors, and won’t help you ever get an excited puppy to listen, or help you counteract a dog who’s in an environment FULL of distractions.
It requires you to set boundaries too. It just does so in a way that gives and takes away the things that your dog wants most in his life, as the tool for getting obedience, instead of using punishment based methods that have been proven to create fear & learned helplessness.
Plus, it Goes Even Deeper
Each of these motivating factors has several different ways theycan be used. Sometimes the motivator is given, and sometimes its taken away and each type has its strengths and weaknesses. Some techniques are better at getting dogs to work harder and be more patient, while other motivators are best used if you want your dog to stop doing a bad behavior.
However, you need to realize that even if you perfectly align your dog’s training goals with the proper motivation, there are several mistakes many dog owners often make, that undo their dog’s progress.
What many people do not understand about dogs is that it is easier to teach our furry friends bad habits, or to un-learn something, then it is to learn it in the first place.
So if you have tried some of the above methods and you are still not seeing results with your dog, make sure you read through this list of common dog training mistakes that cause most of the bad dog behavior owners see in their pups.
Going on walks before teaching leash manners
Whenever I have a client who comes to me complaining about how their dog pulls while out on a walk, the first thing I have them do is start practicing leash training sessions in their home, indoors. Dog owners don’t like to hear this advice, because they want to enjoy walks with their dogs; but what they don’t understand is that leash pulling is a self-rewarding behavior, meaning that every time you let a dog pull on its leash it becomes MORE likely to pull on its leash! So, spend time training leash manners indoors before heading outside if you ever want your dog to stop pulling.
If your dog is still a leash puller, but you must walk him for exercise, try a Gentle Leader or some other type of halter collar to prevent pulling. These are a great, non-intrusive way to go on walks or runs, without ruining your dog’s leash training.
Using retractable leashes
Retractable leashes are horrible. They basically train your dog to not listen to you. The dog never knows where the end of the leash will stop, so it trains dogs to go to whatever they want, unless you press your thumb down on the leash and stop it from getting longer.
An effective leash training process trains dogs to stay within a certain proximity to you on a loose leash, by paying attention to where YOU are. When you use a retractable leash, you end up teaching your pooch that he doesn’t have to pay ANY attention to you. There are no consequences for ignoring you. And, because pulling on a leash is a self-rewarding behavior, every time your dog comes to the end of their leash, they become even MORE motivated to go back to the end.
If you have a retractable leash… throw it AWAY! Unless you want your dog to pull for the rest of his life.
Using Potty Pads
Don’t get me started on this one.
There is not a worse product on the market than potty pads; unless you like to train your dog to poop and pee in your house.
I have no idea why these are popular. These gimmics literally fly in the face of what professional dog trainers have known for years about the potty training process.
If you want your dog to pee and poop on a fabric sheet, give him a blanket and save yourself some money. Dogs like to eliminate on soft surfaces more than other places, so there is no training going on here.
Plus, this product violates the number one principle of potty training, that “dogs shouldn’t eliminate in the same space they live in”. That’s why puppy mill puppies are so hard to potty train. Instead, they need to be trained that the only place to eliminate is outside, and that if they need to go, they need to learn how to ASK you, by either ringing a potty bell to tell you they have to go, or holding it until you let them out.
Letting a dog continue to soil some pad while in your home RUINS your dog’s potty training.
Don’t use those products!
Walking by distractions before impulse control
This is such a common dog training mistake! If you have the type of dog who walks calmly when nobody is around, but starts to lunge and pull when walking by other dogs, squirrels, or some sort of distraction, what you need to do is teach your dog how to ignore those exciting or intense distractions before walking by them.
A great game you can practice with your dog to slowly train him to learn how to ignore things that currently set him off is the Look A Way Game, which you can learn how to train here.
It teaches him to look away from distractions, so that all the hard work you’ve put in to leash train your dog doesn’t get ruined when a squirrel runs by on a walk.
Training over threshold
Pet owners drastically over-estimate how well their dogs learn when distracted.
Here’s a great video that explains this concept clearly:
For example, I had a Chocolate Lab who was obsessed with a ball. And if this dog saw another dog in a park chasing a ball he would LOSE HIS MIND and completely stop listening to me.
If you have a dog who normally listens to you, except when distracted, YOU have this problem too!
What we need to do is REDUCE the distraction so our dog isn’t working OVER his emotional threshold.
Trying to train your dog while he’s too close to things that get him riled up is like expecting a 6-year old to learn how to read while sitting her in front of a TV and blaring the Disney Channel.
DO NOT make this common dog training mistake!
It is better to first get your dog to ignore distractions while they are 100 yards away, and inch closer every day for a week… slowly building up your dog’s ability to pay attention to you while around distractions, than it is to spend a week 10 yards away from that distraction.
Slowly adding distractions while training is the better approach.
Not recognizing what overstimulated looks like
Another common dog training mistake is simply not realizing what an over stimulated dog looks like. For me, the definition of an over stimulated dog is one who is so focused on something that they can no longer pay attention to their owner.
Don’t try to do behavior training sessions with dogs who are focusing on other things. If you’re trying to work with a dog and he’s constantly looking at something else, the only way you can make progress is to reduce the distraction or get further away from it.
Not practicing indoors first
What many pet parents don’t realize is that because dog’s noses are 100 times more sensitive then ours, training outside is 100 times more distracting then training indoors. This is because your dog doesn’t just see a park with nobody in it, or an empty sidewalk.
Your dog can smell the rotting meat that spilled when the garbage man picked up the trash 8 hours ago on the sidewalk where you are walking. He can smell the raccoon that snuck across the grass 30 minutes ago, or that BBQ coming in on the wind.
What’s the fix?
Make your dog’s learning environment 100 times less distracting by starting their training indoors, and mastering skills inside, before moving them outside.
Thinking YOUR bad attitude doesn’t matter
Staying on the theme of how a dog’s sense of smell makes them easily distracted… did you know that dogs can smell your hormones?! They can literally smell if you are angry or sad or upset. It gives off a vibe! So when you are training your dog, focus on having a happy positive attitude vs a negative one, and you will be much more likely to have a dog who better cooperates in your training session.
Not working on food impulses
Some of the most common dog training mistakes happen around food.
Dogs like to steal, protect, and hoard it.
Not teaching your dog how to control his impulses around food is something that many dog owners regret not addressing with their young puppies.
Smart puppy parents should be teaching their puppy from an early age that it’s not allowed to have its teeth touch the skin of its owner while taking treats. We like to recommend dog owners with young puppies spend a lot of time sitting with their puppy as they eat. Dog owners should make it a habit of getting their dog comfortable with having you touch them or their food while they eat.
While a puppy is eating you should make sure that several times during the meal you take the food away, only to replace it with something yummy, like a treat, then giving the food back to your dog. A dog who’s well-behaved around food is a dog who has been taught that most of the time when food is taken from him, something even tastier is coming his way.
Thinking that dog parks will socialize your dog to other dogs
A dog training mentor of mine once told me that the fastest way to turn your dog into an anti-social dog, is to let him spend time with other anti-social dogs.
And there is not a place on earth where you are more likely to find a group of anti-social dogs than dog parks, where people who are concerned about their dog’s socialization bring their dogs to socialize with other bad dogs. Plus the dog training IQ of the pet parents who bring their dog’s to dog parks is often severely lacking.
It’s a REALLY BAD idea, yet a super common dog training mistake!
Not training out of sight obedience (self-regulate)
One of my favorite quotes about life comes from the baseball world, where it is often said that the mark of a good coach is not what your players do for you while you are watching, but what habits you build in them that they continue to do while nobody is watching.
This same approach to dog training should become your mantra! Nobody wants a dog who’s well-behaved when you’re watching, but that steals food, raids the garbage or chews up your kids toys the second you leave the house.
Out of sight obedience is a skill that can be trained, and it is not a skill that is worked on nearly enough.
Not making training hard enough (harder than life)
Just like you don’t learn to sprint by walking, you shouldn’t expect your dog to be able to handle situations that are more intense then the training sessions during which you work with him.
If you want your dog to handle all that life throws at him, make his training sessions MORE intense and more distracting than anything he’ll run into in his daily life; that’s the key to a well behaved dog.
Not building drive
One of the most common dog training mistakes is not building prey or play drive as a tool for motivating your dog to work for things besides treats. Professional dog trainers across the world realize this, which is why you see bomb dogs at airports working their butts off for a 2-minute play session of tug with their handler.
Learn to build drive and use it, and you’ll have a dog who’ll work for you when highly distracted.
Not randomizing rewards
One of the other common dog training mistakes I hear from critics of positive reinforcement training or clicker-based training programs is that it trains the dogs to only work when the dog trainer has a ‘bait bag’ on them, and their dogs don’t learn to respect their authority.
If you ever hear this type of advice, please….
……ignore that person with every fiber of your being, because they would only say that if:
- They are a punishment-based trainer who uses nasty things like shock collars, prong collars and other aversive methods to get dogs to comply with their wishes (which as we discussed earlier, has been proven to not only make your dog MORE likely to become aggressive, but also makes your dog love you less)Or…
- They simply don’t understand the process for how to properly train using positive reinforcement.
Trainers at places like Seaworld would NOT be able to get those animals to perform like they do, by using punishment. You know what happens to the ones that try? They get EATEN!
Instead, the good trainers keep their animal guessing as to when they are going to get a reward, how good it will be, or how much.
This process of keeping the animal always guessing is proven to increase effort in the animal.
Plus it works on any animal, even the Human animal, as is evident whenever you look across the country at any casino where everyone in the room is kept in the room longer by the casino’s ability to manipulate its patrons by randomizing the frequency and amount of their rewards.
Do the same with your dog, and you’ll have him working twice as hard to please you.
Not training object recognition (for shoe and toy chewing)
A common dog training mistake that is not often talked about, specifically with dogs who are destructive chewers, is not doing object recognition training sessions.
Object recognition training sessions help dogs who can’t really tell the difference between their plush toy and a child’s stuffed animal, or the difference between their rawhide bone and your leather shoe.
And let’s be honest, some of our dog’s appropriate chew toys look and taste a LOT like your shoes or your children’s toys.
Dog owners need to spend time teaching dogs the difference. This is a topic that’s a little too complicated to cover in this article, but one we cover extensively inside our Hands Off Dog Training program that shows you how to properly teach dogs how to tell the difference.
Not providing enough chew toys
Another common dog training mistake pet owners make is thinking that their dog has a chewing problem, when really the problem is that the dog doesn’t have a wide enough variety of chew toys. Dogs should get new toys every month. There should also be a wide variety of toys, from hard plastic, to plush, and always a toy that you can hide treats in.
We personally find it helpful to subscribe to toy of the month services so that new treats are always on their way to stuff in the dog’s chew toys, as well as new toys to try.
My own dog Tucker, loves this so much that he knows when the box comes, and often steals it off the porch 😉 That’s how much they like it!
Don’t chase after dogs who steal things
It is a mistake to take dogs who steal things like food they shouldn’t have, or kids toys, and chase them down to pry it from their mouths. This can end up accidentally rewarding the behavior, because the dog thinks playing keep away is fun. Do not make playing keep away fun. Instead, keep a longer leash on your dog so that you can step on the leash when he has something, and then ask him to drop it. Using a leash allows you to instantly stop the fun game of keep away and regain control of the situation.
Yelling your dog’s name when you’re mad
If you have a dog who doesn’t come when he’s called, a common dog training mistake that causes this issue is dog owners who yell their dog’s name when they are in trouble. Yelling your dog’s name, and then proceeding to punish your dog, trains the dog to NOT come when he hears his name. Because you’ve accidentally trained him to realize that if he comes you’ll punish him in some way.
Not training “coming when called” on a leash
Whenever I’m doing a training session with a dog who doesn’t come when called, it is important that I set up the training environment so that I can control the dog if he fails to do what I ask. If a dog has been conditioned to think that running off into the forest to romp around is rewarding, then when I start working a dog to come when called outside, I use a 100 foot lead tied to a tie down. This allows me to work on the dog coming when called, even if he’s outside. This gives the dog the feeling of being free, but my ability to build obedience in a situation where if the dog was off leash, he’d just run off and we’d make no progress.
If you have a dog that needs work with “coming when called”, check out this program.
Allowing dog to chase, but not bring it back
Do not settle for throwing a ball to your dog and allowing him to run off and not bring it back to you. A fetch or retrieving training session should be set up so that the dog cannot choose freedom as his reward, by using leashes; and so that if he gives the ball up, he gets an even bigger reward.
The rewards and methods you should use vary, depending on your dog’s motivations like we’ve talked about above, but controlling the dog’s ability to self-reward with the behavior you do NOT want (i.e., running off with the ball and not dropping it) must be prevented.
Crating a dog after you call them by name
If your dog views his crate as punishment (which we can show you how to fix, by the way) you will accidentally train your dog to not come when you call him, if he thinks it’s likely that you’ll put him in a crate. Instead, train him to love his crate, and make going to his crate a command that he loves to follow because you always have nice tasty treats or toys waiting for him.
Or of course, spend time training your dog what we call out-of-sight obedience, so that he doesn’t need to be crated in the first place.
Letting your dog in when he barks
This really goes for any type of begging behavior, whether it’s begging for pets by pawing you or jumping up, whining when your dog sees you go for the leash out of excitement, or barking when he wants to be let in. Barking should NEVER be rewarded because if you let your dog in after barking, it’s like giving in to a child after they talk back… it empowers them to do it again, and quickly becomes an out of control annoying behavior. Don’t give into it.
A better idea is to build your own doggy doorbell like this video shows you how to do.
Allowing backyard barking when you’re not home
This is a tricky one, but a really common dog training mistake people make is leaving their dog free in the backyard where the dog can bark at people that walk by. This is not ok.
Allowing dogs to bark in a territorial way, without repercussions, is a great way to make your dog territorial, possibly get someone hurt, and can result in fines from your local authorities, depending on their noise ordinances.
While many people turn to shock collars to help prevent this type of behavior, what we like to recommend instead are Citronella collars. Citronella collars spray citronella when the dog barks, instead of shocking the dog. Here’s a good resource if you think you need a collar like this.
The benefit to this type of collar is that a shock collar ends up making dogs even more territorial, because while it stops the barking, it conditions dogs to associate pain with other humans or animals walking by; conditioning the dog to feel even more justified in barking.
Citronella collars, on the other hand, do not create this same level of negative association, because there is no pain involved, just an annoyance.
Petting your dog when he beg-bumps for pets
Beg-bumping is when a dog that wants to be petted, comes up to you and bumps your elbow off the armchair so that you’ll pet him. If your dog does this, do not reward the behavior by petting him. Instead make him do another more acceptable behavior if he wants pets. I like to train dogs to give me a cue that they want certain things. If they want me to pet them, they need to give me the cue of ‘sitting for pets. Training a dog to sit is an infinitely less annoying behavior than bumping your elbow with his wet nose.
Not teaching pups that teeth can’t touch skin
I touched on this in the puppy training video above called the “WWF Game”, but a puppy, or an adult dog for that matter, must be taught that if his teeth ever touch a human’s skin, any fun the dog was trying to have ends immediately. Don’t think it’s cute to let a puppy keep nipping your hands while you play with them. Teach them early that it’s not acceptable. One great way to teach this is by playing Tug with your pup early on. Most puppies will chomp up on the tug toy naturally. So I put my fingers so that the puppy will likely nip them. When he does, the game is over for one minute, then we resume. This has ALWAYS helped me teach dogs to mind their teeth quickly. Just make sure to start playing this game while your puppy is young, and before they can do much damage with their teeth.
Not proactively preventing resource guarding
Many a dog would never end up in a shelter if their owners made sure they worked on their dog’s ability to be ok with having his food, or high value treats, taken from him. Even if your dog doesn’t have this issue, spend time working on it regularly when your puppy is young, and it’ll help prevent aggression issues from arising when your puppy matures.
Hitting or physically punishing your dog
Spraying water in your dog’s face when he barks, swatting with a newspaper when he jumps up, or grinding his lips into his teeth to get him to drop something, are common dog training mistakes that I see people recommend all the time.
Do your best to not use punishment. There is almost always a more positive based approach that will not only work better but won’t harm your relationship with your dog.
If you’d like to get all our best work on ways to overcome your dog’s behavior issues, get our Hands Off Dog Training program which shows you how to eliminate bad behaviors without using punishment.
Not following through 100% of the time
You HAVE TO mean what you say. It’s one of the common dog training mistakes that just drives me CRAZY when I see dog owners make it. You see, dogs can tell if you don’t walk your talk. If you ask your dog to drop something, and he doesn’t, don’t ask him a second time… instead give your dog a consequence. It doesn’t have to be a severe consequence, but maybe a time out, or 1 minute of isolation in the backyard or crate. Mean what you say. Don’t let your dog run you over.
Giving up on clicker training
People often say they can’t clicker train their dog because the noise hurts their dog’s ears. This is a weak excuse. For starters, if your dog can’t handle the sound of a clicker, he’s got some problems and needs extra training. And second, there are tons of things that make a quieter clicking sound, like a clickable pen. So, don’t use the ‘clickers are too loud’ excuse. Find something that clicks quieter and TRAIN ON!
Repeating your commands
One of the quickest ways to train your dog to ignore practically everything you say is to ask for behaviors more than once. Take coming when called, for example. Do you call your dog more than once? If you do, you are ruining that verbal cue. Instead, back up and train your dog to come the right way, because if your dog is willfully ignoring you when you give a command, giving it a second time just trains the dog that he doesn’t have to obey you the first time.
Not training pain tolerance
Spend time training your dog how to accept low levels of pain, like its tail being stepped on by a toddler, or a child accidentally falling on your dog. This is a topic that is too complicated to discuss here, but dogs can and should be trained to tolerate certain levels of pain.
Many small children are bitten in the face every year by dogs who could have been taught how to tolerate their tails being stepped on. Don’t be one of those pet parents!
When you add up all the common dog training mistakes, it starts to make more sense as to why there are so many dogs with behavior problems. Don’t be one of those people! One of the easiest dog training tips I can give you for raising a well-behaved canine companion is to spend the time it takes to understand why your dog is misbehaving, and you’ll be miles ahead of other dog owners who continue to reinforce their dog’s bad behavior without even knowing it.