31 Common Dog Training Mistakes That’ll Ruin Your Dog’s Training
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.
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