A perfectly trained pooch is the ideal, but it’s not always easy to get there. Have you ever cringed at the dog park when your furry friend misbehaves? Has a situation escalated so quickly that you’re left scratching your head and wondering what went wrong?
We talked to “The Pooch Coach” Beverly Ulbrich to find out the six biggest dog training mistakes, which can range from annoying to life threatening.
6. Not Addressing Fear Issues
A number of behavior issues stem from fear, and often pet parents have trouble spotting the warning signs. Signs of a fearful dog include:
- Tail tucking
- Ears pinned back
- Hair raised on center of back
- Cowering or hiding
- Small dogs jumping to be picked up
Unfortunately, unaddressed fear will often turn to aggression at some point, usually in adulthood.
“Dogs rarely learn to get over it by themselves,” Ulbrich explains. “You need to help your dog get over any fears and build their confidence around new objects or environments so they are no longer reactive.”
Do: Offer rewards, praise, and encouragement when your dog tries to overcome his fears. Don’t expect your dog to go from zero to 60—recognize the baby steps and praise your dog’s efforts to encourage him to keep trying.
Don’t: Pick up your dog or allow him to hide behind you, which reinforces his fear. “It’s rewarding the behavior rather than teaching the dog to be competent,” Ulbrich explains. “Think to yourself, ‘would I do this if it was an 80-pound Rottweiler?’ If the answer is no, you shouldn’t do it with your 10-pound dog.”
5. Inadvertently Teaching Bad Habits
Chances are, you don’t even know you’re doing it. Much like reinforcing fearful behavior, you can also reinforce bad habits, like jumping, whining, pawing, or begging.
“Hopefully it’s not as dangerous as it is annoying,” Ulbrich says. “People complain about it without realizing they are inadvertently training their dog to behave that way all along.”
If you touch or pet a dog that jumps, you are rewarding the jumping and teaching the dog to jump for attention in the future. The same goes for dogs who paw at people for attention, and whine or bark to get attention. And if you give it to a begging dog beside the dinner table, you can bet he’ll make begging a habit in the future!
“That is rewarding the behavior and it’s going to continue,” Ulbrich explains. “If they are doing something you don’t like, ignore the behavior.”
4. Leaving Food Within Reach
The phone rings and you dash away for a second only to return and find your dog devouring what you left on the coffee table or kitchen counter. Not only can this be potentially life threatening but once your dog scores yummy snacks, they’re more likely to keep this up.
“If they pull roast beef off the counter top, even though they’re not going to die from that, they are going to keep counter surfing because they know there’s good stuff up there,” Ulbrich explains.
Be aware of the foods that can kill you dog—not only chocolate, but things like macadamia nuts, avocado, onions, raisins, and yeast.
“Train your dog not to eat anything off the table but be especially vigilant with dogs you haven’t trained yet to stay off coffee tables or counter tops,” Ulbrich says.
3. Punishing Your Dog for Following Commands
Most of you are scoffing at this one, thinking “I would never do this!” But you just might be discouraging your dog from following your commands.
Let’s take “come” or “here” for example. Do you call your dog to you at the park, only to immediately put the leash on and leave? Do you tell your dog to come and then put him in the bathtub? Or do you tell your furry friend “here!” only to put him directly in his crate?
“It’s like being called to the principal’s office,” Ulbrich explains. “They think they’re being punished, so they don’t want to come to you.”
Do: Train your dog indoors first to come to you and offer praise and/or a treat. Don’t wait for the dog to make it all the way to you before you start praising; praise when he starts to make his way towards you and as he continues to approach to show him that’s exactly what you want him to do. “Teach them it’s a fun, rewarding thing,” Ulbrich suggests.
Don’t: Use the command outdoors until your dog is 100% reliable indoors and you’ve practiced outdoors. “You can’t suddenly expect your dog to come the first time you issue the command outdoors,” Ulbrich explains. “You need to practice in that environment using positive reinforcement.”
2. Encouraging Chewing
Do you leave high-value items like shoes lying around, knowing you have an aggressive chewer? Puppies don’t know any better but if you have an overly aggressive chewer, you might want to ask yourself why.
“The dog likely needs more exercise or something to stimulate them away from chewing,” Ulbrich says. “You have to look into the anxiety that’s causing them to chew. You can also give them an outlet to chew with things like bully sticks.”
If you don’t address or redirect chewing, dogs will almost always find something to gnaw on, whether it be shoes, rugs, or even chair legs.
1. Not Teaching Leash Etiquette
We’ve all seen them—dogs that pull and strain on the leash, walking their pet parent instead of the other way around!
Some people wait too long to take their dog out on a leash. If you are worried about exposing a young puppy to illnesses, you can always walk him on a leash indoors to get him exposed to a leash at a young age.
“If you start off too late, they’ll start pulling and jumping around,” Ulbrich explains. “If you start off early enough, you’re teaching them a leash is going to be part of their life. If you wait until they’re four months old and take them out for a walk on a leash, they are going to be confused.”
If your furry friend pulls or strains at the leash, Ulbrich suggests you keep a very short leash and keep your dog’s attention focused on you. Check out her video tutorial on how to master a walk.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to training your dog, make sure you’re doing it right. If your dog is consistently getting into trouble, it might be time to seek the help of a professional trainer to find out what is really going on. Sometimes it’s just a simple fix to help you and your dog live more at ease!
Top image via Flickr/Collin Votrobeck