Top 10 Dog Training Mistakes

All too often, well meaning dog owners mistakenly step into one of these dog obedience training pitfalls. These seemingly insignificant acts can have a great impact on your dog's behavior, and set back your training dramatically. Unfortunately, this often leads to the uneducated owner becoming frustrated with the lack of apparent progress, and not realizing that he is the cause of the setbacks, assumes the dog is "untrainable" and gives up.

In order to help you avoid similar mistakes, I've compiled the following list of the 10 most common dog training mistakes.

Number 10 - Expecting too much, too soon

My personal dogs will sit, stay, down, and come on command - both verbal and hand signals. They respect their boundaries, and take all their cues from me. Even then, sometimes they have mistakes.

It took time to reach this point, and it takes continued training and practice to maintain this level of obedience. Understand that your dog will need time to learn. So be patient.

Number 9 - Introducing corrections too soon

Dog training has several phases: Learning, Correction, and Distraction (sometimes called "proofing"). The first phase, Learning, is where the dog learns the meaning of the command. He also learns that good things befall him when he performs the act that the command requires.

If the dog fails to perform the command, many dog owners will issue a correction. This harms the progress of the dog. Like another dog trainer once wrote, "It's like smacking a kindergartner with a ruler each time they make a mistake on their ABCs."

Is that a fair way to teach? Of course not! Yet, many dog owners do just the detriment of their dogs.

Number 8 - Giving up

Dog training takes time, patience, and consistency. No dog is "untrainable". A stalling, or even regression, of your dog's learning is likely your fault. You made a mistake somewhere, and most likely it was being inconsistent. Which brings us to number 7.

Number 7 - Inconsistency

Dogs are creatures of habit. Anyone who has allowed a dog to eliminate in the wrong spot even one time can attest to this. As such, when training a dog to behave in the manner you want, you need to make him consistently behave like that. This is how he will learn.

If you aren't consistent with your pup eliminating in the same spot (that you've chosen), he will not learn that he has to go in that spot.

If you issue a command while you're not in a position to enforce that command, and you allow your dog to ignore you, you've taught the dog that he doesn't need to listen. That he can choose when to obey and when to not obey. This is why I cringe when I hear some dog owner screaming, "COME!" at their disobedient dog. Every time he ignores them, and they allow it, they're simply reinforcing bad behavior. So let's reinforce good behavior instead, ok?

Number 6 - Reinforcing bad behavior

Affection is a reward. Whatever your dog is doing at the moment you reward (or correct) your dog is what he will associate that with.

So if you're dog is anxious, you think you're comforting him, he thinks you're rewarding his anxious state of mind. He starts barking at the mailman, you think you're petting him to say, "It's ok.", but he thinks you're saying, "Good barking!"

See where I'm going?

Number 5 - Failure to practice

Sure, training your new puppy is first. Since patience and consistency are the hallmarks of a good training program, dog training quickly can become tedious and boring.

But it doesn't need to be. Fact is, once you get beyond the initial Learning phase, you can maintain your dog's training while doing everyday things. I like to use the NILIF method, or Nothing In Life Is Free. This is a simple training method that entails making your dog earn everything. EVERYTHING.

He wants to eat? He must sit, down, whatever before you place his dish down. He wants to go out? Same thing. He wants to come in? You guessed it! Same thing. He wants affection? Are you catching on yet?

Number 4 - Correcting for good behavior

Remember what we said in number 6 about reinforcing bad behavior? Well, the converse is true too.

When you reward or correct a dog, he will associate the reward or correction with the act that immediately preceded it. So, in other words, do not call your dog to you only to punish him when he arrives. This will teach the dog NOT to come when called.

The same applies to any behavior. We want to reward and praise your dog for behaving, even if he did something wrong 2 seconds before that.

Number 3 - The wrong state of mind

It should go without saying, but unfortunately some people don't get it. Dogs communicate by body language. They can read you like a book. Since you're their pack leader, they take their cues from you. If you're anxious, so are they. If you're excited, so are they. If you're calm and confident, so are they.

In order to maintain a healthy and happy dog while training, we need to express calm and confident energy. We do this through body language.

Number 2 - Not enough exercise

Dogs are, by design or through evolution (take your pick), accustomed to walking. A lot. They walk to find water. They walk to hunt food. They walk simply to walk.

So is it any surprise that your dog is bored out of his mind being cooped up in your apartment, or in your postage-stamp backyard all day? This excess energy, frustration, and boredom will manifest somehow; more times than not, in a way that you are not happy with.

Walk your dog daily. This provides exercise and helps to establish and maintain your position as pack leader, which leads us to...

Number 1 - Not establishing dominance as the pack leader

Dogs are not furry little four-legged humans. They are dogs. Pack animals. In order to connect with them on their level, we need to understand the mechanics of dominance in the pack. Failing to establish this clear hierarchy, or allowing your dog to become the leader while you take a submissive role, is often the root cause of behavioral problems.

There are many subtle ways to establish dominance that do not require "alpha rolls" and other physically aggressive displays. Simple obedience training is the first step towards becoming the pack leader, as is walking your dog daily. The NILIF method is great exerting control over every aspect of your dog's life, and thereby establishing dominance.

Awareness is key to avoiding these common dog training mistakes. For more great articles on dog training, dog health, and all things dog-related, check out

Brian Webbe, a professional dog trainer and former police officer, has over 7 years experience training dogs in a variety of disciplines. In addition to training dogs, Brian maintains two dog training-related websites: - featuring a wealth of articles on dog training, and - a free online directory of the best the internet has to offer on all dog-related topics.

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