Here’s a list of mistakes I see a lot of people committing when trying to train their dogs.
Repeating yourself. The number one mistake people make when teaching their dog something is repeating a command. Once you tell your dog to do something, shut up and wait.
If you repeat yourself, your dog isn’t going to know if he should sit at your first command, or wait until you say it again and again. Also, if you don’t repeat yourself, you’re less likely to commit mistake #2.
Getting emotional or frustrated. If there’s one thing that’ll make dog training more enjoyable, it’s doing it stress-free. As your temper rises, your effectiveness as a teacher falls. A mad person tends to raise his voice and resort to physical punishment/manipulation.
This is especially bad if you rely on methods such as snapping the leash or yanking the collar during training. The more upset you are, the more likely you’ll go extra hard on a “correction.”
Your dog feeds off your energy, so if you’re tense, your dog will be too. Stay calm, be cool. If you find yourself getting annoyed, take a break or end the session. Remember that dog ownership is supposed to lower stress.
Forgetting to “train the trainer.” You have to know what you’re doing so you can train your dog properly. If you’re just winging it, you really ought to learn from a book, video, or professional before you make things worse.
Every dog owner should have at least one positive reinforcement book and/or video. Then, if you can make it to a group class or hire a professional trainer, do it. You’ll be able to ask questions specific to your dog. More importantly, you can watch how a real trainer moves and understand the importance of things like timing.
And if you can spend a little time learning about operant conditioning, dog training will go a lot smoother.
Using old-fashioned, pain/punishment training methods. There’s no reason not to start using modern, humane methods. You don’t need choke, prong/pinch, or shock collars. And you don’t need to use “corrections” with flat collars either.
There’s no reason to use these methods, especially if you haven’t at least tried positive reinforcement. Besides, do you want your dog to associate training with pain? Sessions will be much easier if your dog enjoys this time.
So arm yourself with a treat pouch, treats, and clicker, and your dog will learn much faster.
Being a miser with food rewards. Many people new to positive training are stingy with the training treats. Don’t be a cheapskate. Be very generous when starting out. You want an enthusiastic dog during the sessions and for him to connect training with fun.
However, if you take it too far the other direction, you may commit the next mistake:
Not weaning your dog off treats. Once you’ve taught your dog a behavior, you should begin to reduce the treats and go with other life rewards such as praise, petting, or toys/games. You should use treats, but you don’t want to be forever dependent on them.
But that doesn’t mean you should stop with food rewards completely. There’s a technique called “jackpotting” your dog, where you occasionally over-reward you dog for responding to a command. Think of the people who pump quarters into slot machines, hoping the next pull is the one. Jackpots make your dog more eager to obey you every time because he never knows when he might hit.
Forgetting that every interaction is a training opportunity. Every time you interact with your pet, you’re teaching him something. First, teach him that nothing in life is free. That means every time you do something nice for him (treat, toy, praise, etc.), have him “work” for it by asking him to sit/down first.
Also, you can reward him for behaviors that you like. For example, if you’re reading a book, and your dog is lying quietly next to you, reward him for this so he does it more frequently.
Finally, make sure you never reward him for something you don’t like. For example, if your dog acts fearfully and you pick him up and start petting him, you’re encouraging him to be a fearful dog, perhaps a future fearful biter.
Advancing too quickly. Nobody’s “perfect dog” was born that way. Take your time and be patient. You’ve got him for a very long time, so just try to help him improve a little every day.