When training your dog, there can be many reasons why a particular session might not be as successful as you planned. If I were asked to list two common reasons why a training session might go awry, they would be:
- Training in a high distraction environment
- Asking too much too soon
Avoiding these dog training mistakes, especially when training a new behavior or trying to modify an old one, can be the difference between a successful and a frustrating training session.
Training in a High Distraction Environment
Let’s say you are trying to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash; a stroll through your local park where squirrels are playing a spirited game of “Dodge Dog” might not be the best place to start. Instead, why not start indoors with as little as possible competing with you for your dog’s attention? Once your dog is paying attention in a low distraction environment, then you can gradually ramp up the distractions. If the distraction becomes too much, you’ve gone too far too fast and you need to back it down for a bit and increase the distractions more gradually the next time.
Too Much Too Soon
Dogs usually pick up simple behaviors very quickly. However, they can often fool us into thinking they have something down pat when they are still in the “figuring it out” stage. We need to make sure that if we’re asking for a bit better version of a behavior, say quicker sit, we’re only asking for a slightly quicker sit. Expecting a dog that takes 3 seconds to respond to the sit command to suddenly do it in a second or less is just too much. Dogs, like people, have their own learning curve. Simple attention and patience will enable you to easily find your dog’s pace.
This rule is also very critical when we are dealing with fear or aggression behaviors. When trying to desensitize or counter condition your dog to accept something, there is a threshold you must not go beyond. Once you cross that threshold, the dog has become reactive and you’ve lost the progress you’ve made and must take many steps backward in order to start forward again. Slow tiny steps that stay short of the reactive threshold are the only way to be sure you aren’t asking for too much too soon.
Avoid these two training missteps and you and your dog will come away from your training session feeling good about what you’ve accomplished rather than frustrated and befuddled.
Additionally, keeping the session fun, upbeat, and short is a good way to set the tone for a successful training session.