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5 Training Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Training rehab

By: Teoti Anderson

Last Updated:

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Are you getting frustrated with your dog training efforts? When you ask your dog to do something, does he bounce around like a crazy creature or just sit there, looking at you with a confused expression on his face? Before you write off your canine best friend’s intelligence, you might want to take a humble look in the mirror. You could be making one of these common training mistakes.


Mistake #1: Treat Dependence

Does your dog only work for you if you have treats in your hand? You may have accidentally taught him this. Using treats as a lure to get behaviours can be an effective way to train—you just need to make sure you stop using the treat as a magnet pretty quickly once your dog understands the behaviour! Otherwise, you and your dog can get dependent on treats.

For example, you hold a treat in your hand and use it like a magnet, slowly moving it between your dog’s eyes towards the back of his head. Your dog follows the treat and sits, then you give him the treat. Great! If you keep doing this, however, your dog may end up waiting to see if there’s a treat in your hand before responding. Instead, after a few successful repetitions, use the exact same hand motion without the treat. This is not to fool your dog. Your dog can smell there isn’t a treat in your hand. You are simply teaching him a hand signal. So use an empty hand with the same exact hand motion. Once your dog sits, then give him the treat. You are no longer using the treat as a magnet, but solely as a paycheck.

Check out some of Modern Dog's top treat picks here!


Mistake #2: Skipping Steps

Dogs learn gradually, in small steps. Many pet parents make the mistake of leaping too far ahead in their goals with the expectation their dogs will follow. For example, you train your dog to come when called while using a six-foot leash. One day, your dog escapes the house and you call him to come. He just runs off, starting a frustrating game of chase.

You’ve practiced the recall on leash in a controlled training session, but without adding transitional steps, you can’t expect your dog to come when called when she’s off leash and without boundaries. In this case, you would add intermediate steps to your recall training—use a long line, train in different locations, and add distractions. Whenever you train anything, break the behaviour down into small steps for greater success.


Mistake #3: Giving Too Many—Or Mixed—Signals

One of the hardest things for dog-training students to do is give a cue just one time. Making multiple requests is fine, of course—unless you would like your dog to respond the first time you ask something of him! If you train your dog using repeated cues/commands, then your dog will learn you say things over and over before you expect a response.
To avoid this, first, teach your dog the behaviour (see mistake #1 for how to properly use a treat lure to accomplish this), then add the cue. Say it once, and be patient—give your dog a minute or so to respond. If he acts confused or simply doesn’t perform the desired action, go back and practice the behaviour some more before you try and add the verbal cue.

There is another common way you could be confusing your dog. Dogs are extremely observant of your behaviour and body language. They watch your hands, your feet, your entire body. They pay attention more to your body movements than your verbal instruction. This means you could actually be teaching your dog a different cue than you intended. For example, when you cue your dog to come to you, you lean over. One day, you don’t lean over, but you still call him to come. He doesn’t come. He’s not being stubborn, he just didn’t get the same signal you originally taught him.

When you train, watch your body language. Are you training clearly? Minimizing your signals? Using the same signals each time? If not, you could be confusing your dog.


Mistake #4: Accidentally Rewarding Behaviour You Don’t Want

Are you giving your dog mixed signals? Do you let him jump on you sometimes (or even welcome it!) but scold him at other times? Do you try to train him to walk nicely on leash but let him pull you at other times? If so, you’re “paying” behaviour you don’t like, which means that behaviour will just continue. Your dog won’t perform consistently unless you give him consistent direction.


Mistake #5: Expecting Your Dog to Perform No Matter What’s Going On Around Him

It’s very humbling for us to realize we’re not always the center of our dog’s attention. It borders on insult when your dog blows you off to smell a patch of dirt! But this is normal. Dogs can smell things we can’t, hear things we can’t. There is a lot of competition out there for your dog’s attention.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get your dog to listen to you despite a distracting environment. You just need to train him. Work in quiet environments first. As your dog learns, gradually increase the distractions so that he is performing despite the temptations around him.

Remember, dogs aren’t born understanding our expectations. We have to teach them what we want. The better teacher you are, the better student your dog will be!


Teoti Anderson, CPDT, owns Pawsitive Results ( and is the past president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She is the author of Your Outta Control Puppy, Super Simple Guide to Housetraining, Quick and Easy Crate Training, and Puppy Care and Training.

Last Updated:

By: Teoti Anderson
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