The National Humane Society cites behavioral issues as the number one reason that dogs and cats are relinquished every year. Undoubtedly, a well-behaved dog will be a more accepted and productive member of the family. It’s best to start training pets as young as possible, but you CAN teach old dogs new tricks! Here are five common training mistakes to avoid.
Nothing is more confusing to a pet than inconsistency. Why is being on the couch okay with dad, but not okay with mom? Everyone in the family needs to be on board with the rules to help enforce them. Start by having a family meeting when a new pet is introduced to the family, or when a new training regimen is started. Lay down the ground rules and ensure everyone is willing to enforce them.
2. Always rewarding with a treat
This seems counter-intuitive, but over-praising can actually have the opposite effect. Consider this human example: when we’re “rewarded” for a behavior every time, like the light turning on when we flip a light switch, we don’t keep trying to flip the switch when that reward doesn’t happen – i.e. the light bulb is burned out. Dogs who always get treats will stop doing the behavior you are asking for if the treat doesn’t present itself right away.
Additionally, using another human example, when we’re “rewarded” intermittently for behaviors, such as occasionally winning the lottery after buying a ticket, we’ll keep doing it again and again! The same is true for dogs. Reward with treats occasionally and your pet will hold out that this may be that one time when something tasty is fed and continue to perform the command you are asking!
3. Giving a command more than once
This is a very common mistake owners make with new puppies. The puppy doesn’t respond to the command the first time, so we repeat it. The problem is that the command “sit,” has now become “sit-sit- can you sit?-sit down-siiiit-sit-sit,” and the pet thinks that he or she doesn’t have to sit until you’ve said it thirty times. To avoid this problem, say the command once, then help your pet perform the command correctly, then praise!
4. Unreasonable expectations
-Age. Remember that your puppy is just a puppy! Like a child, learning will take repetition and time.
-Breed. It is probably unreasonable to expect a Pug to be able to herd goats. Some breeds are more capable of complex tasks due to their increased intelligence. There can be variation among the same breed as well, some pets are just smarter than others!
-Memory capacity. This is an important mistake to avoid. It’s estimated that dogs have a short term memory span of less than a minute. Therefore, if you scold your pet for a mistake she made more than a minute ago, she is unlikely to understand why you are mad. You have to catch your dog in the act of a naughty behavior to appropriately discipline. So next time you are steaming mad about that new pair of shoes that were chewed while you were away, take a deep breath. Yelling now will make no sense to her!
5. Overdoing it
Especially in the beginning, training should be kept fun and short. Shorter, more frequent sessions will help prevent burnout and fatigue (for both of you!) In addition, learning too many commands at the same time can be confusing to a dog.
Getting a new four-legged family member, whether young or adult, is an exciting time. Always consider having your new friend examined to ensure she is healthy and up to date on vaccines, get started on training right away, and of course, always consider pet health insurance, so you can provide the absolute best veterinary care.