It’s never too late to take your dog to training classes. Some dogs — and humans — take a little longer to teach, but any dog can (and should) be trained. But after you put in the time and effort, work on the skills at home, and get the fancy certificate, the training isn’t over. It’s a lifelong process, and there are several ways you may be unintentionally undoing all of that hard work.
Here are four:
This is a big one, and being consistent is especially important during the training process. For example, if you are teaching your dog to sit before he gets food, he needs to do so every single time. If that means planning for mealtime to take a few extra minutes, then that’s what you need to do. Or you want your dog to stop barking, you need to always successfully redirect her, not just give up and let her continue when you’re not in the mood to reinforce.
Also remember to be consistent with all dogs in your home, not just the one in training. When our dog Buster first came to us, we already had two well-behaved dogs, and we didn’t enforce rules with them all of the time. When the new dog showed up with no training or boundaries, we learned very quickly how important it was treat all of them the same in terms of training.
It can be difficult to get everyone in a household on the same page, especially if you have children, but the more consistent everyone is, the easier it will be for your dog to learn the rules and expectations. This applies to both the examples above and with the actual cues that you use. If you say “down” for lie down, and your significant other says “lie down,” and the kids say “get down,” even though everyone is saying “down,” it can be confusing for your dog. Or if you point to the ground for down, and your significant other holds out a fist, and the kids move their open palm from high to low, that can be confusing as well.
Quite often, the pet parents I work with don’t understand why their dog will sit perfectly at home but chooses not to listen at the park. If this sounds like your situation, know that your dog isn’t choosing not to listen, she is just really distracted. It’s much harder for dogs to pay attention when their senses are overloaded — not to mention that there is much more going on at the park than at your house, where they spend most of their time.
If your dog is so distracted somewhere that she doesn’t listen, don’t practice training skills there. All your dog is learning to do is to ignore you. Instead, gradually work up to more distracting environments. Start in the house, then move to the backyard, then the front yard, then practice during your regular walk, then at the edge of the park, and finally train in the middle of the park.
Here at Dogster, we only support positive reinforcement training, and when a dog is trained in this style and then exposed to people who use force to train (with a sitter or walker, for example), it can really set your dog back. Especially if you are working on reactivity, when it is important to build positive associations with what makes your dog uncomfortable, not punish her for growling or being afraid.