Even though we focus on the positive here at Crossbones, there are some behaviors (performed by both people & dogs) we recommend you avoid. Here are a few mistakes we see frequently enough to complain about them!
#1. You’re using low-value treats in high-distraction environments.
The value of your rewards needs to match the distraction level of your environment. Kibble and store-bought dog treats are great for your living room, but almost certainly won’t cut it in the “real world.”
As Tim Ferriss put it during his podcast with dog trainer extraordinaire Susan Garrett, “It’s a crowded bar. You’ve gotta tip with twenties.”
(Pro tip – download & listen to that podcast. You will learn a TON.)
What do most dogs consider to be a $20 bill? Hot dogs, cheese, steak, boiled or baked chicken, meat-based baby food, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, or liverwurst. Bam, there you go – all stuff you can pick up at the grocery store the next time you’re picking up some snacks for yourself.
#2. Your leash is too long.
If you ever feel the need to wrap the leash around your wrist (which is super dangerous, by the way) – it is too long.
Probably 95% of our clients need a 4′ leash. The pet store industry standard is 6′. Unless you are a very tall person with a very short dog, you don’t need that much length.
Can’t find a 4′ leash? We sell them in our retail store! Stop by this week and pick your favorite color.
While we’re on the topic of leashes, here’s a bonus tip: if you’re using a retractible (Flexi) or bungee leash, you’re teaching your dog to pull. Learn more about teaching Loose Leash Walking on our blog, or join our Polite in Public group class for hands-on help.
#3. You’re teaching your dog that sometimes it’s okay to put paws on people.
If you’re struggling with a dog that jumps up on people, don’t teach them to put their paws on people to earn a cookie.
This creates a massive grey area for your dog. “Sometimes” it is okay to put your paws on people.
Dogs don’t do well with grey areas and “sometimes.” They do well with black and white: is is never okay to put your paws on people vs. it is always okay to put your paws on people. I just wrote a blog post on this called “Why Paw is Problematic.”
Get the jumping under control (our Self Control group class will help), teach your dog plenty of self-control, then introduce paw – and get it on stimulus control right away so your dog only does it when you specifically ask for it, like Strata demonstrates here.
#4. You’re repeating your cues.
“Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. Fluffy. Sit. Fluffy. Fluffy! Sit! Fluffy, sit!”
Stop! Get your dog’s attention non-verbally. Get up, move around, walk away. Praise as soon as your dog pays attention to you. While they are still looking at you, ask once. Repeating your cues teaches your dog to ignore you.
If you’re not getting anywhere and can’t seem to get your dog’s attention, ask us for help. We’re happy to help you troubleshoot! (You can learn more about adding a cue here.)
Remember: the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing yet expect a different result. Don’t drive yourself insane. Change your training plan!
#5. You’re over-feeding your dog.
The “Feeding Guidelines” on your dog food bag has to assume that dog food is the ONLY source of calories for your dog.
No training treats, no rawhide, no edible chews, no peanut butter in a Kong, no table scraps, no biscuits. Just dog food.
Most of our clients need to feed about 30% LESS than what the dog food bag suggests in order to account for their dog’s hard-earned snacks. Yes, even if their dog is getting lots of exercise.
If you’ve got a “young adult” dog, also keep in mind that most dogs need significantly less calories after their “teenage growth spurt” around 6-8 months of age, so you will need to reduce feeding amounts around that time.
You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily without having to hunt for them underneath a layer of fat. If you have a smooth-coated dog, you should be able to see the last couple of ribs as your dog moves around and flexes her body.
How does this relate to training? Overweight dogs don’t feel good! The weight puts more stress on their joints and spine and can make sitting, holding a stay, or running on a recall uncomfortable or downright painful.
Over-fed dogs are also generally less motivated to work. (Some people think their dogs “aren’t food motivated,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.) Getting rid of your pup’s “spare tire” is likely to make them more interested in your treats, which will make training them a lot easier!
#6. You expect your puppy to communicate like a human toddler.
At many of my Puppy Day School evaluations, clients lament that their puppy is not signaling to them that he needs to go potty. My response is that signaling to go outside is a double edged sword, so be careful what you wish for.
First – young puppies should not be expected to signal in any reliable way that they need to go outside. They don’t know they need to go outside… they think they should just eliminate when they feel the urge. It’s your job to anticipate their needs and take them out frequently. (Very frequently. More frequently than you probably think.)
Many of my clients persist in teaching their dog some sort of signal, such as pawing at the door or ringing a bell. What happens most of the time? The dog signals because he wants to go outside, not because he actually wants to go to the bathroom.
Going outside and romping in the yard, or going for a nice walk, is way more interesting than lying on the floor listening to your conference call. So, owner beware – most folks ultimately decide that teaching a signal to go outside is a mistake.
Where have you erred?
Have you made any training mistakes you’d like others to learn from? Tell us in the comments section below!