Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Common Puppy Training Mistakes

COMMON PUPPY TRAINING MISTAKES 

In this article I take a look at common mistakes many people make when training a pup. 

Perhaps you’ve never had a pup before, or maybe you’ve only ever seen what friends or family members have done with their pups – for whatever reason, it’s pretty easy to inadvertently make some mistakes when you’re training your new pup.

And mistakes are okay! We ALL make mistakes and it’s so important to be kind on ourselves and not expect perfection (including from our pup).

But knowledge is power, so I wanted to give you an idea of some common mistakes I see people making with their pups, so that you know how to get a better result. 

THE LIST OF WHAT NOT  TO DO WITH YOUR PUP

1. FAIL TO SET UP PROPERLY

Invest in getting set up properly for your pup, it will save you a heap of frustration. I consider a good crate and play pen essential – it helps enormously with house training, provides a way to give your pup dedicated rest time (so important to prevent naughty behaviours stemming from over-tiredness!), gives you a space to put your pup for a couple of hours a day for separation time from you, and prevents destructive behaviours while you’re not able to supervise your pup. Bonus points if you can place it against a dog door or external door to give your pup free access outside! 

This simple set up will save you a HEAP of frustration when it comes to house training and destructive behaviours. Believe me, it’s better to get a crate and play pen and use them from the start than deal with urine soaked carpets, chewed shoes and cushions, excessive nipping, and separation distress. 

2. BE INCONSISTENT

Consistency is everything! If you’ve got strong boundaries and rules with your pup, but your partner and children don’t – it’s going to be very difficult to maintain those rules. Get together as a household and agree on how you’re going to raise your pup and what are the “non-negotiables” that everyone will adhere to. 

For example if you don’t want your pup on the couch, make sure no one else in the house is letting them up. If you don’t want your pup to whine or bark, make sure your family members won’t give your pup attention or let them out of their crate while they’re doing so. If you do want your pup to greet you and others calmly with all four paws on the ground, make sure everyone at home is waiting until the pup is not jumping up before they dish out the pats and attention.

3. GIVE INAPPROPRIATE PUNISHMENT

Do not hit, kick or hurt your pup. Don’t shout or scream at them or do anything designed to threaten them such as staring them down, dragging them or holding them down. Also don’t rub their nose in their urine or faeces if they toilet inside.  It’s not kind but it also doesn’t work, all it will do is affect your bond with your pup.

If you need to correct your pup for an inappropriate behaviour, it needs to be done in a way that reinforces your bond with your pup.

I am not a positive-only trainer, but almost all of our shaping techniques are based around positive reinforcement. I believe that contrast is essential to successful puppy training. This means as well as having a reward for the right behaviour, there is a consequence for the wrong behaviour. But this can be done in a way that is not harmful or hurtful. Usually I like to use apparent natural consequences. For example, to teach a pup not to chew electrical cables, we pop a long lead and slip collar on the pup. If pup tries to chew the cable, give an effective check. Do this remotely – from a distance, using no commands, so  it appears the correction came from the cable, not you. When your pup comes back to you, click and reward to reinforce that you are safety. Or if your pup is chewing the corner of a table, you could rub on a cayenne pepper paste so that your pup gets put off.

Corrections are normal and happen every day in the real world, and we need to teach our pup healthy boundaries, but we need to do it in a way that is appropriate, not harmful and not damaging to our bond with our beautiful pup. It is important if you are using apparent natural consequences that you do it remotely (from a distance) and give contrast…that’s right and that’s wrong so they have a choice all the time to succeed. You can be kind but firm.

A couple of other things to note:
– Some young pups, particularly females, will urinate when greeting people. This is a sign of submission, so if you tell your pup off for it, she will likely urinate even more to appease you! So don’t be tempted to tell your pup off for this, there are other techniques to use to solve it.
– Ditto with licking, it is a soliciting, appeasing behaviour so if you tell your pup off for licking, they’ll likely do it even more. Instead, if you don’t like the licking, give a “leave it” command then click and reward when your pup stops licking, try to redirect them into play with a tug toy, or put a (safe) bitter tasting spray on your skin. But note licking is not innately bad, you only need to redirect if you really don’t like it!

4. TRAIN WHILE FRUSTRATED OR ANXIOUS 

Your pup is acutely aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re anxious, stressed, frustrated or angry – they sense that, and it’ll be more difficult to get them into the calm state of parasympathetic arousal that they need to be in to progress (I call it the Learning State). Your anxiety will rub off on them!

Your posture, voice tone and body tone as well as your pheromones are speaking to your pup all the time. It’s hard to fool a dog as their postural communication skills and olfactory acuity are much better than ours so believe me, they know when you’re not calm and they’ll take their lead from you.

A dog that is highly aroused (aggressive, fearful, hyper-excited or predatory) will be difficult or impossible to train!

So when you’re working your dog, take a deep breath. Get yourself calm and focused. If you’re feeling worked up, it’s MUCH better to take a step back and wait until tomorrow. 

5. MISUNDERSTAND DOG LANGUAGE

If you don’t understand what your pup’s body language and vocalisations are communicating to you, and what your posture and intonations are communicating back to your pup, this is well worth learning. For example, use high voice intonations when using the “Come!” command as you are trying to draw your dog back towards you – why would they want to come if you’re growling “Come!” at them?! Also note the signs of stress or anxiety in a pup, so you can recognise it and respond by pulling back from a situation or working your pup through it when necessary. 

6. REINFORCE BEHAVIOURS YOU DON’T WANT

The number of times I’ve had consultations with people who are trying to stop a behaviour that they’re actually rewarding and reinforcing! If your pup is getting a reward for a behaviour they’re doing, OF COURSE they won’t stop – why would they? A reward can be food, freedom, contact or even just a bit of attention. So if your pup is whining in the crate and you let them out, you have rewarded whining. If your pup is jumping up on you and you pat them or talk to them in a nice high tone of voice, you have rewarded jumping. If your pup is pulling on the lead and you let them continue or let them off lead, you have rewarded pulling. If you let your pup out of the crate when they are barking, you have trained your pup to bark to get what they want. The FIRST step in training is to stop rewarding behaviours you don’t want to continue. 

7. STOP TOO SOON

Many people put in a good burst of effort in the first few weeks with their new pup. Then when they’re getting Sit, Down and Stay, they think “good enough!” and stop training. They fail to proof those key behaviours in a variety of environments so that their pup listens to them in any place or situation, and they fail to keep training consistently as their pup becomes a stubborn, easily distracted teenager. You don’t have to keep up the same level of intensity as your young puppy training period, but proofing out into the real world is essential and keeping up a bit of training until your pup is an adult is a very good idea. 

8. JUMP AHEAD TOO QUICKLY

Remember to always start in a quiet, distraction free place when training a new behaviour. If you go straight to a high arousal or high distraction situation, you’ll set yourself up to fail.

 

Okay so that’s what NOT to do…what about what TO do?

Want to know the best way to train your pup? Check out our Puppy Zen Virtual Puppy School for pups aged 0-5 months, and our Virtual School for Teenage Pups for pups aged 5 – 18 months, and we’ll guide you through it! It’s so simple and easy when you know how, and you can train your pup in a way that is firm but most of all focuses on cultivating a loving bond with your beautiful dog. 

Our Virtual Schools are video based, so you are watching and following me as I work with puppies just like yours. We also have Live Coaching Sessions each week where you can ask me questions directly, and trainers on hand to answer your questions in our members-only Facebook group throughout the week. 

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