Puppy Training Tips: 7 Common Mistakes You Should Avoid

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7 Minute Read
Updated April 30, 2021

When you first bring home your puppy, it can feel completely overwhelming when you’re trying to figure things out. These puppy training tips can help you get started on the right paw!

Once you get through puppy’s first 24 hours, training begins! This can be as simple as a sit or as complicated as separation training! If you are new to dog training, there are some mistakes that are very easy to make, and you might not even realize you’re making them. 

In order to help speed up your training process, we broke down the top 7 common puppy training mistakes as well as some suggestions on what to do instead.

The training process can be frustrating, especially if your puppy just isn’t catching on. But don’t give up just yet. Your puppy’s progress is only as good as the direction he’s given. Let’s take a look at what you might be doing wrong and some tips to help you fix it.

Mistake # 1: Trying to Train for Too Long!

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Puppies have a naturally short attention span and cannot focus for too long! Many owners make the mistake of trying to train their puppy for long periods at a time and usually end up being frustrated with the results. Your puppy will likely get bored, distracted, or just frustrated, resulting in him misbehaving or ignoring your commands. 

Solution: Set a Time Limit

Training sessions should be kept short and sweet, train for the time it takes you to boil the kettle or load the dishwasher! Set a timer if that helps, but think of puppy training in bite-sized pieces. 5-10 minutes of training will ensure your puppy is absorbing the lessons. Too much longer and you'll lose his attention. 

You can schedule several training sessions throughout the day so that your puppy is training for hours, but only in small increments. 

Mistake # 2: Expecting the Same Results in a New Environment

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Trying to train your puppy too quickly and skipping vital steps can cause your puppy to become confused and misunderstand what you are asking them. Just because your puppy is showing signs of understanding in one environment, doesn’t mean he’ll apply that knowledge to other environments. 

A classic example of this is loose leash walking, where many puppy guardians will expect their dog to loose leash walk after training indoors for a short period, but when they get outside in an exciting new environment, they get a sudden case of selective amnesia. 

Solution: Train in Different Locations

Like many other behaviours, loose leash walking is a habit your dog needs practice in a variety of environments to fully understand. Practice really does make perfect, and in this case, the best way to practice is in the environments that your puppy will be doing the majority of his loose leash walking. 

Training in different locations and with different distractions will help your puppy learn to default to his training no matter where you are or who you are with. This becomes an invaluable skill once your puppy is old enough to start going to the dog park or the pet store or other public places.

Mistake # 3 Going Overboard with Socialization!

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 Socialization for puppies is very important and many dog trainers online put a heavy emphasis on this. However, there seems to be such an emphasis on socialization that many guardians feel they need to dedicate 110% of their time to it. 

While it is true that puppies are most responsive to new things between 8 weeks and 20 weeks of age, the reality is that puppies are learning through their whole lives! Previous advice suggested that your puppy must meet 100 people and dogs and go to 100 places by the end of their socialization phase, but what this advice leaves out is the importance of quality! 

Solution: Quality is Better Than Quantity

When your puppy is first learning, their first experiences will formulate their template of how they feel and respond to things for the rest of their lives. It is much more important that they go into the world and have positive experiences than feel overwhelmed with a buffet of people places and dogs! 

Look for opportunities for meaningful interactions that your puppy will be able to safely and comfortably socialize with new people and pets. This could be as simple as having a friend over for a visit or going for a walk with a neighbour and their dog. 

Mistake # 4: Using Their Clicker Like a Remote Control! 

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Many owners start training their dogs using a clicker, which is a small plastic device that makes a clicking noise. This distinct noise is used to communicate to the dog when they have done a behaviour you like before presenting them with a reward (usually a treat, but it can be toys or play). 

Through a misunderstanding of what the clicker does, some owners start to use their clicker like a remote control, asking their dog to do things for the sound of their clicker. For example, if the dog is running away, an owner may press their clicker as they know the dog will come back for a treat at the sound of it. 

Solution: Wait for Good Behaviour Before Rewarding

The problem with this is that it actually reinforces the running away behaviour. The point of the clicker is the communicate with dogs what behaviours work for rewards.

If your dog is running away from you and you reward them for it with their click noise, the probability of them repeating this behaviour increases. Instead, try to wait for your dog to pay even the slightest bit of attention to you and reward them for this! 

Mistake # 5: Repetition of cues

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As humans, we have a natural propensity to repeat words when training. The classic example of this is when teaching a stay behaviour, owners will repeat the stay cue to ask their dog to remain in place. However, it is important to avoid this as much as possible! 

If we repeat cues, dogs may come to expect that the cue must be done before they do the behaviour. For example, if we say “Fido, come.. come.. come!”, Fido may start to learn that he must hear his come cue three times before returning. 

It is also important that we try to stay positive when presenting cues to our dog. If you get frustrated and shout at your dog for a recall, they may understand that you are angry and avoid you entirely! Staying positive and cheery when giving cues (even if it’s raining and you’re late for a work meeting) will help to motivate your dog to return to you or respond appropriately to your commands. 

Solution: Count to Five

A great rule to help you break the habit of repeating commands is to count to five. After you say the command, stop and wait for your dog to respond. He might be stubborn or disobedient, but he also might be trying to recall what behaviour the command is asking for.

You may find that allowing him a few seconds to get his bearings will result in him ultimately giving the correct response and will also help you keep your cool. 

Mistake # 6: Relying Only on Vocal Commands

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Even when you keep calm and give your puppy a chance to process the verbal cue, it still might not be enough. Relying solely on verbal commands can be confusing for a puppy, especially if they just don’t understand what you are asking. 

A good example of this is when you ask your puppy to sit and he does another trick or behaviour, like lay down or high five. He knows you are asking him to do something, but isn’t quite sure what, so he does another or all of the commands he does know to try to please you. 

Solution: Use Visual Cues

Dogs are naturally visual animals as opposed to auditory, and as a result, it may be beneficial to avoid using verbal cues alone, or in some cases at all. Using hand signals/gestures prevents you from repeating the verbal cue, and can help your puppy understand the command faster.

It’s not uncommon for puppies to understand a visual cue even if they don’t associate the word that goes along with it.

Mistake # 7: Focusing on Mistakes, Instead of Rewarding Success

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It is human nature to focus on the negatives of a situation and to try and correct to make things right. However, when dog training, it is important to focus on the lighter side of life! 

Reacting to your puppy’s mistakes doesn’t teach him what he should be doing, only that he’s done something wrong. In some cases, a response may be what your puppy is looking for, even if it’s a negative one, so your reaction could be encouraging bad behaviour. 

Solution: Look for Opportunities to Reward

If you are having issues with a specific behaviour, treating it should involve three steps.

    1. The first step is to identify and manage triggers for bad behaviour. For example, if your dog is barking at the sound of the doorbell, asking neighbours to avoid ringing the bell while you work on calm behaviour would be a form of management. This is very important as practicing behaviours in ideal environments first will help your dog when you start to train under less ideal conditions. 

    2. The second step is thinking about what you would like your dog to do next. Using the barking at the doorbell example, perhaps you would like your dog to go and lie down on their bed instead of barking. You could then train a go to bed behaviour, which you could then put on the cue of a doorbell. 

    3. Finally, it is important to heavily reward your dog when they get it right! So for example, if someone knocks at your door and your dog looks at you for direction instead of barking, heavily rewarding their choice to look at you instead of rushing the door. This also applies to behaviours like loose lead walking and recall, whereby if your dog naturally checks in with you, reward it! 

 

One Paw in Front of the Other

Though dog training can feel like a very scary thing, it is important to focus on the positives. Progress will occur every day, even if it seems small and insignificant at the time. Remember - slow and steady wins the race! 

By following our top tips, you can avoid common mistakes and progress a little faster. Training isn’t always smooth, but if you make a plan and stick to it, it can be fun! In addition to teaching your dog the ropes, it’s an excellent way to bond with your puppy. 

Do you have a puppy you trained at home? Do you have a top tip for budding trainers? Let us know in the comments below!

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Homes Alive Pets

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