There are a lot of things people do that they do not notice, or do not consciously spend the time to realize. Here are some common mistakes handlers and trainers can make:
1. Provide their dog conditions in which it’s being reinforced for the wrong behaviors. One example of this is when people allow their dogs to be strongly reinforced by outside things. Then complain “my dog is too distracted.” Or is too distractable, too hyper, won’t perform well, or won’t pay attention.
In the case of allowing outside activities to reinforce your dog, this is coming from our basic desire to want to give the dog what it seemingly wants. I imagine people get pleasure in seeing their dog enjoy things, because don’t we all. But it has to be a healthy activity. Dog parks are not always conducive to your dogs training or improved behavior. You are essentially teaching them that the highlight of their day (or week) is to unload energy with other dogs. There is play, and there is wrestling that is “too much,” that goes beyond healthy and polite interactions. If you want your dogs to socialize with others and play, it has to be in a structured environment and with boundaries, and preferably with dogs you are familiar with. A group of 30 strange dogs is not ideal. You don’t know what sort of habits (or even diseases) your dog may pick up when you allow them to run loose with a pack of strange dogs. This can contribute to some dogs becoming very over-stimulated in the presence of other dogs, because the highlight of their life is unloading on other dogs.
Playing a game of “chase” might seem like fun, but it’s not fun when you can’t catch your dog! Do not engage in games where you are chasing your dog or puppy. You want them to follow your lead, not the other way around.
I love to see my dog exploring nature, swimming in the lake, I love to see my dog enjoying bitework, and running through a field as I’d imagine she’d be saying “Yiiipeeee!!!” I enjoy seeing my dogs enjoy things they like, including playing together. But I can tell when I’m just seeing uncontrolled arousal or frantic excitement, and when I’m seeing joy and fulfillment. I can also tell when a behavior is healthy or not, and if it’s conducive to my training. We also enjoy agility, obstacles, and pack walks. The activities I listed are actually all conducive to my training. Swimming is a game of fetch, exercising prey drive and retrieves in play, while physically conditioning my dog. Bitework is not only what my Malinois are bred for, it’s an exciting activity for my dogs and directly involves me as well. That is the key, that the activities we do always involve me. Even when they are running loose in a park, at a distance, they are always looking to me every so often, checking to see how far I am, knowing they can only venture off so far before I holler and they trot back. They will come when called, be praised, and be immediately released. This is the best way to train this casual but reliable recall, the “check in.” Make it easy, make it fun, and make it mandatory– and your dogs will do it every time.
2. What you allow is what will continue. If your dog has a problem with something, do not allow it to be rehearsed. Change the behavior first before putting your dog back in that situation.
3. Here’s another handler mistake– demanding a behavior when the foundation is not yet there. There is not a full understanding yet. Why do people go straight to punishment when the dog doesn’t understand the exercise yet? I suppose the reason is out of frustration, because they are trying to force something too quickly. You must understand this will not work well. You cannot punish your dog into learning something he doesn’t fully understand, or can’t yet perform under the particular conditions.
Choose your activities wisely. Consider how the activities and the way they are structured will impact your dogs behavior and training progress.
Teach the dog and proof behaviors before expecting them to be performed in all environments.