10 training Pitfalls


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And how to avoid them

Nobody said training your dog was going to be plain sailing — and we all make mistakes sometimes. Top trainer and behaviourist Jackie Drakeford looks at some of the most common errors.

The basics of training are straightforward — know what you want, make it clear to your dog what that is, make it worth his while to do it, and proof the successful result with rewards.

But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Different dogs, categorised by breed type, individual character, and life experience, need training that matches their specific nature, and what works for one may leave you wrong-footed by another’s lack of engagement. 

Some dogs love to learn new skills, and your time together is blessed with ‘What are WE going to do next?’ Others prefer only to obey when they can see a clear advantage to doing what you want, and their mantra is: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Although you can train most dogs to do most things, you cannot train an attitude that isn’t already part of the individual breed type or mix. You could well create resentment and disengagement if you push a dog too hard to do something that goes totally against his genetic programming. So, let’s have a look at some common stumbling blocks.

Discover which rewards work for your dog.

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1. Make your rewards rewarding! 

Not all dogs are motivated by food (yes, really!); some prefer a game, a retrieve, or a good snuggle, while others are indifferent or positively horrified at the suggestion of anything but the subtlest control. Many dogs would rather down tools than do something they wouldn’t normally choose to do, for a human who offers rewards they don’t enjoy, which by definition aren’t rewards at all! For those who are unenthusiastic about food, sometimes a really delicious treat will cut the mustard, but more often a game of tug or chase will be much more appealing. Others will work their hearts out for anything edible, however dull. Find out what makes your dog’s heart sing.

Be realistic about your dog’s ability to ignore distractions such as other dogs. 

2. Environment

Are there lots of distractions such as other dogs, wildlife, exciting scents, uncomfortable weather, noise? There comes a time to ‘proof’ training in a variety of different and more testing circumstances, but don’t expect PhD responses from
a kindergarten dog. Move up the levels of challenge subtly, and secure each level in your dog’s mind before you trade up. Never get so fixated on ‘doing training’ that you override common sense if a situation unfolds that could cause your dog to respond in a way that may undo the trust between you. If, for instance, an unruly off-lead dog is running at yours, don’t try to make your dog sit and watch you, because that puts him at risk. Instead, be proactive and take control of the situation before it escalates. Step in front of your dog so that he is on the furthest side of you away from the other dog, and move to increase the distance between the dog and you, using your body to block its approach. It is permissible to use a firm ‘voice of doom’ to tell the other dog to back off, as long as you will not spook yours by doing so. 

Your own dog will be so appreciative of you taking charge in a positive manner and will soon be happy to let you deal with such situations.

When things go wrong, go back to practising something your dog can do easily and willingly. 

3. Mistakes 

We all make them! It’s so easy to ask too much, too soon, especially by asking for one more repeat of an exercise when the dog has had enough. The solution here is to step back to an earlier exercise that the dog can do easily and willingly, reward lavishly, then stop so you can finish the session on a successful note. Remember, there will always be another day.

When things go wrong, go back to practising something your dog can do easily and willingly. 

4. Don’t blether

Give the precise command once, a hand signal if you use them, then be quiet. It’s nice to chat with our dogs, but when training, cut the cackle. Body language works well with dogs, and they use it all the time with each other. A change in your posture and facial expression will tell them a lot more than a torrent of words.

Read the rest of the feature in the February 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.

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