Tips for frustrated dog trainers

My client called me two days ago and she was almost in tears. Her 6-month old puppy was sick for a few weeks so we took a break from training, so we hadn’t talked in a few weeks.

“I think I ruined all our training!”

“What happened?”

“I can’t walk Jake anymore. He pulls, doesn’t listen, jumps on people, and is a disaster around other dogs. He just wants to go say, ‘hello’ and will not do anything I ask!”

We had an appointment tonight and things went extremely well. My client thanked me profusely at the end of the session and said that she felt confident that she could continue practicing what we worked on and continue making progress.

What were my suggestions? They were simple.

  1. I recommended to my client that she practice all behaviors in her home first. When puppies get outside, they get so distracted their behaviors can deteriorate. Establish strong behaviors  away from distractions first before going back to the high distraction areas.
  2. Identify triggers that cause inappropriate behaviors and click and treat (or say, “yes!” if you are not using a clicker) and reward before your dog starts his inappropriate behavior pattern. We practiced this when my client’s puppy looked at other dogs, saw a jogger run by, and in the elevator before he jumped on other people.
  3. Move farther away from distraction that caused problems, get any behavior that is appropriate and then move closer the the distraction. Allow your dog to interact with the dog, toy or person for a moment and then move him farther away and ask for another behavior. Continue doing this until he starts to look to you for “permission” before you even ask for a behavior.
  4. If you you ever get frustrated walking your dog outside, move closer to your house and walk back and forth until your dog is focused on you. Reward MUCH more frequently until your dog gets back on track and then start phasing out rewards and “replacing” some of the treats with verbal praise. Once your dog’s behavior improves directly in front of your house then should you walk more.

Rewards for dogs come in many forms, treats, toys, pets and . . . access to locations. Do not forget about this reward. If your dog wants to walk down the block, he should only be allowed to walk in that direction if he is acting appropriately. The key is to remember that you can’t expect this to happen immediately. You need to slowly increase your expectations as your dog improves his performance.

These suggestions work. Try them slowly, one by one and you should see improvement in your dog’s behavior and your frustration should diminish.

You can do it!

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