And why you don’t have too!
Everyone who buys or adopts a puppy has good intentions. Intentions to love and take care of the beautiful animal. Most even plan to teach their dog to be obedient and to have good manners. Yet not everyone is successful at this endeavor. In fact, most people fail when it comes to training their dog. Despite the odds, I urge you to not give up. If you understand WHY most people fail at training their dog, you can avoid these problems and come through the other side victorious!
Why people fail at dog training
While there are probably hundreds of little reasons people fail at dog training, here are the big ones.
People don’t understand their dog
The first step to training is to learn about and understand your dog. What can be expected from the breed of dog you have, what characteristics should I watch for, what is his/her health history and what has he/she been exposed to during his/her lifetime?
Unfortunately, most people purchase or adopt a puppy with little to no knowledge of the dog. This is a huge problem, because while every dog is different, just as every human is different, the breed of the dog can make a huge difference in how easy or hard a dog is to train. In addition, if a dog has been abandoned or mistreated in life, that will also factor into the difficulty of training.
While I support dog adoptions, it is important to not be naïve. Most dog adoptions from a humane society or other rescue are special needs. And it takes a very patient, very committed person to train rescue dogs.
People don’t know their dog
Part of understanding your dog is getting to really know them. This can be challenging for mixed-breed dogs, because there may be breeds mixed in that you are not aware of. A DNA test is really the only way to find out for sure. And your training really needs to take into account the breed(s) of your dog. Because not all dogs can do all training. Each breed has genetic traits that can affect your training and your training style should be adjusted accordingly.
Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we specialize and only train retrievers. That includes Labrador, Golden and Chesapeake Bay retrievers, but that is all. We get criticism for this decision, but for us, it makes sense. By specializing in these breeds, we get to know these breeds intimately. We work with a lot of dogs within these breeds of retriever and that makes us specialists in training them.
If you want to be an effective trainer, it is also important to understand dog psychology. You need to understand how dogs think and why they act the way they do. This is not common knowledge to most people and can often be a reason why training fails. Learn all you can about your dog and use that knowledge to successfully train your dog.
People don’t have knowledge of training
Many people think anyone can train a dog. And I would agree, anyone can if they are willing to study dog training and dog psychology, learn from other professionals, and work hard at the training being willing to fail and try again.
But not everyone can and will do this. Because it does require a LOT of work and a LOT of time. Most people do not have the time or energy to do it.
Good trainers have a training program. A list of specific steps they take and in what order, and this is very important. But what is equally as important is the need to be able to read your dog. Much of dog training is timing. Giving the right praise or the right correction at exactly the right time. Timing is everything when it comes to training. Time it right and your dog learns quickly. Time it poorly and your dog gets more and more confused.
If you are going to train your own dog, that is great. Find a proven training program and follow it exactly. Work hard on your timing, watch your dog’s reactions for clues on what you are doing right or wrong, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
People lack commitment for training
Training your dog requires a huge commitment of time and energy. Training is not a once and done type of thing. It is ongoing and constantly evolving. You need to carve time out of your schedule to do the training daily or weekly for the foreseeable future.
Also, training requires maintenance, so even once your dog knows all the commands and is performing them flawlessly, you are not done. Because tomorrow your dog may decide to test you and see if he/she really must obey that sit command. Or he/she may decide that the garbage can is not really off limits today.
Dogs are not robots. They are living, breathing creatures that think. But they don’t think like you and I think. They are dogs and their thoughts are different from human thoughts. They cannot reason or feel emotions, although you might want them too. But they do think, and test and jockey for top dog in your family. So training is never done, but over time it will likely take less and less time to maintain.
People are not consistent when training
Another reason most dog training fails is because dog training requires absolute consistency. This is a very difficult thing for most people to understand and even harder for them to practice. SIT must mean SIT every time. If you tell your dog to SIT and he/she doesn’t and you are too tired to make him/her SIT, you have just started a problem. Now your dog knows that SIT doesn’t always mean SIT. It depends on how tired you are. See, dogs are smart. Too smart sometimes. They will figure out exactly when you are too tired to enforce the command then they will exploit it like no one’s business.
You must also be consistent on the commands you use, and you need to make sure that your whole family is using the same command. If you use HERE to call your dog, and your kids use COME, that can be confusing to the dog.
You see, expectations must remain the same day after day, hour after hour. That is how you succeed at training your dog. Keep things consistent.
People struggle to find the time to train
Training your dog successfully requires time. When you start training, it may take a little longer. But you would be surprised that training your dog does not need to take hours each day. It usually can be done in 5-15 minutes a day, if you have a plan, follow the plan and stay consistent. Short, concise sessions are by far the most effective way to train a dog obedience. But you do have to commit to doing the training each day or every other day for the foreseeable future.
People don’t have the patience needed to train
If you don’t have patience, training your dog will likely fail. Dog training can test your patience day after day, week after week. Some dogs just know that if they hold out long enough, they will win. They will not have to learn or behave. These dogs might have had previous owners that tried to train them and eventually gave up, or they might just be the stubborn sort. Either way, the number one rule for dog training is that the dog can never win. And therefore, patience is a requirement for dog trainers.
As trainer, you must play the long game. You need to be willing to come back day after day and do the exact same training, if necessary, until the dog decides to do the work. And sometimes, you have a breakthrough only to come back the next day and be at square one. Try that on for patience.
People don’t want to admit they need help
Sometimes you are just not the right person to train your dog. That can be hard to admit, but it is not a failure, but an enlightened decision. You need help.
Even as a professional dog trainer there are times when I need help. Since my husband is also a dog trainer, I usually go to him. If we both are struggling with a dog, that may mean we need someone else to step in for an hour or for a day. Sometimes the dog is just not a good match for us, but that doesn’t mean someone else might not be able to work magic with that dog.
Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we are huge on maintaining the dog’s attitude. We have no desire to break a dog’s spirit or change his/her personality. That is just not our style. We want to encourage the dogs in our programs to develop into the best version of themselves. We want them to become a dog you can brag about! A dog that works because he/she loves to work. A dog that lives to work because that is what they were created to do. If during training we begin moving down a road that requires us to force a dog to do the work, we wash that dog and send him/her home. We are willing to do that because we know that the dog’s personality is important, and training should not destroy that.
Final thoughts on why most people fail at training their dog
While it may be true that most people fair at training their dog, it doesn’t have to be like that. If you start by understanding your dog and then learn what dog training requires from you, as the dog owner, you can be successful. And you can beat the odds!
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (email@example.com) or just give me a call. I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.
My goodness! A treat to hear from you!
I have been communicating with Scott since we stumbled onto our Chesapeake Bay Retriever (Mae Bee, now two years old) and it’s been great fun and very rewarding. Now I understand that the whole team is involved there at “Ottertail”. Thanks for the “posts” and the inspiration.
Wish we were closer so that you could do some “hands-on” magic but we will carry on here.
Mae Bee is a fine dog and very reliable. I am not a “hunter” but I believe that with your tutelage she would be a fine field/gun dog. She is a worker and dedicated to the retrieve but we have allowed her to find her passion with sticks along the trails and fire roads that we frequent (mostly daily)…..think running into a flaming building for the fetch.
She is not warm and cuddly with strangers and COVID has done her no favors but we continue to socialize her at as many local breweries that we can find.
Thanks again for “showing us the way” and supporting us in our way!
Steve and Jody
Thanks for the encouragement, Lloyd. Always fun to hear from you.