Today’s topic is: What were the biggest mistakes you were making? So I recently finished up training with a family. When I met this family, it was quite a wild ride. They had an eleven-month-old German Shepherd. When I walked in the door, they barely had physical control of the dog. They lost control a few times. And if it hadn’t been for one of my trusty elevated beds, he would have bitten me. I had to use the bed as a shield between myself and his teeth as he had me backed into a corner.
So that’s a pretty intense situation to be in. I’ve been in a few scrapes like that and I know how to handle myself. I can quickly calm down, even though it’s a pretty frantic situation.
So I had a very frank conversation with the family. I told them that I was going to take them on as clients, but it was going to be a difficult path forward. Sometimes these types of cases don’t have a satisfactory resolution where there is a happy ever after.
The good news is that there is a happy ever after with this family. Things are going very well. They still have work to do, but I’m very proud of the work that they put in during the six sessions that I met with them. I witnessed the dog go from being out of control and attacking me to being a joy to be around. At least with me. He still has some more work to do, but he was completely fine with me.
So I asked them a question that I rarely ask my clients. I asked, what were the biggest mistakes you were making before we started training? So I have a few things to share with you all, of the errors they voiced to me.
Too Many Voice Commands
So the first mistake that they were making was too many voice commands. We’ll call them voice commands because we generally categorize anything that we’re saying to a dog as a voice command. But you all probably know by now that if words are coming out of your mouth and the dog doesn’t understand it and isn’t willing to do it, then it truly isn’t a voice command. It’s just noise or possibly a verbal cue.
So they were repeating themselves over and over to the dog in hopes that it was going to bring clarity. If this is you, if you’re repeating yourself more than once, know that it is one of the problems that can lead you to the situation they were in. Too many verbal cues can lead to frustration as humans because our brain assumes that the dog understands what we’re saying when it indeed absolutely does not.
The second mistake they were making was being too vague. Many times when they were asking the dog to do something, they had never actually shown the dog precisely what they wanted him to do. And this makes sense as I’ve been doing this for several years. When I listen to people describing the issues they’re having with their dogs, they’re generally telling me all the things that they don’t want the dog to do, but they don’t know what they do want the dog to do. And what that should look like.
Being vague is a big problem for your dog. It’s like going to the grocery store and having 75,000 things to pick from. They’re also kind of closely related, but they’re different enough that it’s just overwhelming for you to figure out exactly what you should do or which way you should pick. It’s like that for your dog.
You have to give them a few choices or maybe just one and let them know that this is the thing that I’m going to ask you to do. So being too vague is another problem that people regularly commit that gets them into trouble.
The third of their mistakes was saying “no” too much. They were reacting to all the things that their dog was doing wrong. And then, as long as the dog was getting by, there wasn’t any reinforcement telling the dog.
Yes, that goes back to being too vague, but they constantly told the dog “no.” If you’re saying “no” to the dog over and over again, isn’t it possible that the dog is going to think that that word means nothing? I think the dog could learn that it’s irrelevant. So you have to be real careful with that word.
The fourth of their mistakes was not having believable consequences. I always tell my clients that the reward side of our training is essential. The training that I do with my clients is a rewards-based system. There should be exceedingly awesome rewards for the dogs doing what we want them to do. I want people to reward at an 80-95% rate. However, we have to have consequences for dogs and ourselves. When we deliberately don’t do the things that we’re supposed to do, those consequences have to be believable enough that they’re worth avoiding. It’s very useful.
Yes, it’s not pleasant because it’s triggering your negative emotions. But not having believable consequences is probably what ultimately led them to have a dog that would attack anybody that walks inside their home.
So what were their mistakes again? Too many voice commands, being too vague, saying no too much, and not having believable consequences.
Dogs Will Get Better
I appreciate them taking me on to help them with their dog and the transformation that we saw. And I share their mistakes to show that people can get better. And as a consequence, dogs will get better if we can be good at these things. It doesn’t mean that every single dog is going to be the success story that they had. But it does mean that the likelihood will be much higher if we can get these things right.
I want to say a very heartfelt thank you to everybody reading this content. I appreciate each and every one of you, and I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.