When learning new things, dogs can get frustrated just like people. Over time, a dog who is continuously frustrated during training may develop bad habits or may start to dislike training and show avoidance.
Some signs that your dog might be getting frustrated in training include:
-- Dog wanters away/leaves training, even if it knows there are treats available.
-- Dog barks, jumps at or bites the trainer and/or the leash. Sometimes interpreted as the dog is "excited" about training.
-- Dog starts offering random trained behaviors (cycles through Spin, Sit, Down, Roll Over, Speak, etc, no matter what you've actually cued.)
-- Dog zooms (races around wildly.)
So why is your dog frustrated? The most common reason is because you're not giving it sufficient and/or consistent information on what it's supposed to be doing.
You’ve got treats available as rewards, and the dog knows that it can get the treats if it follows your instructions, and it wants to follow the instructions, but...your instructions are confusing. Your voice says one thing but your hand signals say another. You reward a sit once and then you don’t reward it again. You start with one thing and then abruptly switch to another. You fade in and out of training sessions – looking at your phone, talking to your kids/partner, etc.
If you see your dog showing frustration, the very first thing to do is make sure that you are giving clear and consistent cues. Many times if the dog is frustrated, it turns out that the handler is also not clear on what she’s supposed to be doing. So go back and review the steps involved in the training method you’re using! If you have a question about it or the instructions aren’t clear, then dig until you get your needed information. If you understand what to do but just have trouble remembering the steps or are physically uncoordinated, then step away from the session for a few minutes and work through it with an “invisible dog” for a few rounds until you’ve attained some muscle memory.
The second thing to do is make sure that the lesson itself is not too difficult for the dog. You may need to step back and work on an easier lesson. For example, if you’re trying to get the dog to work on a pivot perch (front feet planted on the perch while the hind end pivots around) but the dog keeps hopping off instead of pivoting, maybe it still needs practice on just getting up onto the perch and staying there, and the pivots themselves are too advanced right now. If you’re trying to get an out-of-sight sit-stay but the dog is getting up when you’re more than a couple steps away, you’ve got to get a better sit-stay in sight before you move to out of sight.
If you’ve made sure that your handling and training style are not confusing the dog, and that the lesson itself is not too difficult for the dog, and your dog is still showing signs of frustration, here are some other things to try:
1) Make the training session shorter. Some dogs just naturally have less stamina for training than others. Getting through a couple of repetitions while the dog is calm and then quitting is better than trying to regain control from a frustrated dog.
2) Make the rewards less exciting. Switching the treats from chicken to kibble, for example. This can help because the dog is not quite so wild to get at the lower-value treats, so can think a little more clearly and is less likely to be frustrated if it doesn’t get one.
3) Make the training session easier. There are some dogs who are so desperate to get the food (even low-value food) that they do not have a lot of extra mental space to process complex cues and behaviors.
4) Alternate easy behaviors with hard behaviors. If “sit” is easy for your dog but he really has to think about “down,” try throwing in a few easy, rewarded sits for every “down” you ask for. This can keep the dog feeling confident and help with frustration.
Some dogs have naturally lower frustration tolerance than others. If your dog is frustrated, it won’t be long before you are also frustrated! Let me know if