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Why your training might not be working

Almost everybody who has a dog makes at least some effort to train it! But when the training doesn't seem to be working, some people get frustrated and give up, and others just keep plugging away, often becoming more and more frustrated.

Why would training "not work?" Here are the most common reasons I see dog owners experiencing training which is not working.

1) The owner is using the correct overall technique, but is doing a piece (even a tiny piece) wrong. The most common example of this is people who are teaching their dog basic obedience and using treats as a reward when the dog gets it right. All is well until the owner tries to ask the dog to "sit" or "down" but does not have a treat in hand. Then the dog completely ignores the owner.

In this case, the technique is great (using food treats to teach basic obedience) but they missed the step where they get the treat out of their hand. They went directly from Step One, "Use a treat to lure the dog into position" to Step Three, "Give the command and then reward when the dog does it." There is a middle step in here, where you teach the dog that just because he does not see a treat upfront that may still earn one. It's an easy step to skip, but it's very crucial if you want the kind of dog who springs into action whether or not you're holding food in your hand.

2) The owner is using the correct overall technique, and doing it correctly, but hasn't done it long enough. This is a big one for housebreaking. Have you ever seen one of those little puppies who seem to have been born housebroken? After a few days go by and there have been no accidents in the house, it's tempting to declare the puppy housebroken and slack off in your housebreaking work. This will usually make your puppy's housebreaking suddenly take a turn for the worse. There is a certain amount of time that needs to go by before you can declare a puppy housebroken, even if he is getting it right after just a few days.

3) The overall technique is correct, but the owner is inconsistent. For example, "demand barking." Demand barking is when the dog wants something (usually attention) and barks until he gets it. The owner knows that the dog is barking for attention, and understands that to get the dog to stop doing it he/she has to make sure that the demand barking is never rewarded (with attention.) This is easy in training set-ups and really hard in real life. What if you live in an apartment? Hard to explain to neighbors why you do not step in to quiet your dog. But this leads to inconsistency when the dog realizes that barking does indeed work.

4) The overall technique is incorrect. Let's go back to demand barking. The dog is crated and bored and barks to get its owner to come and interact with it. "No!" the owner shouts. The dog might stop for a moment, but then keeps going. A cycle of Bark, Bark, Bark! "NO!" (pause) "Bark, Bark, Bark!" "NO!" (pause) "Bark, Bark, Bark!" "OK that's it! I said to be quiet!" as the owner storms over to the dog in an angry and threatening way.

For most dogs, if they want attention, they want attention, period. Positive attention, negative attention, it's still attention. Did you see how this dog actually got his owner to stop what he was doing and come over to the dog? Disciplining (especially verbally) a dog who is demand barking usually is accidentally rewarding!

5) The technique is correct and the owner is doing it correctly, but the dog mentally or physically can not carry out the task. Most owners can understand when a dog is physically incapable of doing a task. But many do not know that a dog can be mentally distressed as well. Fear and stress are the usual culprits of this. Fear will always override training. So your first job would be to get rid of the fear.

These five reasons are the most common reasons why a training plan does not work. Luckily, most of these issues can be fixed. Sometimes it is even a very, very simple fix!

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