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No doubt you’ve seen dogs on TV or at a dog sports event and been amazed by the tricks they can do. And what about those dogs who have obedience down pat? Have you ever wondered if you can train your dog like that? Absolutely! You can train your dog to do almost anything with the right methods and attitude. But some common dog training mistakes could get in your way.

Although many people make these missteps, with a little knowledge and effort, you can steer clear to boost your training game.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Silly

Training should be fun for your dog, so don’t be afraid to get goofy when you’re working with them. Praise them with a high-pitched and silly tone of voice when they behave appropriately or correctly obey a cue. A singsong “Who’s a good puppy?” will communicate more enthusiasm to your dog than a monotone “Good dog.” Don’t let embarrassment stop you from showing your dog how pleased you are.

You can also use your best goofy behavior and voice when training a recall cue. If you sound angry or panicked, your dog will turn and run the other way. But if you sound like you’re having a party, how can your dog resist coming over to play, too? Remember, dogs respond to your body language and tone of voice just as much, if not more than, your words. So, keep things upbeat and fun.

Attractive girl walking the dog. Having fun playing in outdoors. Lovely woman training German Shorthaired Pointer on sandy beach on background of greenery. Concepts of friendship, pets, togetherness
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Stay Positive When Training

It can be maddening when your dog gets it wrong. But never let your dog see your frustration. It’s important to maintain an upbeat attitude because dogs can read human emotions. If your dog thinks you’re angry or stressed, they’ll shut down and stop learning. Although this often looks like your dog is being stubborn or ignoring you, they’re simply reacting to your negative mood. If you see your dog yawning, looking away, sniffing the ground, or other signs of “disinterest,” take stock of your emotions and see what you’re projecting. If you can’t recover, take a break and try training later when your patience and positivity are refreshed.

It’s also important your dog feels safe to learn through trial and error. If you correct your dog’s mistakes with words like “No!” or “Ehh!” or any other aversive, they’ll fear getting it wrong. Rather than actively participating in the training process, they’ll disengage and stop trying. It’s far better to use positive reinforcement training techniques, set up your dog for success, and reward their accomplishments.

Be Generous With Treats

Reward your dog generously and frequently. Too many people are stingy with rewards or won’t use anything but praise. But would you go to work if you stopped getting a paycheck? Behaviors that are reinforced are repeated, so don’t be tightfisted with the treats, praise, games of fetch, or whatever you use to reward your dog. That will foster a love of training in your dog and make listening to you worthwhile.

It’s also helpful to be fast with reward delivery. Otherwise, your dog can become confused about what exactly you’re reinforcing or can lose interest and wander away to find their own rewards. Using a marker like a clicker or a word like “yes” can help bridge the gap between the dog’s behavior and the goodies, but the quicker you are, the better.

Weimaraner laying down on command for a treat at home.
©Laura -

Match the Reward to the Challenge

A reward is only reinforcing if it’s good from your dog’s point of view. Your dog might be crazy about cheese, but if you choose to reward with kibble their performance will drop. Know what your dog loves most and build a reward hierarchy. Use the rewards at the top of the list for the most challenging tasks and save the items at the bottom for behaviors your dog has mastered. And don’t forget about life rewards like going for a walk or getting attention or cuddles.

Don’t worry, you won’t be giving rewards every single time forever. When your dog is first learning a new cue or behavior, it’s essential to reward them every time. But once they know what to do, you want to slowly fade your rewards until your dog only gets them randomly. Just think about a slot machine. You want your dog to become addicted to working for you.

Reward Placement Matters

Whatever your dog is doing when they get a reward will be reinforced. For example, if you ask your dog to lie down, but they’re sitting again when you give them their cookie, you’ve really reinforced sitting. Think carefully about what your dog is doing or how their body is positioned when you give treats. Then you can time the delivery at the correct moment. This is especially important if you’re using shaping to build a behavior one tiny step at a time.

Try Not to Confuse Your Dog

Golden Retriever getting a treat from a woman while posing for a photo outdoors.
AzmanJaka via Getty Images

Although dogs may understand many words, your dog will be attending to your body language, gestures, and the tone of your voice, along with what you say. Make sure every signal is in agreement to avoid confusing your dog. For example, if you ask your dog to stay but then you step back, don’t be surprised if your dog gets up to follow. It’s also important not to hover over your dog or invade their personal space. That can cause stress and disengagement, particularly in shy or anxious dogs.

Also, keep your cues noticeably different. If you use “crate” to ask your dog to enter their crate but “wait” to ask them to wait at doorways, your dog might struggle as they sound so similar. You can use any word or gesture you want for behaviors. Even “banana” can mean sit if you teach it that way, so be conscious of making all your verbal cues and body language signals distinct.

Teaching Your Dog to Generalize Cues

Dogs don’t generalize well. That means if you teach your dog to sit in the kitchen, they’ll think the cue for sit means “sit in the kitchen.” You need to train your dog in many different environments before they understand that their cues apply no matter where they are. Every time you move to a new location, go back to basics so your dog doesn’t become confused or frustrated. The same is true with the three Ds – distance, duration, and distraction. To help your dog generalize, each D should be trained separately before you combine them. This is known as proofing the behavior.

Avoid Repeating or Poisoning Your Cues

It’s tempting to repeat a cue if your dog doesn’t respond immediately. Pretty soon, “come” turns into “come, come, come.” But this cue nagging only teaches your dog they don’t have to listen the first time. Even worse, they’ll think the cue is actually “come, come, come” and won’t do anything if they hear the word said only once. To help your dog respond the first time, get their attention first with their name (the name game helps with this) or a cue like “watch me.” If your dog is too distracted to obey, don’t say the cue. Find another way to get them to do as you wish, then work on building your dog’s performance around distractions.

It’s equally important not to poison your cues. That’s where you associate the cue with something negative. This often happens with the recall cue. You might call your dog to come in the park before taking them home or call them to come before trimming their nails. If a cue signals the end of fun or the beginning of something unpleasant, your dog will stop responding to it. If you need to do something they dislike, like bathing your dog, use a different method, such as luring them with a treat or clipping on the leash and walking them there.

Basenji sitting in the bathroom being towel dried after a bath.
©nikkimeel -

Practice Dog Training Every Day

Just like you might practice piano every day, dogs need repetition to improve their skills. Too many people attend dog training classes but fail to practice what they learned during the week. You don’t need to spend an hour a day. In fact, that’s way too long for most dogs, but five to 10 minutes is more than enough. If you incorporate your training into your daily routine, that’s even better. If your dog wants a walk, ask for a sit or down before clipping on the leash. Before you lower the food dish, ask your dog to do a trick like shake a paw, and so on.

Once your dog has learned a new behavior, the training doesn’t stop. Keep their skills polished with regular practice sessions. It’s good for your dog as it provides mental stimulation and physical exercise. And if you follow tip one and keep training fun, it’s also a great way to bond and spend time together.