We are all familiar with the phrase, “ Don’t work harder. Work smarter.” Far too often people unwittingly undermine their own training efforts without ever realizing that they are doing it. Are you one of those people?
1. No Follow Through On Given Cues
If you give your dog a cue and he does not follow through, do you retrieve the dog, place him back into the original position, and stick with it until he complies with the cue or do you just give up after a few times and let the dog go on its way? Unless you stick with it and follow through until the dog complies with your cue, you have just taught your dog that his compliance to your cues is optional.
Dogs cannot generalize about when a situation is dire and his compliance is paramount to his own safety and well being so the rule must be, compliance is mandatory at all times regardless of how small or insignificant the cue. Your dog’s compliance should not be negotiable or you will find that you end up with a dog that blows off cues when ever he chooses. This is a very significant reason why dogs don’t mind their owners. Most often dogs are not just being willful, stubborn, or non complaint when they blow you off. They are doing this because they were unwittingly taught by their owners that their compliance is not required.
2. Neglecting To Release Dogs From The Original Cue
When you cue a dog to SIT and he does and you are ready for him to move, you should be telling him that it is permissible for him to move by issuing the new cue OKAY. This signals the dog that the exercise is finished and you are allowing him to stop complying to the original cue.
He is free to move because you said so. But if the dog moves from the SIT without you releasing him and you do not place him back into the SIT, he will learn that he gets a say in when the exercise has ended. Too many owners see the dog get up from the SIT without being released and think that if the original purpose for the SIT has been met, then they were done and it won’t matter if the dog moves from the SIT. But it DOES matter because the dog just decided when he was done with sitting. And if you teach a dog that he has the power to choose when he does or does not comply, you will have created a dog that does not listen to your cues.
3. Inconsistency Equals Failure
Dogs are creatures of habit. When we are trying to teach or shape a behaviour, the process has to be taught consistently and the application of it has to be carried out consistently. That means using the same word as a cue, applied in a consistent way, by everyone in the household.
If you vary the word you are using as the cue, if you apply the cue inconsistently, and if everyone in the household is using a different cue or has different expectations of behaviour, the dog will be confused and you will be unsuccessful at teaching the behaviour. It is not that the dog failed to learn the behaviour, it is that the owners failed to teach their dog the behaviour. Many behaviour issues that dogs have (lack of toilet training, destruction of property, or not minding the owner) stem from owner inconsistency. Fix the issue of the inconsistency and watch the dog behaviours dissipate.
4. Quality Over Quantity
When it comes to training, everyone claims they do it, but how you do it is just as important as doing it. When teaching an obedience class it becomes very obvious who has done their homework and who has not. Without well practiced repetition, new dog behaviours cannot be shaped and learning will not be anchored. But the quality of the practice session is also very important to the dog’s learning.
You have to be willing to be fully present, engaged with the dog, and in the correct frame of mind to work with your dog or how much you practiced with your dog will not matter. If you put in a half-hearted effort with your dog’s training your dog’s performance will reflect that. Keep training sessions short enough so that attention is sustained by both you and the dog. Make your training time productive and positive.
5. Not Enough Physical Exercise and Mental Stimulation
Many people believe that if their dog has been trained all of their behaviour problems would be solved. Good training does solve many behaviour issues BUT if the root issue behind a dog’s problem behaviour is that they have no physical outlet for their energy and insufficient mental stimulation, then the training alone will not fully address the behaviour issues. Especially in the case of Huskies, these are working dogs. Wanting and needing to run and pull a sled is a very large part of who they are as dogs.
When owners fail to give their dogs sufficient physical exercise, they can easily become anxious, destructive, and even start displaying neurotic behaviours. And sorry, no matter how large someone’s back yard is, that alone will never give a husky adequate daily exercise and mental stimulation to make it content. So make sure that your training is not done in vain. Ensure that your Husky also has their physical and emotional requirement s met also.
6. Not Building a Strong Enough Bond
Far too many people try to skip the step where they forge a deep relationship bond with their dogs. They think that physical training alone will make their dog listen and follow their cues. Training alone will never replace creating this bond. If you try to train your dog without forming this Trust/Respect bond, you will find yourself resorting to using external power grabs like intimidation, domination, bullying or other aversive training techniques to make your dog more compliant.
These training methods are very limited in their scope for success because as soon as your dog is out of your sight and reach or as soon as distractions are added, he will blow off your cues. Correct and shape the behaviours using Positive Training but never punish the dog. If you are physically making your dog compliant then he will do his level best to stay out of your reach and to flee from you. Dogs, especially Huskies only follow strong leadership that is based on trust and mutual respect. There are no short cuts to developing Command Presence and a deep relationship bond with your dog. Obedience Training works synergistically with a Relationship Bond, but it does not replace it.
7. Giving Negative Attention
What do you do when your dog misbehaves or is non-compliant? Do you yell, lecture, hit, or get angry? Negative attention is still attention. Giving your dog negative attention still rewards the bad behaviour because the dog gets a payoff. The payoff is your attention. Spend more energy on rewarding and shaping the behaviours that you want to see in your dog than giving negative attention to the behaviours that you don’t want to see. Show your dog what you DO want him to do instead of focussing on what they are currently doing.
8. Retraining A Dog Is Much More Challenging Than Training It The First Time Around
How much thought do you put into the behaviours that you allow your dog to do? Do you put any thought into what the consequences of this learned behaviour might be 6 months from now or 2 years from now? What you tolerate as cute puppy behaviour now may not be so cute and tolerable from a full sized dog. And if you allowed the behaviour up until now, now you have to re-train for a whole new behaviour. It is simpler and easier to give some thought to the behaviours before you allow it, rather than be required to put the time and effort into re-training the dog later.
9. Your Dog May Be Your “Baby” But That Still Does Not Make It A Human
Human beings have their own set of hierarchal needs and dogs have their own specific set of needs. When people start applying human thinking to dogs, it seldom translates well. For the most part what we humans need to feel happy (beyond the top physical hierarchal needs for air, food, shelter) differs from dogs. What we recognize and value as gestures of love, friendship, and acceptance are not necessarily what a dog values.
In the dog world, with consistency and predictability comes feelings of safety and survival. When dogs know what to expect from their environment and what is expected from them they are more calm and relaxed. They enjoy life much better when they are not stressed, anxious, or fearful. Dogs really don’t care whether they are eating out of designer dishes but they do care if their owners are not showing strong leadership. They don’t care if they sleep on designer dog beds but they do care if they feel anxious because they don’t feel like their owners are able to protect them from danger.
If you over indulge your dog, if you do not make your dog feel safe by providing a chaos free environment, if you do not display the behaviours that your dog naturally understands to be that of a strong capable leader, then no amount of training is going to compensate for this. Please show love to your dog in ways that benefit your dog, not you.
10. Not Applying Professional Advice
Asking for advice is a good thing, but it’s surprising how many people don’t apply the advice they’re given, even when given by trained professionals.
As always we welcome your questions, comments and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories, we may well be helping someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping All Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.