Do You Make These 3 Mistakes that Cost You Success in training your scent detection or medical alert dog?

By Debby Kay ©2014 all rights reserved.

This fall the weather has been so wonderful for training dogs I have had to really get on my own case to sit and write this month’s blog. When I am out with the dogs I tend to lose track of all time and just want to continue doing what both the dogs and I love to do and that is train. What does training mean to you? Is it a chore or is it a joy? Do you and your dog(s) really come away with a satisfying feeling after a good session or are you both happy to see it end? I’d like to talk about 3 common mistakes I see people make that can affect the performance, learning and outcome to your dog’s training.

#1 Attitude. Most people I deal with want to train their dog to help with some special task such as alerting to a blood glucose change, or identifying an allergen for their person. These are important tasks for a dog and it is critical to your success that the dog has the right attitude towards the job. What many don’t realize is they will get that attitude from you, the trainer so it behooves you to come to the job with the right frame of mind. You should always know what you are hoping to accomplish during the particular session. Start with a goal in mind. Make sure that goal is reasonable and can be accomplished in the time you have set aside. Train when you feel you have the energy and the right positive frame of mind. If you are super tired, angry with some other person that just ruined your day, don’t bring that baggage to the dog’s training time with you. No one, including your dog, wants to work with someone with a bad attitude. If you are tense, relax with a cup of herbal tea and a spoonful of honey, both of which are known to help with moods. Just let your dog sniff and play on their own until you feel calm and centered again before you pick up the leash and treat bag and start to work with your dog. If you are tired, take a 15-minute power nap. Be refreshed when you start your work with your dog.

#2 Consistency. I am not talking about routines when I am talking about consistency. Routines are nice and certainly are useful in training, especially early on to help the dog focus on the learning objective. I discuss this in my Super Sniffer™ Handbook and we practice this concept at the workshops I offer. What I see as a common mistake though is lack of consistency in both intent and communication people give to their dogs. The best example of intent I can think of that I see frequently is during one session the person will be very serious and strictly enforce the “rules” of performance for the dog on a particular exercise. Then the next session they allow for slack behavior that previously was corrected or not allowed. If you intend to be serious about the “rules” of performance you are establishing then be consistent about it. You will lose your dog’s respect if you keep this up too long. This is no different for people if you think about it.

Lab jumping into ocean waves

When a dog is living life to the fullest the joy is apparent in everything they do

If my intent was to pay you for a job well done but you only got a paycheck once in a blue moon, I doubt that you would want to work very hard for me.   Communication is key to success in all of dog training and yet people will continually give conflicting commands. I see the major problem here is people are just not thinking about what they are doing or saying. It takes some practice and discipline but if your dog can learn then you can too. So be aware of what words and cues you are giving and be consistent for your dog’s sake.

#3 Time. The final and perhaps the biggest mistake many people make who are tying to train their own alert dogs is they do not allow enough time. I am not necessarily asking for hours a day but EVERY day there should be a minimum of 2-3 training sessions. These can be short and of course should be fun and engaging, with a clear goal in mind. If you are going to train the dog then schedule the time to work with the dog. That dog will not learn by osmosis or by reading the book, they are going to need to work with you so commit the time and stick to that schedule. This might include getting up 15 minutes earlier, so after you walk the dog in the morning you can spend 5-10 minutes doing a quick session before breakfast. The same can be in the evening; allow a bit of special time with your dog just for training.

This might seem too simple but it is amazing how many people will bring problem dogs to me and in reality it boils down that their person has not set aside any time for training the dog.

Yes dogs are a lot of work, but my father always said that all great things in your life would require work on your part. That is what makes those things great and so satisfying too. Happy Training!

One comment on “Do You Make These 3 Mistakes that Cost You Success in training your scent detection or medical alert dog?

  1. Excellent advice Debby! I agree with you wholeheartedly. Frequency of training is more important than length of time and like you said consistency is crucial. Dogs are such great observers of their handlers and they pick up on body behavior cues that often times are not intended. So yes, Attitude, Consistency and Time are key.

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