What to do if your dog training isn’t working

I teach a really specific method of dog training.  So if your dog training isn’t working, the first thing I’d be thinking is that it probably isn’t the right method.  I wholeheartedly believe in the method that I teach, so if you are doing a different method, then I would expect that your dog isn’t getting the right messages, so your dog training wouldn’t work fully.  Now that I’ve got that disclaimer out of the way, it’s time for some practical advice…

What do do if your dog training isn’t working

1. Choose the right method.  Okay, okay, I hadn’t got it totally out of the way, but this bit is important.  It’s also important that you are doing the method right.  So if someone has taught you it, check with them that you are doing things the way they should be done.  

2. Be consistent.  If you were teaching a child to talk and they hadn’t learnt the word in a few tries, you wouldn’t switch words, or switch languages.  You would keep persevering until they learnt it.  You would praise them when they got it right, and you would keep using that word with them to reinforce it.  Dog training is no different.  So many people say to me “We’ve tried everything”.  Trying everything is confusing for your dog (and you!).  DOING one thing, and doing it well and doing it all the time is much better for everyone involved!

3. Don’t give in.  Your consistency also needs to apply to what boundaries you want to put in place for your dog as well.  If you don’t want them doing something, e.g. barking at you for attention, so you are trying to stop them by ignoring them and then isolating them when they do it.  If every so often you give in and shout at them, play with them or give them what they were trying to get, then you may as well have not bothered with any of the ignoring and isolating.

4.  Stay calm.  Sometimes I talk to owners who are doing the right things, but I can tell that they are feeling really stressed and anxious about it.  Dogs can pick up on our stress, so we need to make a point of being calm in front of them.  If you can’t be calm, move away from them, have a glass of wine or a few minutes meditation (or whatever works for you) and come back when you are more relaxed.  If a dog sees you stressed, they will either become stressed too, or they will not see you as someone that they want to accept decisions from, if you can’t cope…

5. Make sure everyone is doing their bit.  It’s no good one person in the family doing all of the “training”.  Everyone has to do their bit to at least make sure that they aren’t undermining the efforts of the main carer.

6. Be honest with yourself about the above.  It’s no good saying that you’re doing everything right, and it’s all the dog’s fault.  Yes some dogs are more difficult than others, but every dog can improve.  Put your hand on your heart and ask yourself: “Am I really doing the right method, consistently, calmly, without giving in, and getting the support of everyone in the family to stay on track”.  If the answer is no, work on the one thing that seems most significantly out first.

7. Acknowledge your progress.  Some owners I’ve helped in the past haven’t realised how much their dog has come along until someone comes round to visit and comments on it.  So pay attention to the improvements you are seeing.  However small.  If you can notice that it’s working, you will feel better, and if you feel more confident, you will come across as more believable to your dog as well.

It may appear that I’ve been joking about which method you are using, but I really strongly believe in this method, so if your dog training isn’t working, before going on to steps 2-7, switch methods to the one I teach.  I can teach you it one to one, you can learn it from Jan Fennell’s book “The Dog Listener“, or a combination of both.  If you are using her method and struggling, then please look at the other points.  They are the key to your success.

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