23 Common Puppy Training Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid
Raising a puppy can be one of the most delightful experiences in life. Their playful antics, infectious enthusiasm, and unconditional love make them cherished members of our families. Yet, along with all the joy comes the important responsibility of training. Proper training is essential to have a well-adjusted and well-behaved adult dog. Let’s delve into common puppy training mistakes to sidestep as you guide your young furry friend.
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Common Puppy Training Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
When it comes to puppy training, many pet parents unknowingly make common mistakes that hinder their furry friend's progress. By understanding and avoiding these mistakes and being patient, consistent, and attentive, you can set your puppy up for success and raise a well-behaved dog. Let's dive in!
Failing to Start Early
Many believe that puppies are “too young” to start training, but this is a misconception. The optimal window to start training begins as early as 8 weeks of age, especially for socialization. Early lessons lay the groundwork for a lifetime of good behavior.
Inconsistency in Cues (Commands) and Behavior
Imagine being told different instructions for the same task every day. Confusing, right? Puppies feel the same way. If one day “off” is the command and the next day “down,” your puppy will get confused. Ensure everyone in the household uses consistent cues (commands) and rewards to promote faster learning.
Repeating A Cue
Have you seen some of those silly videos on social media of the person asking their dog to sit – like 18 times? The dog isn't ignoring the owner or being defiant. He doesn't understand the behavior that's expected when that cue is used. If your puppy isn't performing the desired behavior when you use a cue, you need to learn how to teach the cues in a way that your dog responds to them the first time, every time. Students in our online training program learn lots of fun training games for teaching puppies essential cues quickly and easily.
Using Negative Reinforcement or Punishment
Old-school training methods often employ negative reinforcement or even punishment. But studies show that positive reinforcement—rewarding the behavior you want to see—is far more effective. Rather than punishing mistakes, focus on creating a positive association with the desired behaviors by using training treats and praising successes.
Using Aversive Sprays or Noises
Internet searches for ways to stop unwanted behaviors like biting and chewing offer all kinds of inappropriate suggestions ranging from bitter sprays and whistles or loud noises to scary aversion tools. Besides being ineffective, these tools can actually lead to other behavioral issues.
Gaining your puppy's trust and affection and building a lifelong bond with your pup is like building up a bank account. We make deposits into the trust account one positive interaction at a time. Alternatively, we make withdrawals with negative interactions like using aversive sprays, threats, force, and punishment. If you want to build a strong, loving bond with your puppy, take a better, more humane approach.
Not Socializing the Puppy Enough
Dogs are social creatures. An under-socialized puppy can grow up to be an anxious, fearful, or aggressive adult dog. Exposing your puppy to different people, places, and other animals in controlled, positive environments is crucial.
Waiting Until Vaccinations Are Complete to Begin Socialization
Proper and positive socialization/exposure has lasting impacts on the rest of your dog’s life. And socialization isn't just with dogs – it's with new people, sights, sounds, and smells! That's why we encourage our students to take their puppies to new places on a consistent basis. Another great option for positive exposure is to hang out with your pup in your car in a parking lot with a decent amount of foot traffic.
Overlooking the Importance of Crate Training
Crate training is not about “caging” your puppy. It's about giving them a safe, comfortable space of their own. Proper crate training can help with house training, reduce separation anxiety, and provide a safe environment for your dog when you're not around.
Placing Puppy's Crate in Your Bedroom
You might think having a puppy close at bedtime is a good idea, but we've found it is much better for puppies and their owners when the crate is placed in another room that's close to the potty door. Our goal is to help our pups gain confidence while being away from us, not become dependent on falling asleep with us present.
This also makes potty training easier and reduces the risk of accidents – particularly for those late-night potty breaks. We also recommend using a pet camera to keep an eye on sweet Fido.
There are some exceptions to this rule, especially when your pup first comes home or in cases of severe separation anxiety where all other efforts have been unsuccessful.
Letting Puppy Sleep in Your Bed
Crate training can be hard for some pups. And I know how tempting it is to just bring that pup into your bed to get the fussing to stop. But once you have one potty accident on your mattress, it will forever be tempting for your puppy to potty there again because a mattress is like a sponge that soaks up the smell and is very difficult to clean.
I get it. My dog Pickles needed three weeks of dedicated, daily crate training games and exercises to love his crate. Now, his crate is his favorite place to retreat and relax.
Some puppies take to the crate right away, others need more time to adjust. We offer lots of games, exercises, and tools to help with crate training in our online program.
Please note: this isn’t a forever thing. Once your puppy is potty trained, you can reconsider whether letting your dog sleep in your bed is right for you.
Neglecting Leash Training
A dog that pulls on its leash or becomes aggressive when seeing another dog can be a hazard. Introducing your puppy to a collar and leash early on, and practicing regular walks around your home first with positive reinforcement, ensures they’re a joy to take out in public.
Using A Retractable Leash
Retractable leashes are dangerous for owners and their dogs. They often jam, are easily dropped, and cause rope burns or more severe injuries if you or your pup get tangled in them. They drag behind the terrified dog like a monster who just won’t stop pursuing them.
Expecting Quick Results
Training is a journey, not a sprint. Puppies have short attention spans and a lot to learn. Celebrate the small milestones, and remember that patience and consistency are your best allies.
Not Addressing Unwanted Behaviors Immediately
Puppies don't just outgrow those unwanted behaviors like biting and jumping, you need to teach your puppy what you want them to do instead. Don't let bad habits become stronger, instead work toward giving your puppy alternate skills that are safer and useful – like sitting to say, “Hi,” instead of jumping, or seeking out a toy to bite instead of nipping at you.
Overwhelming the Puppy with Too Much, Too Soon
While training and socializing your puppy is essential, it’s equally important not to overwhelm them. Watch for signs of stress, like excessive yawning, avoidance, or whining. If your puppy seems overwhelmed, give them a break.
Not Investing Time in Play and Bonding
Training isn't just about commands. It's about building a relationship. Playtime helps puppies learn bite inhibition, burn energy, and understand boundaries. Bonding activities strengthen the connection between you and your dog, making training more effective.
Ignoring Puppy’s Health and Nutritional Needs
A puppy’s health directly impacts their behavior and ability to learn. Ensure they’re on a balanced diet, get regular vet check-ups, and address any health issues immediately.
Using A Fabric Puppy Pen
It might seem fun to get the cloth dog playpen in pretty colors. You think that you can take it to Aunt Sally’s when you take your puppy to her birthday party. I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be a chew toy and a potty pad in a hot second. Instead, we recommend a metal puppy pen with vertical bars like this Indoor Puppy Pen or this Outdoor Puppy Playpen. The metal puppy pens are much more durable and secure than the cloth playpens.
Teaching Puppies to Use Pee Pads
You may have heard that pee pads are easy, convenient, and less messy. NOPE! Not even close.
The truth is that using pee pads trains your pup to go potty inside for the rest of her life! And not just on the pee pads. Anything indoors is fair game. Is that really what you want to teach your pup?
If you really need an indoor potty spot, consider a grassy patch like Fresh Patch. And definitely check out my New Puppy Starter Kit (link at the bottom of this page) for how to teach your pup that outside is the place to go!
Putting Puppy on a Dog Run Cable (Dog Tie Out)
You want your puppy to enjoy being outdoors, and your puppy probably agrees with you. But tying a puppy up to be able to leave them outdoors unattended on a dog run cable (also known as a dog tie out) is never a good idea!
Besides the risks that your puppy might escape or get tangled around a tree or patio furniture, using tie outs can actually make unwanted behaviors like digging and barking worse.
If you are trying to make potty breaks more efficient and easy, consider using an outdoor puppy pen. Remember, all potty breaks should be on a leash to start.
Letting Puppies Chew on Rawhide Bones
Teething puppies have an especially strong need to chew, and chew toys used appropriately are a great way to help satisfy this natural need. Supervision is required for ALL new chew toys to prevent the risk of choking or ingesting something harmful.
However, rawhide bones are an absolute no-no for puppies because they are not easily digested and can cause intestinal obstructions. Instead, consider a Nylabone, Benebone, or natural antler chew (ie: elk antler or moose antler).
I have a power chewer. She can destroy just about anything you put in front of her, and this indestructible bone has been a lifesaver in my home. Bully sticks are also popular among my students, but definitely watch for digestive issues and take them away when they get too small or after just a short time of chewing. Moderation and constant supervision are key points with bully sticks.
Feeding Table Scraps
Resist the urge to feed from the table. It's tempting to give that cute puppy a tasty treat, but you'll be sorry if you do! Feeding from the table teaches a puppy that begging or stealing your food is okay. In addition, not all foods are safe for dogs.
Don't get me wrong, some human foods are great for dogs and provide a novelty that is exciting and fun! When it comes to human foods, here are the most important considerations:
- Make sure the food you want to offer is safe for your pup.
- Use moderation, especially with puppies, because they have sensitive tummies.
- Supervise your puppy carefully when introducing any new food to reduce the risk of choking.
- Be sure to offer human foods in the appropriate toys and places, not at the table and not from your plate.
Visiting Dog Parks
Maybe you’ve had a friend say, “Oh, you have a new puppy? Let’s have a playdate! Meet us at the dog park!” I want you to say YES to a play date.. and NOPE, NOPE, and NOPETY NOPE to the dog park. A playdate with a similar size and temperament dog is a great idea after the second round of vaccinations is done. But dog parks? No, never, no thank you, hard pass.
Here's why. Dog parks often have:
- Poorly socialized dogs that tend to start fights, whether they mean to or not.
- High-energy, revved-up dogs that need to burn up excess energy that can easily turn into a dangerous altercation.
- People who don't understand canine body language and misinterpret the signals dogs in the park are giving off, which puts their dog as well as other dogs in danger.
- Sick dogs with contagious diseases like kennel cough, warts, pink eye, fleas, ticks, or other conditions that could be harmful to your puppy's health.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Putting Your Hands In The Dog Bowl When Puppy Is Eating
This misguided advice aims to prevent food reactivity and mealtime aggression but can actually lead to mealtime behavior issues. Don't stick your hands in your dog's bowl when your puppy is eating or drinking!
Instead, drop or gently toss good things near your puppy during his meal, much like a waiter at Olive Garden dropping off breadsticks. While your puppy eats, you can drop off a higher-value treat to teach the pup that good things happen when people are present at mealtime. Start slowly and at a distance, only moving closer based on your pup’s comfort level.
Grooming At Home
While puppy owners should bathe and brush (or comb) their puppies at home, some grooming routines, like haircuts, are best left to grooming professionals.
When I operated my grooming shop, we saw all sorts of home groom jobs gone wrong because the pup zigged and the owner zagged – resulting in cuts to the ears, tongue, legs, or tail.
Unless you have taken a course on proper grooming techniques, it's best to leave the cutting to the pros who are used to working with wiggly, squirmy pups and know just how to get the job done without causing pain or injuries.
Puppy training is as much about learning yourself as it is about teaching your dog. By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can pave the way for a happy, well-adjusted adult dog that's a pleasure to be around. Remember, every dog and situation is unique. Adapt, be patient, and cherish each moment with your furry friend.
Ready to dive deeper into the world of puppy training? Sign up for our free New Puppy Starter Kit to experience our online training yourself! And if this article was helpful, please share it with fellow puppy parents!
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.