This week I’m turning my blog over to Crystal Saling, a font of wisdom about the dog training process in general, and first-hand observer of how Frankie and I are dealing with it in particular. We inspired her to wonder:

Are you inadvertently sabotaging your dog’s training?

It happens so frequently that even professional dog trainers catch themselves doing it.

There are two main ways to sabotage even the best of training plans.  The first way is to accidentally reinforce behaviors that you don’t want. The best example of this is when an owner who is wearing gardening clothes pets a dog that is jumping up, but yells at the same dog for jumping up when he or she is wearing nice clothes.

The second way people sabotage training plans is by accidentally punishing the behavior they are trying to encourage.  Here is where Edie and Frankie come in. Edie lives in a noisy area and we are trying to get Frankie feeling comfortable walking to the car. I noticed in the comments section to last week’s post that Edie replied to a concern for Frankie’s safety by stating that she has been using body blocking to keep Frankie from going through the front door.

Sure enough, during their subsequent lesson, I observed Edie body blocking Frankie.

If you know anything at all about positive training you may be asking: “What is wrong with body blocking?”  After all, it’s considered a positive training technique championed by industry giants such as Patricia McConnell and Victoria Stilwell.

While considered benign, it is anything but when you are trying to teach a dog that the door and what lies beyond it is a safe place with nothing to be afraid of.  Frankie is a small dog — about 10 lbs.  Compared to him, Edie is a giant (no offense Edie)! One slight movement of Edie’s shin was all it took for Frankie to skitter off in the opposite direction. Body blocking is actually scaring Frankie and conditioning fear-based emotions near the door.

To solve this problem, I advised Edie to always have a leash on Frankie when she opens the door so that she can either hold it or step on it.  That will prevent any accidents with Frankie and get rid of the need to body block him.

Bio: Crystal Saling is the owner/proprietor of Delightful Dog LLC in Tucson, Arizona. She is a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed), KPA CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner). She is a contributor to Dogster’s Good Dog Blog.

9 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: Are You Sabotaging Your Dog’s Training Without Knowing It?”

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  2. Wow – we all have to be hyper-vigilant about how we cope with our own fears and manage the safety of our dogs so we don’t end up inadvertently teaching the wrong lessons. Did I hear your jaw drop when the trainer told you that? Mine would have! What a great thing to discover, though! Now over time, this part of the conditioned fear might go away. Hmm, so much to learn!

    1. Yep, you definitely heard the sound of my jaw dropping. Talk about giving mixed messages! But it was great to have something so basic pointed out to me so now I can be aware of it and correct it.

  3. I remember Jeff Foxworthy doing a stand up bit several years ago, after his wife had given birth to a child. During the routine he basically says: no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try – I am going to screw you up. Seems like the same principal applies to dog training.

    1. You’re in a glass half-empty mood this a.m. Rod! The other way to look at this is that it’s a learning process — part of the path to greater awareness, grasshopper….

  4. I wonder too, if you could train a default door behavior (stopping and looking to you for instruction). My dogs have terrible door manners, but I know people who have used boundary training so that dogs stop at certain boundaries, whether you are there or not. The theory is that even if the door or gate is open, the dog is less likely to cross that boundary without permission.

    Others, I’ve read, train an reorient after going through doors/gates/getting out of cars, so that the dog’s default action is to turn into you.

    Just a few thoughts.

    1. Good article, Jana. I’m a little confused about how you teach a dog to “sit” though if, as you suggest, you observe the behavior first. For me, it’s more of a grammatical issue. That is, you can’t say “sit” to a dog that is already sitting and you can’t say “Thank you for sitting” because that’s way too many words that a dog wouldn’t understand anyway…

      As for dog perfection — definitely they’re more evolved than most humans by nature, but some dogs are born with major problems — caused by health issues, say — that humans probably can’t help (or harm).

  5. Good post from Jana — and a good article too. If you are re-examining what your body language conveys to your pooch, it always helps to take a listen (or get someone else to watch and listen and report) to what you are saying to your favorite canine(s). The most frequent problem I have seen — and possibly most with the most loving dog people– is to try to direct the dog in complete sentences. “Why don’t you come over here and sit now, Precious?” Precious has no idea that what you are saying is “come” , then “sit”. Honest, your dog will not be offended by hearing a simple , one word command, delivered in a calm voice (as opposed to angry shouting of the word)!
    I am reminded of a old Gary Larson cartoon of a dog listening to its owner give a detailed scolding. What the dog heard: ” Blah, blah, Henry. Blah, blah, blah, Henry, Henry, blah, blah. etc”.

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