How to Train Your Dog Right!

Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Denise Mullenix, joined us today -- with her dogs -- to tell us the most common mistake she sees dog owners making...and to train us to train our dogs right!

For more information on dog training, check out this blog.

If you're interested in adopting the puppy Denise had on the show today, go to this website for more information.

The most common mistakes dog owners make and how to fix them

 Mistake #1 Not Seeing a Professional or Seeing the Wrong Professional

  • A common mistake that we see dog owners make is choosing to mimic popular television shows that feature methods based on "dominance theory", or "pack theory" instead of working with a qualified trainer. Methods that use physical force, pain or intimidation can inhibit learning, increase fear and stimulate aggressive events.


  • Unfortunately some of the trainers featured on popular programs are not using up to date methods but instead rely on charisma, excellent marketing and editing. Methods relying on physical corrections and being "calm assertive" over your dogs are gaining in popularity and, as many animal experts believe, are setting modern dog training back 40 years. Many viewers also develop unrealistic expectations because of seeing serious behavioral issues seemingly "rehabilitated" miraculously in a half-hour episode.


How to Choose a Trainer

  • Rewards Based Training
  1. A good trainer will use motivational techniques such as food, play or attention to increase desirable behaviors.
  2.  A good trainer understands that each animal has its own individual learning styles and preferred motivators.    
  3. A good trainer avoids use of any physical force that can harm your pet. Trainers who routinely use choke collars, pinch collars, electric "shock" collars or any other means of physical punishment should be avoided.
  4. Trainers who routinely scold or yell loudly enough to cause a dog to cower or show other signs of fear should also be avoided.
  •  A Good Teacher
  1. Provides a clear explanation of each lesson.
  2. Demonstrates the behaviors that students will be teaching the dogs.
  3. Provides clear instructions and written hand outs for teaching each behavior.
  4. Gives students enough time in class to begin teaching the day's lesson.
  5. Assists students individually to implement each method or technique correctly.


  •    Continuing Education
  1. Choose a trainer who makes a concerted effort to keep on top of the latest techniques and training literature.
  2. Ask your prospective trainer what training conferences, workshops and classes they have attended recently.
  3. Find out if they are a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) which requires that they maintain their education through Continuing Education (CE) credits to keep their certification.


  •  Respectful and Makes You Feel Comfortable
  1. Choose a trainer who treats you with respect and caring for your concerns and doesn't talk down to you.
  2. Pick a trainer who makes sure to note errors you have made but doesn't blame you for the mistakes or attempt to make you feel guilty.
  3. A prospective trainer should carry liability and/or bonding insurance in case something happens when your dog is being trained by them or yourself.
  4. If what a trainer is doing something which makes you feel uncomfortable about handing your dog's leash over to them in class, consider using another trainer.


  • Allows you to Observe a Class
  1.  All good trainers should freely offer to have you attend a class to observe what they are recommending that their clients do with their dogs.
  2. Be seriously cautious if a trainer declines to have you observe a class.


  • Doesn't Make Behavioral Guarantees -- Due to many variables such as breeding, temperament, the length of time taken before seeking help, an owner's commitment to training and their level of experience, a conscientious trainer cannot and should not guarantee the results of training.


  • Vaccinations
  1. A good instructor will take measures to protect your dogs health in a group setting.  
  2. There should be vaccine requirements and vaccines should be verified prior to class. Sick dogs should not be allowed to attend class.


Mistake # 2 Not Taking Your Young Dog to Puppy Class

  • Another mistake we often see dog owners make is assuming that they must wait until their puppy is old enough for training. The Critical Imprint and Socialization Periods for puppies is between birth and 4 months of age.


  • During this time your puppy should be exposed to as many people, animals, environments and things that we expect them to interact with for the rest of their lives in a positive way! Waiting for a puppy to be fully vaccinated to begin a puppy class can cause owners to miss the critical window of socialization that can cause future phobias and other behavioral problems as adult dogs.


Critical Socialization Period

  • The first 16 weeks of ag
  1. During this time, sociability outweighs fear.
  2. Poor or Incomplete socialization during this time is a leading cause of behavioral issues including fear and aggressior.
  3. Behavioral Issues are the number one reason for relinquishment of dogs to shelters
  4.  Behavioral Problems are the number one cause of death for dogs under the age of  three, not infectious diseases.
  • A Good Puppy Class
  1. Requires a minimum of one set of vaccinations given at least 7 days prior to the first class and first deworming and require the upkeep of vaccinations throughout the class.
  2. Classes should be held on surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected and should be disinfected prior to each class.
  3. Puppy classes should be small and group puppies with dogs that are similar in age and give  ample opportunity to play together off leash.
  4. Look for a class that the puppies are trained frequently and settled down during the play session using positive techniques like treats and toys.
  5. Puppy classes should provide safe, positive, exposures to things that the puppy may encounter throughout their life with you. Common exposures include many different types and looks of people including children, other animals, bicycles and skateboards, sounds like thunder and fireworks, grooming equipment and handling, etc.
  6. Puppy classes should cover teaching bite inhibition or how to have a soft mouth.
  7. Puppy class should teach some basic manners, communication and potty training and chewing.
  8. Avoid classes that advocate the use of any metal color or means of physical punishment that frightens or causes pain to your pup.
  9. Generally, the focus during this time, at home or in puppy classes, is on socialization, confidence, good manners, and basics like potty training, chewing, jumping up and getting comfortable on leash.


Mistake # 3 Using the Wrong Equipment

  • A common mistake we see is owners choosing the wrong equipment for their canines. We see determined leash pullers being walked on flat collars, harnesses that clip in the back and retractable leashes. These can all promote pulling. Corrective collars such as choke chains, slip collars, prong collars and electric collars can inhibit learning, increase fear and, in many cases, can create or worsen aggressive behaviors.

Mistake #4 Poorly Timed Rewards or Punishments

  • We often see people reward their dogs (or even worse, punish their dogs) well after the time when this feedback would be useful to their learning. For dogs, you only have 1 to 2 seconds to associate their behaviors with a reward or punishment to make a connection in their brains. For training to take place, the dog must associate their behavior with the consequence.
  • In the 5 to 10 seconds that many people take to deliver a reward to their pups, the connection is lost. The bottom line is: whatever your dog is doing, if they receive a reward within 1-2 seconds afterward, they will associate the consequence with the behavior and do it again for you.

Mistake #5 Rewarding Unwanted Behaviors

  • Another common mistake made by people is inadvertently rewarding unwanted behaviors. Dogs do what works for them. If a behavior is working, such as barking for attention and then getting it, they will continue to bark. Modifying unwanted behaviors often entails figuring out your dogs motivation for the unwanted behavior and making sure it's not rewarding for them to continue trying it.

Mistake # 6 Lack of Consistently of Training for the Dog



The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's Position Statements on:

Types of Behavior Professionals

How to Choose a Trainer

Finding Help for a Pet with a Behavior Problem

Puppy Socialization Position Statement

Punishment Position Statement

Dominance Position Statement


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