9 Mistakes I Always See Dog Owners Making, as a Dog Trainer

published Jun 14, 2023
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Young woman hugging dog on living room sofa
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As a dog trainer, my passion is helping people have more fun with their dogs and develop stronger relationships with them. I have been involved with dog sports for over 20 years and am a certified professional dog trainer, certified trick dog instructor, and instructor and evaluator for the American Kennel Club. Through my experience with all kinds of dogs, there are some mistakes I see dog-lovers making over and over again. Here are some of the top and often dangerous mistakes I see.

Not Providing Training and Enrichment 

Dogs are active and intelligent creatures who deserve opportunities to learn new things, so getting involved in training your dog is in your best interest, too. Dogs who are bored are more likely to display behaviors like excessive barking and chewing out of frustration. Training with your dog also is a great way for you to spend quality time with them and help them understand how you want them to engage the world. It’s also important to make sure your dog has lots of opportunities to sniff, which is a naturally soothing activity, and lots of enriching toys to play with. 

Tying Dogs Up Outside Stores and Restaurants 

One of the most dangerous things many owners do is tie their dogs up outside a coffee shop or store. Dognapping, especially of small and popular breeds, is on the rise, so even if you’re just popping inside for a moment, leaving your dog unattended puts them at a high risk of being stolen. It also leaves them vulnerable to being attacked by another dog, teased, or frightened by passersby. The same is true for leaving dogs alone in cars. If you can’t bring your dog in somewhere with you, leave them home where they are safe. 

Breaking Leash Laws

When you bring your dog out to walk, even if it’s a park, beach, or hiking trail, make sure to always keep your dog on a leash. Keeping your dog leashed is not only safer for them, but it also helps keep other dogs and people safe. Many pups and people alike do not like to be approached by strange dogs running up to them, and everyone deserves to safely enjoy public spaces. If you want to give your dog a little more room to run and play (and it’s allowed in your area) consider using a long-line style leash which gives your dog freedom to explore an open area while still safely attached to you.

Using Outdated Training Methods 

Dog training in the United States is an unregulated industry, meaning anyone, regardless of how little experience or education they have, can call themself a dog trainer — which can lead to well-meaning dog owners being misled. Avoid all training approaches that use correction and aversive training tools that cause pain or discomfort like prong collars or shock/e-collars. Leading training welfare organizations as well as The American Veterinary Medical Association have taken a stand against aversive dog training practices. Instead, only work with trainers who center positive reinforcement and force-free training approaches.

Credit: James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

Leaving Dogs Home Alone Too Long 

Having a dog is a large time commitment, and sometimes that means inconveniencing yourself in order to ensure their needs are met. If you work long hours outside of your home, consider hiring a dog walker who can come and give your pup a chance to potty. Dogs need quality time with their people, so that may mean needing to skip on drinks with friends after work or trade a pre-work trip to the gym so you can take your dog out for a walk. 

Letting Their Dogs Say Hello 

Dogs are not public property, and they don’t need to greet others while out on walks. As tempting as it may be to show your dog off to everyone, one of the most important skills you can teach them is to pay attention to you while out in the world and ignore others (treats, toys, and play can help reinforce this). If someone asks to say hello to your dog, politely say no and continue your walk. Similarly, if someone asks if their dog can greet your dog, it’s best to say no. Even if your pup is social, greeting dogs on a leash can make any dog uncomfortable and lead to reactivity or even aggression. Dogs don’t need to engage with other dogs or people while out walking, and encouraging them to do so can lead to future behavioral issues. 

Treating Dogs Like an Accessory 

For many people, dogs are like their best friends or babies — but it’s important to remember dogs are autonomous beings. They are individuals with their own wants, needs, and desires, not just adorably fuzzy sidekicks. When sharing your life with a dog it’s important not to treat them like an accessory or a prop for your social media pages. Make sure your dog has the opportunity to just be a dog. 

Credit: otsphoto/Shutterstock

Going to Dog Parks

Dog parks sound great, but they aren’t a good idea for most dogs. Meeting, engaging, and playing with strange dogs doesn’t come naturally, and there are no guarantees that other dogs in the park will be friendly. As a result, dog fights and injuries are common in dog parks. These hubs can also lead to the spread of diseases from dogs who might not be fully vaccinated interacting with others. If your dog enjoys playing with fellow canines, try scheduling private playdates with other dogs who have similar play styles instead.

Setting Dogs Up to Fail

Most people imagine they will have a perfectly well-behaved dog who can accompany them everywhere, but that isn’t every dog’s personality. Even for calm, confident, and social dogs, it takes a lot of training to get them ready to accompany you to dog-friendly places like outdoor cafes, festivals, and farmers markets. For your dog’s emotional welfare, it’s important to avoid putting your dog in situations that are going to make them uncomfortable or anxious. Repeated stress sets dogs up to fail by rehearsing behaviors you don’t want, like lunging and barking, and can actually make a dog’s discomfort worse. Instead, it’s far more effective to create a training plan to help your dog to adapt to new situations and stressors.