The 3 Most Common Dog Training Problems and How to Fix Them

Dog Pulling on Leash
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Pulling on the leash is one of the top three dog training problems that Mikkel Becker hears about.

Three problems are common among almost all the dogs I train. Those "bad manners" issues do not discriminate by breed, age or size. Rather, they occur in canines of all makes and models.

What are the manners mistakes so commonly made by dogs? (Drumroll, please…) In no particular order, they are jumping up during greeting, not coming when called and pulling on the leash.

Early Intervention Makes a Difference

The vast majority of dog owners have dealt with the problems in one form or another. Preventive training can be done with puppies to stop the commonplace issues from developing in the first place. But more often, people struggle through the frustration of living with and attempting to change the nuisance behaviors after they've developed. The problems often start in puppyhood, grow in strength during adolescence and — if not prevented or addressed early on — become habitual responses by the time a dog reaches adulthood.

For that reason, the more preventive training undertaken during puppyhood, the less likely the behaviors will become lifelong issues. With that said, most dogs I train are well beyond their early puppyhood and are somewhere in their excitable adolescent period or adult years, when they’ve had extensive practice rehearsing the unwanted behavior.

Regardless of a dog's age, the poor manners usually can be reversed and replaced with better behavior if a dog is shown a different way of responding.

If you’re like many a pet parent and are battling with jumping up, not coming when called or pulling on the leash, I want to walk you through the problem and into the solution by delving into why the problem is so common and how it can be fixed.

Jumping Up

The problem: The dog jumps in the air or stands up on his hind legs, often putting his paws on a person's torso or legs. He may jump up repeatedly in Tigger-like fashion or stand stationary on his hind legs with paws touching the person.

Why it’s a problem: Jumping up creates a trip and fall hazard. Some dogs jump with such force, they can hurt someone, such as by chipping a tooth. When the person being jumped on is a baby or child or is elderly or otherwise vulnerable, the risk is heightened. Plus, jumping up can appear rude to guests, and dirty paws can soil clothes. 

Why it happens: Dogs are innately wired to greet face-to-face as part of a friendly meeting sequence. Many dogs have jumped up since puppyhood. Puppy greetings with tiny paws are often viewed as endearing — that is, until the dog grows and has greater potential to do damage. By that point, though, the behavior has already become habitual.

Training solutions: Reward the dog for alternative behaviors and make those the go-to ways to say hi, such as sitting, hand-targeting or fetching a toy. The use of barriers, such as a leash or baby gate, can prevent greeting until the dog calms down. Rewards for calm behavior can be small treats delivered in rapid succession combined with attention, while simultaneously removing all attention for jumping.

Not Coming When Called

The problem: You ask your dog to return to you, using your voice or other cue. But the dog only comes some of the time when distractions are low, he doesn't move close enough to be caught, or he neglects to come at all.

Why it’s a problem: When a dog doesn’t come when called, he is at risk, and restraint becomes a struggle when he is off leash. Coming when called is a lifesaving behavior that all dogs need to know; it can move them immediately to safety in an emergency. The response also makes it easy to interrupt and redirect unwanted behaviors. It gives the owner the ability to move and then contain the dog when needed. 

Why it happens: Canines learn through experience that most of the time when they come, something they dislike, like being put on leash or taken inside, happens. Complying with the "come" command commonly goes unrewarded or has a low-value reward compared to off-leash freedom. It may also be followed by something the dog dislikes, like being made to sit in a stay or leaving the dog park.

Training solutions: Make coming when called an exciting opportunity for your pet to earn various rewards, including high-value treats, toys, chews or a game of chase. When the dog comes, only one out of every five times do something the dog doesn’t like, and the other times, release him to play again.

Pulling on the Leash

The problem: A dog pulls and strains at the end of the taut leash while dragging the person attached to the other end.

Why it’s a problem: Constant pulling has the potential to cause harm to the dog's trachea and neck. Pulling also creates a fall hazard for the person and minimizes the person's ability to keep herself and her dog safe. When dogs pull, the walk is less enjoyable, and as a result, walking often decreases. Tighter leashes also increase reactivity to other dogs and people.

Why it happens: Dogs have an oppositional reflex, meaning they naturally pull against pressure. Canines also learn from experience that pulling gets them where they want to go faster.

Training solutions: Walking equipment like a front-clip harness gently hinders pulling. Dogs can also be taught that pulling on the leash immediately stops the walk, while slack in the line allows movement again. In effect, a tight leash is a red light and a loose leash is a green light. Training a dog to heel is another behavior that's especially helpful around bigger distractions, like walking in a crowd or past another dog.

As a final note, there is no step-by-step training method that will result in the same outcome for every dog, because all canines are different. If a dog’s behavior seems based on fear or aggression or the behavior doesn’t improve with training, seek professional help, starting with your veterinarian and working in combination with a positive-reinforcement trainer.

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