When People Sabotage Your Training Efforts

Not everyone pays close attention to the training you do with your dog.

Training your dog can be challenging on its own, but when other people sabotage your efforts, training just becomes that much harder. After all, dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them—and if someone rewards behaviors you don’t want, then those behaviors will continue.

For example, if you’re teaching your dog to sit for petting rather than jumping up on people for attention, you want your dog to understand that good things happen when he sits. But if someone praises the dog for jumping, or gives other positive rewards (food, attention, verbal rewards) when your dog jumps up, then chances are good he’s going to continue jumping up. So what can you do to prevent these sabotage efforts?

It’s Not Planned

Most people aren’t purposely trying to make your dog’s training more difficult. Instead, they want your dog to like them. Just as people enjoy spoiling other peoples’ children, giving the kids candy and ice cream and toys, people love spoiling other folks’ dogs. By giving the dog treats, by reacting happily, and allowing behaviors that might otherwise be unwanted, they feel the dog will like them.

People also don’t think about what they’re doing. I doubt anyone visits your house thinking, “Ha ha. I’ll sabotage his training efforts today!” Instead, they are simply reacting to the dog. Again, using the example of your dog jumping on people, the person comes in your house, the dog jumps up, and the visitor greets him with a happy tone of voice and petting. Your visitor is simply greeting your dog but the dog, in his mind, is being praised and rewarded for jumping up.

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Prevention is Key

Preventing unwanted behaviors from occurring is the most important key to preventing sabotage. Before visitors come into your house, put a leash on your dog so that he can’t greet people by jumping up. If you’re out on a walk and someone wants to greet your dog, have him sit before they pet him. Simply stop him from jumping and have him sit first.

The same applies to other behaviors that people might sabotage. When food is involved and people might be feeding your dog from the table or giving him too many treats, have the dog do a down stay near you so you can keep an eye on him, or put him in his crate or another room.

Think about the behavior you are trying to change and what other people are doing to thwart your efforts. Then, how are they sabotaging those efforts? What are people doing? Decide how you can prevent the unwanted behavior, and by doing that, you’ll eliminate the sabotage.

Train in the Moment

Sometimes the most effective training happens in the moment. If a particular family member or guest is notorious for making your training efforts more difficult, then make sure you’re ready to work with your dog when you know that person is going to be present.

Have some training treats in hand and a leash on your dog. Work on the behavior you want while that person is present and (hopefully) paying attention. You can even explain to that person what you’re doing and why. Don’t expect that person to train your dog (that probably won’t happen). But perhaps with an understanding, the unwanted behaviors from that person will decrease.

In addition to teaching that person, your dog is also learning to focus on you and cooperate when the distracting person is right there. That in itself is a huge lesson for your dog.

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Clear Communication

Sometimes people will change their own behavior if they understand what they’re doing. For example, when people tell me they don’t mind if my dogs jump up on them, I explain that it can be dangerous if my dogs do that. Bones is a therapy dog who works with young children. If he jumps up on them he could knock them down, hurt them, and then he’d no longer be able to continue the good work he’s doing.

Other times, people’s behavior can have other side effects. When people try to sneak Hero treats or food off their plate, I explain he has a sensitive gastrointestinal system; some foods give him a bad belly ache. When people understand that, they will usually refrain from offering him food.

No matter how frustrated you are, though, try to communicate clearly and without anger. Your message will be more effective this way.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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