Am I a Failure at Training My Dog?


Man attempting to walk his dog, but the dog is taking charge!

We get a lot of questions, and we take our time to respond. However, this one really stuck with us: Am I a failure when it comes to training my dog? This question was probably as painful to write as it was to read. But, after some time passed, I thought of the Robert Frost quote:

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”

This can be true even in our own households I suppose. Sometimes we think we’re being crystal clear in our communications only to find out that no one truly understood what we were trying to express.

But Is It All About Communication?

Sometimes it can be that way with dogs, when we try to communicate and it doesn’t work. But there is one important difference when you are training a dog. While you are definitely trying to express something, you also have a set of expectations. Your goal is to try to get your puppy, or adult dog, to understand what you are saying in order to meet the goal you’ve established for him or her.

Training and Psychology

While we have a free state-of-the-art puppy training app (download here), a lot of what happens when training a dog, and in particular a puppy, is that you are also training yourself. Our app focuses on a 12 week program with an emphasis on socialization and desensitizing, while also helping you through some of the more challenging traits a dog can have, like incessant barking. And, it works great for everyone who has downloaded it. However, when we get a question like ‘am I a failure when it comes to training my dog’ it helps to go into a bit more detail about the psychology of dogs.

How Do You Know Your Dog Is In ‘Learning Mode’

A recent study (source) researched how a dog’s body language is linked with their learning. How humans learn, typically making eye-to-eye contact, is not readily replicated in the dog world. For instance, shy or submissive dogs tend to avoid continual eye contact with a more aggressive or self-assured dog. The study was eye-opening. They individually took 43 dogs through nine (9) training sessions for three (3) consecutive days. Here’s what they found:

  • Dogs who displayed wide-open eyes during training sessions had higher learning results.
  • Also, dogs with closed mouths, forward ears, and high tails that wagged minimally had higher learning results.

 From this research, they concluded that dogs with alert eyes indicate paying attention. Same for the other attributes, with one small notation regarding closed mouths and how that may alter due to temperature of the dog.

Am I A Failure When It Comes To Training My Dog?

No, of course not. You likely don’t quite have the timing of your dog’s training down yet. By understanding your dog’s body signals and motivation you can quickly get back in the saddle again! Or, outside with your dog on a training leash. Here are some things to consider if you are feeling a little bit under-whelmed by your dog’s responses to you when you train:

Pouncing Or Jumping On You

This is typical when your relationship with your puppy, or adult dog, is based on play time. We’ve all done this. Our dogs are just so darned cute, and playing is a lot more fun than pretty much anything else. Puppies and small dogs look cute when they jump up to play. Long story short, this tends to backfire as a dog get bigger or when it comes to training. Your dog needs to understand that you aren’t going to respond to their pouncing. What to do? Ignore them until they are sitting down or wander away a little bit. The goal here is to break yourself from responding to their actions, and by doing this they will lose interest and start to learn the rewards come with calmness.

Lack of Paying Attention

Don’t feel too bad if your dog doesn’t have a closed mouth and forward ears along with a high, non-wagging tail. This is most likely due to your dog not understanding that you are in ‘training mode.’ These types of attributes don’t just naturally come to a dog, they have work to become calm and curious. This is when training happens more naturally. What to do? Exercise them until they are fairly tuckered out but not exhausted. Also, don’t give them treats right away when you return from your walk or run. Make your dog want what you have in your hand. This is when you’ll start to see your dog’s body move into the learning stance.

Tried It All, Still Not Right...

This is when you want to watch our videos without concurrently teaching them at the same time. You want to watch everything we’re doing, when we do it, how we say it, etc. It’s likely that while you think you are using your clicker at the right time, like when your dog begins sitting, you are actually doing it too early. Typically, what we’ve found is that nearly every time there’s a training issue a dog has accidentally been rewarded for a behavior that wasn’t wanted. What to do? Review your training journal and watch our training videos and study our training lessons. Do all of this without having any expectations of being perfect, just have an open mind. You’ll likely find a number of things that could be improved. And if all else fails, do not hesitate to contact us.

No Such Thing As a Bad Dog

There truly is no such thing as a bad dog. Just like there’s no such thing as thinking your a failure when it comes to training your dog. It all comes down to communication and psychology. Remember, we’re different species and we speak different languages. Never give up on your dog, because your dog will never give up on you!


Rebecca Sanchez

Rebecca Sanchez lives in Seattle with her husband and three dogs and is a published author, and nationally recognized leader in the pet industry. Known as The Pet Lifestyle Guru™ Rebecca firmly believes “we need animals as much as they need us!” Rebecca specializes in researching and writing about holistic dog health and nutrition, and develops DIY recipes designed to enhance a pup's well-being.


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