Overcoming Common Training Challenges: Advice from the Experts

Key Points

  • Rewards and praise are the fastest way to train your dog.

  • Short training sessions are best.

  • Consistent commands and rewards yield clear communication with your dog.

Having a companion dog is one of the greatest human experiences. Having a well-trained dog that is socially adjusted, self-confident, and reliable in a variety of distracting situations both at home and in public? Well, who doesn’t want that.

Behavioral scientists such as John Watson and Ivan Pavlov blazed the trail in behaviorism. B.F. Skinner defined positive reinforcement theory. Their findings are still relevant and in use.

The methods of these science-based powerhouses are easy to use in your everyday interactions to train your dog. There is no need to study the intricacies of cognitive theory.

Dog training challenges are a natural part of the training process. By strategically putting the science and art of these easy-to-follow guidelines to work, you can avoid some of the most common mishaps people face when training their dogs.

Consistency Is Key

Imagine if you could talk to your dog in their own language, and they could talk to you. You don't have to be Dr. Doolittle to make this dream a reality.

This is possible, but the key to this communication is consistency. Everyone in your household must be on board by being consistent with the commands and rewards.

Whenever your dog completes a desired behavior, be sure everyone in the home always rewards your dog with something they consider valuable. Consistent commands and rewards yield the best results.

Patience and persistence reinforce your pup's good habits.

Positive Reinforcement

When you reward your dog with something they love for a specific behavior, such as sitting on command, the pup enjoys the reward and is more likely to produce that desired behavior again.

This is the simple basis of positive reinforcement. When something positive happens to your dog in response to a behavior, that behavior is more likely to be repeated.

Be careful when using positive reinforcement. If your dog chooses not to do the cued behavior and receives some other form of reinforcement — such as the thrill of chasing a squirrel — the chance of them ignoring the command later increases.

Consistent cues and rewards are essential when using positive training.

Avoid Punishment

Isn’t it wonderful that the fastest, most reliable way to teach a dog is also the most fun and humane for both the student and the teacher?

It turns out that science supports positive methods as the most efficient way to educate a dog.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's 2021 Position Statement on Humane Dog Training states, "Training methods are most effective when they focus on teaching the animal what to do, rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviors. Common training issues such as jumping, barking, and housetraining can be managed by arranging the environment appropriately and reinforcing desirable responses."

Punishing a dog for “bad” behavior can lead to fear and aggression. It is not an effective training method. Reward good behavior with treats or praise rather than punish “bad” behavior. Avoiding punishment also produces the best long-term results.

Avoiding punishment comes naturally to most dog lovers. Science-based evidence overwhelmingly shows positive training is more effective than aversive methods.

Keep Training Sessions Short and Frequent

Training sessions can happen anywhere and everywhere throughout the day. They are most effective when short and frequent.

Puppies have an especially short attention span and need frequent puppy training to reinforce good behavior. Even the most in-depth training sessions for dogs with advanced skills should only last several seconds to a couple of minutes between rest breaks.

Reset your dog between training sessions with a quick play time, belly rub, or enticing treat before repeating the cue.

Calming Dog Ad

Your dog can become addicted to doing what you want them to do and avoiding the behaviors you don’t. Keep a small, out-of-reach bowl or treat pouch filled with tasty treats on hand for those "teaching moments."

When you “catch” your dog doing what you want, such as sitting quietly at your feet or coming to you when you call their name, pop a treat between their front paws or toss it directly to them.

It's amazing how fast these few seconds of micro-training create perfect, desirable behaviors.


One of the best ways to have a great relationship with your dog is to allow them social interactions with new people, places, and other dogs. Dogs that are confidently socialized have the strongest relationships with their owners.

Puppies have a primary socialization phase from 3 to 12 weeks old. The most influential time in a puppy’s development of learning good social behavior is between three and five weeks.

The good news is that socialization for dogs is beneficial at any age. Socialization is one of the best enrichment activities to share with your dog.

Any new socialization for dogs requires allowing your dog to choose how fast they want to experience new people, places, or other dogs. Some dogs are very outgoing and friendly. Others take more time to acclimate.

Always reinforce your dog with praise or a treat if they are unsure or nervous about meeting new people.

When introducing new dogs to one another, it is best to meet on neutral territory with plenty of room to maneuver and sniff. Keep a dropped or loose leash handy to avoid any reactive behaviors.

Going for a walk together is a great way to introduce your dog to a new person or another dog. Meeting only one new dog or person at a time rather than in large groups is best.

Patience and Persistence

Patience is the most important element of dog training. Training takes time and effort, and it is essential to remain patient and persistent.

Patience may be hard to muster after your dog chews your favorite pair of shoes, but patience is critical to successfully training your dog.

It is fun and rewarding to see your dog progress over time. An ample supply of patience, combined with a persistent commitment to the task, yields a successful result. Your dog gains the training you want when you positively and consistently reinforce the desired behaviors.

Seek Professional Help

Unlocking the power of positive training with your dog is so fun and rewarding that you may want to seek a professional dog trainer to enroll in a basic obedience class, achieve a canine good citizen title, or even pursue a dog sport.

A professional dog trainer gives you personalized advice on how best to continue your dog's training odyssey. A trainer can even help introduce your dog to sports, from rally and dock diving to disc dog or agility.

What happens if things go wrong? If you struggle with your training at home or your dog displays dangerous behavior, a professional behaviorist or trainer can offer personalized advice and support.

An applied animal behaviorist has earned an MS, MA, or PhD in animal behavior and is an expert in handling dog aggression and other complicated behaviors.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers certifies individuals in professional dog training. It is a good resource for finding a competent professional trainer to address more advanced behavioral issues.

Praise Makes Perfect

Consistent cues, rewards with praise, and short training sessions overcome common dog training challenges.

Remember that patience and persistence are key ingredients to the best relationship with your dog. Socialization for dogs is necessary for their long-term well-being. If you hit a snag, seek personalized advice from a professional behaviorist.

When you are ready to dive even deeper into training, professional dog training is a great resource to get your dog involved with dog sports or specific disciplines like rally, disc dog, or agility.

The sky really is the limit to all you can accomplish when you use reward-based training for your dog.

See BreedExpert for more training guides and the latest information on your favorite dog breeds.

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