Then take corrections (punishment) off the table!
It's a simple as that!
Why would you do that? Because the vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors.
Reread that last sentence and digest it.
"The vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors."
This is sad but true. If you videotape yourself training, you will find that anytime your dog makes a mistake (assuming he has actually learned the behavior) it is because of a mistake you made or something you overlooked in the environment. Rather than correct the dog's behavior, look at it as a way to improve your own training. What is it that you have missed in his training that set him up for failure?
Here is a list of the 11 most common parts of training that are missed by handlers training their own service dogs:
Handler's lack of ability to read their dog's communication.
A stressed dog cannot think about his behavior. Happily, there are a series of early behaviors that give the handler an idea of the stress level of their dog. Learn what those are and change the training environment so your dog's stress level is reduced. Stress can be both good (excitement) and bad (worry) as well as emotional (scared) and physical (tired). Join the Facebook Observations Skills group to learn more.
Not explaining the behavior in enough different ways so your dog can understand what you want.
Like humans, dogs learn in different ways. Some learn by watching another dog do a behavior. Some learn by watching their human do a behavior. Some dogs love shaping. Almost all can learn by capturing a behavior as he does it naturally. Luring worsk too but fade the lure as quickly as you can or the dog can become reliant on it as part of the cue.
Using the wrong motivator.
We all need some sort of motivation to learn and perform a behavior. Would you still go to work if your boss didn't pay you? Find out what it is that your dog loves and use that! Food, toys, playing with you can all work well. Just make sure it is something your dog really wants. Also, adjust the motivator for the level of difficulty of the behavior and the environment you are training in. Lower value for easier behaviors, known behavior or training in low distraction locations. Medium for middle of the road challenges and higher value for the more difficult/distracting locations.
Failure to teach the behavior at a distance.
While most dogs learn to do a behavior close to you, they have no idea they can do a behavior at a distance. That must be trained incrementally. If you haven't done that, then your dog's failure is your mistake, not his.
Failure to teach the behavior with duration.
How long the dog can do a behavior also takes specific training. Duration can be hard for puppies, adolescents and for impulsive dogs. When you play games, think of the ones you give up on. Those are the ones where the game just gets longer (boring) and does not allow you many successes. So vary the length of what you ask, always making sure to do some easier ones so the behavior isn't always getting harder. It also helps to pair stationary activities with active ones.
Increasing the level of distractions too quickly.
Dogs can learn to ignore distractions quickly, but you do need to vary their level too. Be creative with the type of distractions Do you know the days you crawl out of bed and are sensitive to sounds? Perhaps you are feeling a little "off" today? Dogs have those days too! Particularly in adolescence when hormonal changes vary day to day. If he have had too many stressors the day before, he might need a day of lower distractions to recover. Realize that there will be some situations when your dog is distracted from the start and won't be able to succeed. On those days, lower the distraction level or change your training location. It might mean moving just a few feet to one side or going somewhere else altogether.
Failure to teach cue discrimination.
Dogs as social learners typically learn physical cue (like body and hand signals) very easily. However, they may find verbal cues much harder. Take the time to teach your dog that different hand signals and different words mean different behaviors. Be aware that many words share the same starting consonant or the same vowel sounds. That is very confusing. "Slow" and "Go" can be hard to tell apart. "Sit" and "Stand" may as well.
Plan what verbal cues you will use. It helps to keep a running list of both hand and verbal cues so you can see where movement and sounds might overlap. It happens much more often than people think, especially once your dog has learned many behaviors! Additionally, handlers often use a hand signal at the same time as a verbal cue. If the hand signal and verbal cue differ, almost all dogs will choose to follow the hand signal.
Insufficient change of position.
Dogs are discriminators by nature, which means they look for the small details, not the larger patterns. So you must proof behaviors for position changes (both the dog and you). Can your dog do a cued behavior with you sitting on the ground? Laying on a bed? Can the dog do the behavior (say holding an object) when sitting, standing, laying down, turning around, changing from one position to another etc? If you haven't already taught him that he can do a behavior with each of these changes, then you are punishing him for your lack of training. No fair!
Not giving your dog a chance to acclimate to a new environment.
Acclimation is giving your dog a chance to assess the environment he is in. When you go to a party (or any new location), do you mark right in and start talking? Probably not. Think of the first few times you went a party. You felt awkward and worried. You probably stopped near the entrance and looked around, noting where the bathroom was, where the food was, the music and chairs and if there was another exit. That allowed you to know where you could move to depending on how you are feeling. Dogs need to do the same. Give your dog a chance to look (and sniff if appropriate) in a limited area (such as the length of the leash) before starting to focus on you. Capture any focus he chooses to give you and you will find you will get more. Giving him time to acclimate will build his confidence in new places and he can focus on you.
Not enough generalization.
Since dogs are discriminators, they do look for the details. So if your dog learned to nose nudge your leg beside the refrigerator, the refrigerator might be something he looks for a clue to what behavior you want. If it is not present, he has to then start guessing. Your dog needs you to give him enough practice in many different environments so he can learn what the key points to watch for (environmental, hand signal, verbal cue?) to tell him what behavior you want from him. Start teaching each behavior from the beginning in each new environment and you will find he relearns the behavior faster and faster in each new location. Eventually, he will be able to walk in and perform that behavior with just the cue, no retraining.
No maintenance of trained behaviors.
Just like humans, if they don't use behaviors, they forget them. Maintenance involves reviewing and even retraining a behavior periodically to put and keep it in long-term memory. Plan to practice new behaviors at least once every two weeks to a month in the beginning, then once every couple of months after that.
If you take correction (punishment) off the table, then you will learn so much more about how to best teach your dog.
Want to learn more? Check out our Foundation Skills classes. The classes are for the handler are much as they are for the dog!