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#8 – Hey, nobody’s perfect

By Christy Paxton DogLife Skills Instructor, Kindness Specialist

This is a continuation of my series “The Top 10 Training Traps and How to Avoid Them.”

In the last column, the Trap I covered was: when you expect your dog to fail, he will fail. The Escape was: set him up for success. This month’s Trap is related to that one.

TRAP #8:

You expect perfection…so you get failure.

How many of us have said, “I want my dog to listen to me” but really meant “I want my dog to do everything I say all the time”? Whether it has to do with our use of out-of-date-terms like “obedience” and “commands,” which suggest a military-like response is required of the dog, or trainers who mislead owners by inferring perfection is possible if they would just “get tough” or “be alpha” when their dogs are “stubborn/brats” or “challenging them,” we have an iron grip on the thought that dogs are somehow capable of 100% compliance. And we are going to get it!

This is how you treat your best friend?


Your dog will never give you 100% anything–except for the 100% guarantee that he will NOT be perfect.

Your dog will make mistakes. So will you — you won’t always give the right signal or say the right word. Nobody’s perfect! While we all want to work to make our dogs as responsive as possible, we usually will get 80-90% compliance for most behaviors.

If you will not tolerate mistakes, you are certain to fail.

Mistakes are not failures! Mistakes help us learn. What happens after a mistake is what’s really important. How you handle it makes all the difference in the world. If you freak out/overreact, you risk reinforcing the mistake behavior or shutting the dog down because you are putting too much emphasis on it.


• Plan ahead to minimize mistakes. Have procedures ready in case you get one. (Example: “If she freaks out at X, I will use gentle side tugs on the leash to guide her farther away so she can calm down. I will not talk to her till she starts calming down. Then I will say ‘good girl’ to reward the calmer behavior, and I will decide whether I have time to go back and try again.”) Knowing what to do in all situations gives you confidence to work your dog. Less mistakes means better results faster!

• Learn to laugh when things go wrong! It relaxes both you and your dog, which allows you to recover and move on.

For more on how to fix problem behaviors, see my DogLife Skills Guide Problem Solving Formula! For ANY behavior problem. []


Christy Paxton is the owner of Hand in Paw: Rewards-based Training for You and Your Dog and Cat, based in Brook Park.

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