Frustration During Dog Training


It’s nigh impossible for learning to take place without some kind of frustration. If the path is always smooth, are you really understanding? When training dogs, you try to make things clear for them but some frustration during dog training is inevitable because you’re asking new things of them and you don’t speak the same language. I took a felting class for the first time and ran into multiple moments of frustration and this was with instruction in a language I speak!

It’s fairly obvious when Mr. N is frustrated during training. He likes to stomp at me. Or he’ll bring me a random item. If he’s really vexed, he’ll go find a toy or chew and ignore me. Sometimes I get frustrated too when I feel like he is backsliding or just not understanding what I want him to do. Rather than embarking into a web of frustration where we keep trying and struggle and get more and more stuck, this is what we do.

Dog Training Frustration


Frustration During Dog Training

Stop Lumping!

Lumping is probably my biggest training sin. With dogs and other species, things are best taught when you break things down into little pieces to make them more understandable. When trainers skip steps and try to push flying leaps of understanding, that’s when you run into frustration and confusion. And lumping. So I have to stop and think if there’s micro-steps along the way that I can mark and reward instead of what I was previously asking.

Train Something Different

If something is really troubling, set it aside. I try to intersperse behavior training with tricks and other fun things so we don’t get burned out. Same goes with working on the same trick infinitely. Mr. N is not good with endless repetition. He gets bored. We run through some of his favorite tricks or work on distance/duration/distractions with old tricks. This is why it’s helpful to work on several things at once. I do try to teach dissimilar things as not to create confusion. The trick is for the human to remember what you’re working on!

Dog Training Frustration


Try Another Method

Sometimes you have to experiment with different methods to see what works best for your dog (and you). When I was teaching Mr. N how to fetch, the recommended methods were not working. And I definitely wasn’t going to do a forced retrieve. He’s a pretty soft dog with a soft mouth and does not believe in being mouthy at all. Which is great for everyday life but not helpful when you want the dog to put his mouth on things. So I taught him how to fetch using a bully stick because I knew he would put that in his mouth willingly. And it worked. Now he fetches all manner of things (still not a fan of metal). Sometimes you try a bunch of things (shaping, capturing, luring etc) and see what works.

Take A Break

Usually taking a break brings clarity for both parties. It helps me think about if I’m communicating clearly or if there’s another way I could approach things. Or something just not thinking about it at all helps too. Mr. N seems to think about things too during breaks and puzzles through what I’m asking. Either that or answers just come to him during one of those naps he takes. The next time often he has broken through the problem and progressed onto the next step of the thing we’re working on.

What do you do when you or your dog feel frustration during dog training?

Dog Training Frustration





8 Responses

  1. Beth

    April 4, 2018 12:42 pm

    Agility has made us really good at breaking things down into little bits. We’ve found it’s a lot more important to focus on skills than to focus on getting the whole thing right at first. Mr. N is lucky to have someone who works so hard to figure out the best way to work with him!

  2. Jan K

    April 4, 2018 5:08 pm

    Taking a break is the best thing. If Luke is doing well learning something, I have a tendency to push him too far too fast. I’ve learned to stop, back up a step, let him get that and then stop. Oftentimes thinking about it afterwards, I figure out what I might have been doing wrong. And then when we come back to it, all of the sudden he’s getting it!

  3. Pamela

    April 5, 2018 12:19 pm

    Really appreciate your advice to teach dissimilar tricks. I think I’ve confused Honey when I tried to teach her cue that were too similar to each other.

    We find stopping and playing a game together the best way to calm both our frustrations during learning.

  4. The Daily Pip

    April 7, 2018 4:40 am

    I definitely have moments when I get frustrated when Ruby backslides or just stops listening on walks. Taking a break is always important and also realizing “that this too shall pass”. If she has a bad day (barking at every random man we see on a walk), tomorrow may be better.

  5. Jana Rade

    April 7, 2018 5:51 pm

    Stomping at you when frustrating? Precious. And makes it easy for you to see when you’re loading too much on him. Yes, breaking things down into easy steps can be a challenge sometimes.

  6. Beth

    April 8, 2018 8:58 am

    I bet Mr. N is adorable when he stomps. He’s such an smart little guy, I can only imagine how frustrated he gets when he doesn’t understand something.

  7. Denise

    April 8, 2018 11:09 am

    Wow, this are terrific training tips. I have definitely used “taking a break” but will include the others as well. Having met both of you I can totally see Mr. N stomping when frustrated. It must be hard not to laugh. He is also wicked smart so I am not surprised he comes back from a break having worked through previous boundaries.


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