Your training journey with your dog will have setbacks. Some of them will be completely your fault. No matter how much you study and practice, this is going to be part of the experience. One of the paradoxes of getting really interested in dog training and behavior is that your eyes get opened to how often we fail our dogs. The more you learn, the more you notice your mistakes. It can become frustrating and disheartening.
Most people start learning about dog training because they think their dog needs improvement.
The more you learn, the more you see that your dog is behaving perfectly given the feedback he’s receiving. We produce or control our dog’s access to most of the feedback they get. It’s not easy when you realize your role in creating and maintaining your dog’s “bad” behavior. If only receiving that revelation allowed everything to change instantly. Unfortunately, just knowing you’re making mistakes doesn’t instantly change your behavior. If it did, we’d all be sporting perfect body composition - we all know it’s just a matter of diet and exercise. We know it, but that knowledge isn’t enough to change our behavior. You have to apply that knowledge through consistent action. Dog training works in precisely the same way.
I’ve been involved with dog behavior for nearly twenty years. I have a literal bookcase full of knowledge in my office that I have consumed, and I try to learn more every day. I practice using and improving my skills constantly. I also make many mistakes daily interacting with my dogs. The main difference between me and the first-time novice dog owner is not that I don’t make mistakes, it’s that when I make them, often I notice, and if they are sabotaging my training or relationship with my dogs, I make efforts to change them.
The sad fact is that we human beings are not instinctually very good at communicating and interacting with our dogs in a way that fosters learning and prevents problem behaviors. If we were, it would be hard to make a living as a dog trainer! We seem to be wired to be reactive rather than proactive and have a bias towards pointing out undesired behavior rather than rewarding desired behavior. We can strive to change those tendencies through education and training, but for most of us, they remain lurking under the surface, and appear when we are distracted, under stress, or just not focused on providing good feedback.
What has helped me with this frustrating fact of life is to stop viewing my mistakes as failures, and beating myself up about them. I try to view them instead as opportunities. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn something or to improve myself. The only way the frequency and intensity of mistakes can improve over time it to notice them, and to proactively develop better habits and strategies to use next time that situation presents itself. This is true for all aspects of life, not just dog training.
We all make mistakes. Not all of us notice them. Even fewer develop a better plan for next time.
The degree to which you notice your mistakes, and quality of your planning to do better next time are among the best measures of your progress in becoming a better dog trainer.