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8 Ways We May be Confusing Our Dogs | Pupford

June 22nd, 2023

Filed under Training

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With how much we consider our dogs part of our family, it’s so easy to fall into the pattern of interacting with them like the other (human) members.

But their brains work differently than ours, so that doesn’t always work. The result: a confused dog that doesn’t know what you want for them.

When our dogs are confused, they’re at risk for stress, anxiety, fear, etc. – all the things we don’t want to make our dogs feel!

We’re going to share eight ways you may be confusing your dog without even realizing it, and how you can change your approach to communicate with them more effectively.


Barking, chewing, digging, chasing… sometimes our dogs just drive us nuts with what we consider unwanted behaviors.

But for our dogs, they’re just being dogs and doing natural, instinctual dog things.

So while yes, it’s incredibly frustrating for us when our dog won’t stop barking or chasing squirrels in the backyard, getting angry at your dog for doing what’s natural and feels good for them is incredibly confusing.

What can we do instead?

Rather than getting mad at our dogs for following their instincts, we can help them channel their impulses in productive ways. For example:

Work more through difficult behaviors like barking, leash walking, impulse control and more in Pupford Academy+. 


do not punish your dog for something that happened in the past

There’s nothing worse than coming home from a long day to find that your dog got themselves into trouble. Whether they got into the garbage can again or ripped your favorite new couch pillow, you’re angry – and understandably so.

But dogs don’t have the same understanding of time as a concept the way we do. So if they caused trouble a few minutes or hours ago, they aren’t able to connect what you’re saying to them now to what they did then.

So if you scold them now, their thought is “But I’m just standing here! Why are they upset?” which is very confusing and unsettling; they know they upset you but they don’t know why.

What can we do instead?

As difficult as it sounds, we have to try hard not to react to something that happened in the past. Instead, focus on ways to prevent dogs from destroying things when you’re gone, including: 


Dogs thrive on routine and predictability. When you don’t have a routine for your dog, they can get confused as to when – or even if – their needs will be met throughout the day.

This can contribute to anxiety, slow training progress, and make it more difficult for dogs to adjust to major life changes.

What can we do instead?

Set a routine as soon as possible. It doesn’t have to be a schedule down to the minute, but it should be a predictable order of events like wake up, potty trip, breakfast, walk, playtime/training, alone time, etc.


be consistent with household rules with your dog

Imagine you’re a dog. One moment you’re cozy next to mom on the couch while she watches a movie. When you see dad on the couch later watching a movie, you jump on the couch to be close to him. And he tells you no and makes you get down.

Confusing right?

If you are inconsistent with house rules in terms of different people allowing different things, or making exceptions “just this once,” your dog is going to be confused about what’s expected of them.

What can we do instead?

This one’s simple, but easier said than done: be consistent with rules. Make sure everyone in the household is on the same page when it comes to training, rules, and routines.


The human members of your family may understand that “down” and “lay down” mean the same thing, but our dogs don’t.

Using multiple different words to cue one behavior can seriously confuse our dogs. They’re not sure which cue they should associate with the desired behavior, so sometimes they don’t even know what you’re asking of them!

What can we do instead?

Pick one word (verbal cue) and hand gesture (non-verbal cue) per behavior and stay consistent in your training. Make sure anyone else who is training or instructing your dog is aligned!


how to care for dog in stressful situations

If our dogs are in a stressful situation (an unfamiliar dog is approaching, they’re at the vet, etc.), it’s super tempting to reassure them by saying “it’s okay!”

But remember, our dogs learn by association, so this could end up being confusing long-term. Over time, they’ll begin to associate the phrase “it’s okay” with stressful situations and become more uneasy when they hear it.

What can we do instead?

First, become familiar with dog body language to learn signs that your dog is stressed. Then, you can learn when to advocate for your dog by reducing stress in the environment or providing something pleasant to reduce their discomfort.


Dogs cannot sense our intention when we put our hands in their face. Many dogs, especially those who are not familiar to us, will view this as a threat and get defensive.

Not only does that put us at risk for a bite, but it confuses the dog as to what we’re trying to do. They don’t understand that we just want to greet them, pet them, and show them affection.

What can we do instead?

Follow the rules of properly greeting a dog so they are comfortable and know you are not a threat. Including:

  • Not reaching out to the dog, but letting them come to you
  • Don’t make strong eye contact
  • Stand to the side of the dog
  • Pet the dog on their side or back once they seem comfortable


use positive reinforcement training with dog

We won’t pretend that it doesn't get frustrating sometimes when our dogs do the wrong thing or don’t grasp what we’re teaching them.

But punishing them does not teach them what to do, it just teaches them that they’re wrong and should be afraid of upsetting you. But if they don’t know what you want them to do, how can they know whether or not they are going to upset you? It’s a very stressful and confusing experience for your dog.

What can we do instead?

There’s a reason why we’re such big fans of positive reinforcement training. It fosters a great relationship with your dog and teaches them what they should be doing – in a clear understanding way. There’s no punishment involved so no confusion or any other negative emotion!

Ok, let’s be honest – how many of these are you guilty of?

While we won’t make you share your answer with the class, just keep in mind that doing any of these doesn’t make you a bad pup parent. It just means you may have to change your approach a bit.

And that’s why we’re here! To help you open up better two-way communication with your dog, leading to a better relationship for both!


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