Friday, August 12, 2011

Things I learned this summer

Every dog and every trainer will face problems on their journey. It’s not the end of the journey, just a detour. I was totally freaked with Phoenix fell apart on the way to and immediately following his UD. I'd never had a "detour" with a dog to this extent. Once I got over that, I decided, well, we were both going to have to make some changes if we were going to get better. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this summer, in no particular order. Granted, not all of this is new knowledge.

• Having 2 1/2 months off from the obedience ring has been a welcome break. The summer has flown.

• If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something new. You have nothing to lose. You’re not going to “break” anything because obviously it wasn’t “whole” to begin with.

• Previous success is just that: PREVIOUS. Deal with the dog you are training NOW.

• Every dog is an individual. A method that worked wonderfully for a previous dog may leave your current dog thinking WTF does she want?

• Take the challenge. Put down the food. Train your dog. See what happens.

• Sometimes a correction can answer a dog’s questions and help him figure out how to be right.

• A correction is never harsh or abusive. It is guidance and information. It might be a soft “Uh-oh” or a frown. Oh! The horror! I truly hope my dog is not such a prima donna that being told “Uh-oh” devastates him for life.

• You can’t correct a dog who is confused or fearful.

• Corrections won’t help if the dog doesn’t understand how to be right in the first place. If you find yourself needing to repeat a correction more than twice, your dog needs more training on that particular skill - not more corrections.

• Believe that your dog can do something and he can. Of course, the opposite is equally true.

• Everything happens for a reason.

• Some dogs respond well to being “molded” with hands-on training and/or corrections.

• Some dogs are fine with being “molded” in some circumstances but not others.

• Other dogs view being “molded” as confrontational and respond with opposition reflex. Know your dog.

• Even if you’re working through sticky problems, take a deep breath, smile at your dog and find one thing that he did just a little bit better today. Focus on that success, not everything else that is going wrong.

• Sometimes, the answer to improving an attitude problem is to focus on a performance problem. Fixing the dog’s ability to perform a skill may improve his confidence, and conversely, his attitude, about that skill, once gray areas of confusion and concern are relieved.

• There are many tools you can have in your training toolbox. There’s never just one way to do anything.

• The training method is only as good as the trainer. Leashes, chokers, pinch collars, tabs, long lines, clickers, treats and toys will not produce brilliant results if poorly used.

• Bottom line: your dog must be able to perform without constant delivery of treats/toys if you realistically want to qualify in your chosen sport’s trials.

• Giving treats for every little behavior when you train is an easy habit to get into. You can turn yourself into a Pez dispenser in no time. And now you want your dog to go into the ring and do a 7-8 minute Utility run with ZERO treats? Good luck with that.

• Your dog needs to value YOU. Treats are not evil but don’t make the mistake of letting them become a substitute for genuine, sincere, honest, heartfelt happy praise and interaction between you and your dog.

• The only thing two dog trainers are likely to agree on is that a third trainer is doing it wrong. (Thanks, Running With Dogs!)

• Some sports are intrinsically rewarding for the dog. You can’t expect to have your agility dog in the obedience ring because obedience is a totally different sport.

• Be patient. Retraining will take as long as it takes. Enjoy the time you have with your dog.

• You guys are generous and sincere with your comments, opinions, suggestions, encouragement, questions and criticisms. I suspect some “advice” came from people who have never trained a dog for or competed in formal obedience but that’s okay - I admire your passion. I hope you get the chance to experience the show ring some day.

• Choose your training methods and style based on what you’re mentally comfortable with, what you can physically do and what will help you reach the goals you have for your dog. The perfect training method “means that everyone’s needs and style are taken into account so that a good time is had by all.” (Thanks, Lynn!)

• Don’t accidentally step on your dog’s foot on a glove turn. No good will come of this.

• If you leave pieces of string cheese in your pocket and run them through the washer and dryer, they come out in hard little plastic-like discs. The dogs still want them.

There are probably a lot of things I’m forgetting. I’ll add them in later.


  1. Good list!!!

    I'll add - don't step on your dog's tail on a glove turn either. I can't tell you how many tail feathers I've pulled out of glove pivots. Not good.

  2. Seeker send his thanks and approval of your wisdom for your summer's work. I always read with great interest and have been having a journey of my own lately. Good luck with your trials.
    CJ and Seek

  3. I can't wait to see what you get when you go back in the obedience ring in Sept. Good luck and don't forget "Be the Cookie" :))

  4. I have enjoyed reading your post. It certainly provides food for thought.