Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Pet Dog /Performance Dog - What’s The Difference?
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Oct 01, 2018

Some people are disappointed when they call us asking for pet classes, and we explain that’s not what we do; we train performance dogs. While a pet dog can be a performance dog and a performance dog should be a good pet dog, the real difference lies in what the owner wants.


Most pet owners want a well mannered dog – no jumping, no barking, no pulling. Well behaved, but not creative. They do not want a dog who figures out how to open the crate latch or how to climb out of an x-pen, or how to get the cookies you left on the counter. They do not want a dog who offers a lot of behaviors or who is a problem-solving dog. Pet owners want a dog that is easily trainable and, understandably, will fit into the family/household routines.


Performance dog owners want a dog that is confident and focused enough to work alone and at a distance from the handler; a dog that is “in the game” and will channel its energy into focus and be able to maintain focus through distractions. We want to tap into drives such as prey drive (chase and tug) to enhance retrieving or tracking or agility. We also want to create more pack drive where the dog is willing to work with us towards a goal and is not aloof or independent. In enhancing drives, we also want to develop impulse control and engagement with us.


While we want to develop these natural drives that a dog has, we must also make sure the drives and behaviors are under control so that jumping up, barking, and chasing are on cue and not just obnoxious behaviors offered at random


Just because a dog exhibits certain behaviors that a person might consider drive (prey drive, chase, wild tugging, barking, jumping, and spinning), it does not make the dog a potential good performance dog. The dog must also have the temperament that will enable the dog to learn how to use these basic drives. This is when the importance of training and handler/dog relationship comes in. Training a performance dog takes a great deal of patience, dedication, and understanding - and a sense of humor is a real plus.


Along with health, temperament is one of the most important factors that breeders should consider. Your day to day life and what you are planning on doing with your dog should be discussed thoroughly when purchasing a puppy from a breeder. The temperament of the parents and the grandparents should be carefully considered, and ultimately, the breeder should be paramount in selecting a puppy that will fit into your life. When rescuing a dog, you don’t have the opportunity to see generations of temperament, so careful observation under a variety of conditions is very important. A trial stay in your home is also very helpful. While behaviors can be changed, basic temperament cannot. It takes a great deal of time and work and dedication to change behaviors. A dog with the wrong temperament in the wrong home essentially ends up just being managed.


Selecting a dog is a commitment to its lifetime, so make sure you are clear about what you want.




Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 100 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 30 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing