Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Let’s Just Keep Entering
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Dec 28, 2018

Whether it be obedience, rally, agility, tracking, or any other performance sport, is the answer to just keep entering trials if you keep failing? No. No. No!


First of all, by continuing to enter a dog you may not feel is ready or have confidence in, you may take away a slot that another team could have, especially in trials with limited entries. This is not responsible, nor does it reflect good sportsmanship. Just because you can enter a trial, doesn’t mean that you should.


Trials and tests are not practice sessions so that you can see how you are doing. A trial or test situation is not designed for you to help your dog. If things are not going well, the most you can do is to ask to be excused. This is sometimes the best thing to do rather than let the situation deteriorate further.


You should not enter an event unless you feel that you, as a team, are ready. There will always be more trials to enter. If you did enter an event and did not do well, you need to understand why. Many times there are multiple factors that affect performances, but you need to be honest with yourself. Were you and your dog fully prepared for the trial? Did you generalize behaviors enough? Were you confident of your dog’s performance or were you hoping things might go well that day? If your answer is “hoping”, you need to go back and build up a confident performance through training. Both you and your dog should be comfortable in the venue for which you are training, and you both need to have the skill levels necessary for success.


If there is a certain problem that keeps recurring, going in trial after trial will not fix it. You need to clearly identify the problem. Is your dog comfortable in the venue? Does your dog fully understand the exercise? Are you fully comfortable in the venue? If your dog depends upon you for leadership and you are not comfortable, it can really affect some dogs. Do you have underlying dog/human relationship problems that are sometimes masked in training by food or other motivations? Do you really truly believe in your relationship with your dog? Can your dog count on you, and can you count on your dog? Is there an understanding that we are in this together?


Dog sports are team sports. Success depends upon the communication and relationship we have with our dogs. Our relationship with our dog is intrinsically tied to our ability to not only communicate to them what we want them to do, but to be able to listen to them as they attempt to communicate with us. This is the essence of training built on clarity and consistency.


So, if you are struggling with lack of success or poor performances, get some help to identify the problem or problems and work on solving them before showing again. You will be glad you did and your dog will, too.



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