Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | May 31, 2019

Successful Training Requires Attitude and Focus

In order to be successful in competition, your dog needs to have attitude and focus as well as a clear understanding of the work required.

Attitude is seen in dogs who are confident in their work, enjoy their work, and are not afraid to make a mistake. They are confident in making decisions.

Too many dogs are trained to perform all the necessary exercises but do not show well in competition. In any competition, there are pressures: the new environment, different sounds, different smells, different dogs, the pressure of the competition itself, “this is the real thing and you only get to do it once”, the pressure of other people, and the pressure of the judge, gallery or spectators. All of these things can chip away at a dog and handler’s confidence. This is why relationship and building confidence in your dog is so important.

Entering a dog that is not ready and bound to fail does not help build attitude for the handler or the dog. Confidence and attitude need to be built in training. When did you last train to build confidence and attitude? Praise, release, joy, and play are essential ingredients in training. Your dog needs to feel like a winner. Your disappointment and frustration have no place in training. Obviously, if the dog is confused, you need to restructure your training to help the dog learn.

Focus on the handler and the task are also critical elements of success. Too many dogs in training are focused on the food (or other motivator). Dogs must learn to work and focus on the task in the presence of the motivator (food or toy) in order to be successful. A dog that is distracted by the food or toy or has learned to only work when food or other motivators are offered, will not focus on the tasks involved in training. When some handlers do not get the results they want in training, they take out the motivator in order to get the behavior they want. Smart dogs figure this out very quickly and insist that the handler offer something before the dog will work.

Dogs should get “paid” and be “paid” very well for their work. The dog decides what “pay” is valuable, and the handler “pays” the dog for work. The dog must clearly understand that quality of effort and work will control what reward (pay) is given. When dogs figure out they can control their “paycheck”, this empowers them and builds attitude and focus.

Once the dog realizes that there is no “free lunch” and that they must focus and figure out how to get what they want, the work itself becomes the driving force because it is the means by which the dog receives the reward. The dog is empowered because by focusing and working, the dog can make you pay them. This concept, coupled with praise, fun, and understanding, will build attitude and a happy, confident dog who wants to learn.


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 100 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. She has recently become an AKC Tracking Judge.

Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing