Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Nov 30, 2020

Thoughtful Training – When You Do It Right – It Works

Your job as a trainer/teacher of your dog is to design a learning situation that will encourage success. No one likes failure; your dog included, so do not “teach” your dog to fail.

Thinking about how you are going to structure a lesson, what your goals are, and what you will do if it doesn’t go according to plan can have a tremendous effect on your relationship with your dog. If you want your dog to trust you and look to you for guidance in solving problems, you need to put some thought into your training before you just grab the leash and cookies. Enthusiasm is great, but can lead to disappointment if it is not purposeful.

Don’t overestimate your dog’s abilities. Start with a simple task and build on success. Setting a task which is too difficult and results in failure does not create a good solid foundation to build upon.

When structuring a training session, you also want to have a plan regarding what you will do and say if the behavior is not correct. Having a plan of what you will do will help give your dog feedback. The dog must understand if it was right or wrong. Lack of information results in stress and confusion. In order to be successful, you must have a clear mental picture of the behavior you want, and you must be consistent in giving correct information to your dog.

If the behavior is correct, you want to consistently reward it, and then you can build upon it. If the behavior is wrong, you must decide if you want your dog to try again or you need to help your dog further by showing what you want. This is where the art of training comes in. You must understand your dog’s attitude at the moment and whether you want to ask for another try or you need to step in and help. This is not a formula. Environment, success rate, attitude, and mental stamina all should influence your choice.

So, whether it be tracking, agility, obedience, or rally, you need to give some careful thought as to how you want to structure your training and what your objective is for each session. Repetitions without structure to enable success will lead to haphazard results and will not create the foundation you need to help your dog thrive and succeed.

If you are new to training, it is well worth your time to work with someone who can help you understand your dog and create successful training situations.

Thoughtful preplanning will ensure a clearer, less stressful path to success for you and your dog. Happy training!


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 125 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. She is also an AKC Tracking Judge. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing