Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Jan 04, 2021

What Do You Really Want to Learn?

Today there are so many wonderful choices of dog sports to explore with our dogs. Most people start out with great enthusiasm, but are soon disappointed because they are not making progress or others in the group are better than they are, or they feel their dog does not like the activity.

Most of the time the disappointment is a result of the handler not having a realistic understanding of the chosen activity, not understanding what is required, and not willing to work on foundation skills on which to build success. The result? Unhappy owner. Unhappy dog.

One of the frequent comments we receive is “my dog is fearless and can’t sit still, so I think agility would be good for her!” Unless the owner is willing to put in the time to teach her dog to focus and develop an understanding of reward-based training, he or she probably will not succeed in agility. Another common remark is “My dog loves to sniff. He never takes his nose off the ground, so I know he will be a great tracker.” Maybe yes, maybe no. As with any sport, in tracking we must teach the dog what scent we want him to focus on and devise a reward system that will be motivating enough to work through distractions as well as difficult terrain and conditions. We must be willing to become a keen and patient observer of what our dog is telling us through subtle signs and body language.

Another common misconception is “my dog can sit, stay, and come, so all I have to do is walk around the room with him and I can do obedience or rally.” Not quite. It’s a little more involved than that.

A good team in any venue makes it look easy – smooth handling is pretty to watch and a well trained, happy dog is always pleasing. To achieve this relationship requires a willingness to read, learn, and understand the rules of whatever venue you choose. Understanding what class you can enter and what is required to qualify is the basis of what you need to teach the dog.

There is a great deal to learn about preparing to show your dog. While you can learn many things online, nothing takes the place of actually attending a show and experiencing first hand what it is like. You can get a chance to speak with competitors; just make sure they are not getting ready to show and find out when they have some down time. Going to fun matches or training events that clubs put on can also be very helpful. If you choose to attend a class to learn more, make sure your instructor is well versed in competition and has a solid up-to-date knowledge of the rules. Talk to people you admire – not just for their skills, but for how you see them with their dogs. Be open-minded. Many people bad mouth a sport in which they have not been successful. You may hear “rally is fun and obedience is serious.” Well, there are some very serious rally exhibitors and also some fun obedience exhibitors. Watch and decide for yourself.

Training for competition is an investment in time, energy, and money, so make sure you really understand what you want to learn.


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