Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Jul 01, 2021

Foundation Training – The Secret to Success

Is your dog a pleasure to live with? Can you go anywhere with your dog without a problem? Can you trust your dog off lead? Will your dog, if necessary, stay wherever you put him until you return? Will your dog come when called without a bribe or trick to get him to come to you? Can your dog meet people or guests and remain calm and under control? If you drop something and tell your dog to “leave it”, will he? Or is it a free for all?

The behaviors mentioned above should be taught to all dogs. They are not obedience or performance behaviors, but rather qualities and skills that a good pet dog should have. The more of these skills that your dog has, the more reliable your dog’s behavior will be, and therefore, the more freedom your dog can have.

These foundation behaviors are the skills that you build upon in other performance sports. Without a clear understanding of what is required in these foundation behaviors, it is difficult to build reliable skills in other venues. If your dog does not have a reliable stay in pet life, why would you expect a good agility start line stay?

If your dog is constantly pulling or leaving you on a walk, why would you expect good heeling in the ring?

If you do not have a reliable “leave it” command, how do you expect your tracking dog to go back to work after it has flushed a bird or a rabbit has just run across the track?

Your dog must have a solid understanding of these pet behaviors in order to build upon them. Too many times we use food to create and cause the performance behaviors that we want without even fading the lure, so we think we have a behavior, but it is really caused and maintained by the motivator, and the dog does not really understand what is required. They instead are focused on the motivator.

This is where relationship and the art of training comes in. Through proper training and a solid foundation of pet behaviors based on understanding, you can create a confident dog who understands that proper performance pays and will work with your guidance to achieve performance goals.

We all want our dogs to succeed and be happy, but if food (or other motivators) appears when the dog quits, loses interest, or performs incorrectly, what are we teaching?

The art of training is to be able to teach the dog that proper performance and effort will cause rewards to appear.

Learn how to teach skills correctly based on a solid foundation and teach your dog to be a winner!


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