Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Jul 01, 2022

Obedience Training – Shaping Choices

I am very proud of my students. For the time that I have been teaching them, I have seen them change from handlers who sometimes became frustrated with their dogs, felt their dogs were not trying, and blamed their dogs for mistakes. I have been fortunate enough to see them change into thinking handlers who are willing to help their dogs understand “the game” of obedience and make correct choices.

Coming out of yourself and your expectations and being truly willing to understand why your dog is not performing an exercise and then taking the responsibility to teach the dog the correct behavior is the foundation necessary to form an obedience/training partnership you can build upon. The dog must trust that you will help in time of confusion and that you will be clear and patient and sincere in your efforts. No one, including your dog, needs or likes destructive criticism. It is not necessary to label your dog as “soft”, “shy”, “hyperactive”, etc. It is your job to help your dog become confident, focused willingly, and successful.

The first step in getting there is realizing and accepting the responsibility that your dog’s behavior is a reflection of you and what you have taught them either directly or unintentionally. Why would any dog not want to try and succeed if it had a clear concept of the reward system, valued the reward, and understood the task? If the problem in performance comes from lack of attention, then you need to go back and teach attention perhaps even returning to basic pet dog skills until your dog truly understands attention to you is required, not optional.

There are hundreds of types of gadgets, harnesses, leads, collars, etc. to control your dog. They may range from mild control to harsh control. They may give you control, but they do not teach your dog. In order to create desired behavior, it must be a win situation for the dog. The dog needs to understand what is required and compliance must be valuable to the dog. Unwanted behaviors or “wrong” answers to obedience questions cannot result in value to the dog.

It is your job as owner/trainer to help your dog be successful, to manage life and/or training situations so the dog can figure out what behaviors are rewarding. Many dogs shut down in obedience because they do not know how to find the behavior that is going to be rewarded. Obedience exercises can have many parts and what the dog is required to do in each part of the exercise must be clearly shown to the dog. A dog may show a different way of “solving” an obedience problem. If it is not the behavior you want, you must be careful not to destroy the dog’s willingness to try for a solution. Simply set up a situation that by channeling the effort correctly, the dog can be right.

Remember - when playing the game of obedience, it’s not about you – it is about setting up a win for the dog by shaping choices.

My students are starting to see that this is not only challenging, but a lot of fun for them and their dogs and everyone is much happier.


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 130 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 4 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