Trainer or psychologist?

By now, some readers are thinking that dog training is looking awfully complicated.  Heck, they just want to get a couple of titles.  Have some fun on the weekends; make new friends.  And here's a blogger suggesting that each dog she's trained is an act of perpetual psychology; make a few wrong moves and damage the team.

The good news is that most dogs are highly forgiving - you'll be able to make lots of mistakes and they'll never let on. The percentage of relatively straightforward dogs rises if your goal is to trial only a few times a year; mostly to get the titles.   And if you select the "right" dog, and use a method of training that has proven effective with that type of dog, you'll have even more success.  It helps if you're not sweating the picture too much.

If you know that you're temperamentally unable to stand frustration and you want great success, then I'm going to suggest you select your breed, individual puppy and training method very carefully to get the stars aligned in your favor.  Really.  There's no point in knocking your head against the wall if your primary interest is to succeed via the scoresheet.

The trade off, of course, is that the easy ones dont' advance our skills very much.  But sometimes what we need to learn is simply basic mechanics, in which case the best choice is to select for a highly forgiving, willing and stable partner, at least to start.

"Forgiveness", "willingness" and "stability" will take you far in the sport of obedience.  I'd say it's 90% of the battle, once you master those pesky technical skills.  Because if your dog has forgiven you whatever you did to get the skills taught, isn't having a personal meltdown at the dog show, and wants to make you happy even when you're not dangling a cookie, then the future is bright indeed.

But with dogs lacking one or more of those qualities, teaching the exercises ends up being the easy part.  Getting those skills into the ring - well, that's another kettle of fish.  And if you want a dog that shows a relaxed, happy you're in the realm of serious challenge.

If you have already selected your non-traditional obedience breed and don't plan to switch, or you currently own a dog that you're training for competition, or you've discovered that your traditional obedience dog isn't acting traditionally, then being something of a doggy psychologist is probably a good idea, especially if you're running into trouble.  For me, that's the part of training that is interesting - figuring out how to keep the entire team emotionally comfortable, happy and willing.

The best thing about reading a blog is that you don't have to.  You could go outside and train your dog instead.  But if you're still here, it's possible, or even likely, that you're sort of interested in your dog as a partner; you'd like to understand what is happening inside that furry head and make things as good as possible for the team, not just the human.  In which case, I'd say we're off to a good start, because my goal in teaching is to help others think like doggy psychologists too.

My new puppy is only 12 days away now.   I cant' wait to meet her!


Laurie Graichen

I am truly enjoying both Melinda and Denise’s blogs. Those of you who are Susan Garrett fans have likely seen her YouTube video “The Journey”, but it’s always a good one to watch over and over again, especially when your current dog is causing frustration – I’ve actually downloaded it to my phone – but be sure to have plenty of tissues handy.


Robann, I appreciate your comment. Sometimes I think people need to get success as judged by external criteria before they can appreciate what they really enjoy about dog sports. If I think about it, i fit in that category. I needed to “choose” to focus on teamwork after obtaining some traditional success, rather than wondering if my choice was because I was unable to success by traditional measures (scores).

Robann Mateja

I hope what I wrote didn’t sound judgemental… I didn’t mean it that way. One of the great things about the dogs and the dog world is that there is so much flexibility and variety. Different breeds, different sports, and different types of goals to aspire to. And the journey is often an unchartered path-sometimes possibilities reveal themselves that we were never aware of before.

I’m really enjoying the honest perspective that your blog is offering and am looking forward to learning and growing as a trainer with the insights you are providing.


Your words are ringing very true to me. I am still very new to obedience. I have a couple dogs with CDs, one with a CDX. My first dog sport love was agility, but I am fascinated by obedience and I love training it. It’s not the obedience exercises that I love so much, but the challenge of teaching the dog all the details, and keeping their spirits up, happy and motivated too. Obedience is definitely the most difficult dog sport I’ve tried so far.

My little Danish-Swedish Farmdog is an nontraditional breed. Mostly because there are no other DSF that I know of that even do obedience (one other that I know of has a UCD). Some do agility, but they are a very new breed here in the USA. Even in their native countries I don’t think many compete in sports. They have a natural learning ability, they are smart, biddable, and small, all traits I was looking for in a breed. I think Jet has a great deal of potential for obedience, I just hope that I also have the potential, and that as a team we can work things out and get into that Utility ring someday.

When I started in obedience I thought that all you had to do was train the exercises, and you were good to go. But now I realize there is something definitely missing in my understanding, and therefore my training. I love the breeds I love (Smooth Collies and the Danish-Swedish Farmdog) and I’m willing to go the extra mile to learn how to understand them and help them achieve what I believe we can in the ring.

So like you say, I think I’m in that realm of serious challenge, and I’m willing to take the time and work thought it and discover some really fun and amazing things with my dogs! I do wish I could take a trip out to CA sometime and train with you. Maybe someday. I do appreciate the email help I’ve received so far.

Krissy (In Alaska)

Fantastic Denise!!!
I was on the edge of my seat!!! Such a journey this is huh?? Love it!!

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