I’m Afraid of Ruining My Dog, Please Help

My Boy :)

My Boy :)

I recently got a message from a fellow dog owner who is afraid of ruining her dog.  She is so afraid she is going to do something wrong that she is afraid to even get started with her dog.

I totally understand what she is saying so I thought I would tackle this thought and feeling before people let it get out of hand.

I suppose to some people it sounds silly, but for those of us that suffer from it; it can be very real.

I say “those of us” because for once I actually feel this way too.

If you are really worried about making the BIG mistakes click here for the top 5 ways to ruin your dog.

I’ve always been super confident in my dog ownership and training… until I got into competition work and protection sports.

Then I realized my dogs have GREAT and OUTSTANDING obedience, but sometimes they lack very specific precision to make them stand out in this tremendously competitive world.

I can lose major points if my dog simply glances from my face at the ground, or looks around when shots are fired from a 40 caliber gun.  He is also supposed to maintain perfect position without forging or lagging and swiftly pivot at corners to keep up with me.

It really isn’t easy!  And, I don’t have a very competitive nature.

I must admit my girlie drops her focus on occasion so we lose some points here and there.

And, although I am going back and re-teaching a lot of things I don’t really like doing corrections and compulsion and I believe that teaching her to go running with me etc. broke her focus early in the beginning.

Let’s face it; if you are going to be going running for any long period of time you need to look where you are going.

So she kind of got in the habit of looking around at her environment (like most dogs do) and not keeping each eyeball on me as her soul purpose.

So I Have a New Boy

Enjoying an Antler.  I LOVE Antlers

Enjoying an Antler. I LOVE Antlers

Well, he isn’t so NEW… I have had him for several months now, actually.

But I am terrified to train him.


Because I am afraid I am going to do something to screw him up.

He was given to me by a friend.  A very good friend who is a working dog breeder and who has bred numerous dogs that have been successfully titled in protection sports and have also gone on to be police and military dogs.

  • I’m afraid I will condition him wrong.
  • Or he won’t be tough enough to compete in bite work sports.
  • Or his grip won’t be strong enough.
  • Or something will scare him.
  • Or his eye contact won’t be perfect enough….
  • Well, let’s just say the list could go on and on and on…

So I haven’t done a lot with him.

Don’t get me wrong, he knows manners and knows where his spot is and he chews his bones and plays with his toys but I haven’t gotten down to teaching him a lot of skills for a life of competition.

I am so afraid I am going to disappoint my buddy.

Recently Another Friend of Mine Said

Recently another good friend of mine said to me, you screw them up and then you fix them… that is how you train!

You train by making mistakes and learning from them and fixing them.

Then you make new mistakes, realize it, and fix them.

ZipThat, My Friends, is the Cycle of Training

That, my friends is the cycle of training; we make mistakes, we fix them, then we make more mistakes and end up fixing them.

No one is perfect!

As a matter of fact I was reading a blog just the other day from a world renowned trainer who has written many books and she too was confessing to making a mistake with her “now” competition dog and mentioning having to go back and fix it.

What Would Be Worse?

What’s worse (I realize now) is not training because you are afraid of making a mistake.

It would be like not driving because you are afraid of a car crash or getting on a plane because you are afraid of a plane crash.

Really as long as you aren't using compulsion and bad training habits like beating or kicking or yelling there really isn't much of a way you can ruin your dog permanently.

So grab your leash and get out there and train.

Use your patience and make sure you build a firm foundation in your training.

There is very little that can’t be fixed when you are using positive reinforcement training.

When you see a bad habit crop up, ask yourself…. Why is that happening and how can I fix it!  And, in no time you will be a much better trainer and owner!

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  1. Jeannie says:

    Not training is far more detrimental than any training “mistake”. I think your example of the demands of training for competition is especially instructive for the rest of us. It’s something I would never do – not because I think there’s anything at all wrong with it, but because I have dogs for a different reason. But I train them because they need the interaction, the sense of accomplishment, and they need to follow my lead. If I decide something isn’t working and we start a new training to replace a “mistake”, the interaction is still the same – I teach them something and they get very excited about doing it right. I could not have seven dogs in my house if I was afraid to work with them, and none of them would be as happy as they are, as bonded with me and with each other.


    Minette Reply:

    I work with him… he’s not rotting and he has manners so he can live in the house with the rest of us… I have just been more hesitant to put structured obedience on him because of sport, both protection and agility both of which need excessive “drive”.


    Jeannie Reply:

    Oh, I know you work with your dog, and I understand your need to be very focused on specific training for competition. I didn’t mean to imply anything else! I just know quite a few people who seem to think that training a dog is somehow bad because the dog doesn’t initially want to do what they’re asking. My point is just that all dogs love training and benefit from it. (I know too many people who don’t grasp that!)


    Bruce Van Tassell Reply:

    Lead or be led you are a member of the pack through your dogs eyes. Scratch the ears more often rub the belly and make playing more fun. You’re learning together be firm you will get more respect but never cruel your bond will grow stronger plus the relationship will become both easier and calmer.


  2. Minette says:

    Read these http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/chair-terror/

    I would wear him out a little by playing with him inside, then when he is already a little tired take him outside and just sit in the grass or wherever and let him hang out.

    Don’t coo to him or coddle him let him wander and work it out. If he is fearful ignore him. Read a book or do something for a while so he can gradually get used to outside exposure.


  3. Marion says:

    How do I keep my dog from running away,
    also wanting to go with everyone that comes to our home?
    He loves to ride in the car.
    He is just too friendly. thanks, M


  4. Jeannie says:

    In addition to Minette’s excellent suggestions, I have one other. Treats. Put him on a leash and attach it to your belt INSIDE, and give him treats periodically while you go about your day. Take him outside after a while and give him more treats. Make outside equal reward and pleasure. (Subtract his treats from his daily food amount – with a small dog this kind of retraining can add up to a full meal in no time!) and open your blinds and your front door, even if he’s not comfortable with that. And I absolutely second what Minette’s saying – don’t coddle or comfort him. Be very matter of fact and relaxed. If there’s an activity he really loves, like chasing a ball, take that outside too!


  5. I have a cane Corso and German shepherd 2 YEARS NOW. i TOO HAVE TROUBLE SOME TIMES WITH HER , Olive, and her dominating nature from the whining to serious stick or rope pulling. Something I have learned partly from having a dog before, but you have to realize a dog looks at you as one of the pack and it is lead or be led. The stronger you are with a dog I don’t mean cruel the more respect you will get in return mixed with the love shared with one another. Best in moving forward and learning together. Bruce


  6. Brenda says:

    Not that I am a good trainer (although Nina does fetch now!)and I can get my girls to stop in their tracks by putting up a hand (no idea how that happened I just know I got tired of having to fix the bedding more than 3 times) but I do know this: That every member of the household has to work with the dog no matter who is the caregiver/pet parent. My late great lab Mac never listened to my mom b/c she would not work with him. It would have been better. I know she didn’t want to bond with him over me but it would have been helpful had she worked with him. I am not home every minute, no one is so the dog needs to listen to his family.


  7. Susan says:

    My 4 year old dog steals pencils, coasters and small plastic items like credit cards. He takes them to his bed and chews on them until I notice. I give him a treat to release the object, which he does very willingly. Have I “trained” him to steal these things? How do I keep him from taking them to begin with? He only does this when I am nearby – bid for attention?


    Minette Reply:

    My guess is he is bored… I would read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/teaching-thief-retrieve/


  8. janet amighi says:

    I recommend the Denise Fenzi dog training academy for wonderful online courses to train competitive obedience, a ring confidence, proofing etc. It was from her I learned what do to when a dog drops its head in heeling.
    I take in-person classes too, but I like to learn from lots of people including Minette who is a great teacher. By the way, I can’t see how running with your dog should ruin them for heeling. Dogs do agility looking straight ahead and do obedience the next day. I must admit that when we’re heeling sometimes my dog and I have such locked gazes that we run into things (especially me).



    Minette Reply:

    She got into a bad habit BEFORE I taught her attention heel… I think if I had taught her first to pay attention and then she got in the habit of not doing that it would have been better. I will teach the puppy first to not drop contact and then teach him conditionals of where he can next. I guess I want to create the good habits first and make them the dominant behavior. You can always fix bad habits… but it is harder.

    I do love Denise! So that is great advice 😀 I want to get to one of her seminars soon!


  9. ISABEL says:

    i have a seven month old golden retriever i have always had small dogs but seen shadow as a little puppy a few days old and fell in love with him so i decided to buy him but he just wont stop biting at my arms and pulls every thing apart i have tryed every thing the pet training school told me and he also wont stop jumping up on people that come to my house theses two problems i just cant stop him doing , he knows its wrong when i catch him i try distracting him with toys but the jumping up on people is getting to much i cant seem to get him to stop what do you surgest i do to stop him from doing thestwo things i have tryed all i have been told to do i am just at the end with him the biting he does to my arms and it does hhhurt also had broke the skin my arms are in a mess all marked i have to wear long sleeves to hide the marks please help me on what i should do next


    Minette Reply:

    He needs more exercise!!! dogs with these problems are bored and don’t know what else to do, remember dogs are athletes and need long runs physically and mentally. http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/exercise-dragon-oops-puppy/

    Read this for jumping http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/correcting-dog-jumping-people-create-aggressive-dog/


  10. birgit says:

    I used to compete when I was young with my GS. We competed for SchI, SchII and SchIII in Austria ( my homeland )It was nervewracking for me and for my dog. She was excellent in obedience, tracking, but…. because she loved me so much horrible with her bite work. I am not saying she did not bite, on contrere.. she bit too much and in all the wrong places and lost track of everything around her other than the thought of protecting me. I could call her down, but she released too late and for competitions that does not work, and spoiled the reputation of the club where I was. I was “advised” to beat the overdrive out of her. Meaning to punish her for what she sees as being her duty. They advised me to use a nail collar,etc. In the end I just left the competing to the ones who want to destroy their dogs. I am happy now with my two GS dogs, they do their obedience work, are totally dependable and safe. The point is, trust your instinct, when you see something brakes your dog, don’t do it. You are a team, you learn your limitations from each other. Sometimes it is necessary to get down to the nitty gritty and think like a dog to understand what is right and what is wrong.


  11. Ashe says:

    Hey I just found out that dogs can get hypothyroidism, just like us humans, and it may be one of the reasons for the poor behaviour our dogs sometimes have. So the dog may not need retraining but medication. If your dog has skin problems, weight gain for no reason, lethargy and behavioural changes, talk to your vet about getting the blood tests done.


  12. Kevin Krupka says:

    I think, this do needs a little training. It’s life must be made more interesting by assigning tasks.


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