If you find yourself lacking confidence in your actions for your dog—whether it’s uncertainty about the timing of rewards, concerns about clarity, or fear of being too harsh—it can lead you down a destructive path in your interactions with your pet. In my approach to training dogs, whether they’re my own or a client’s, it’s crucial for me to wholeheartedly believe that I am making the right choices and feel confident in my requests, whether it involves introducing new tasks or correcting undesired behaviors.
An illustrative example comes from a client who was training her Labrador as a mobility service dog. One of the cues I teach all service dogs is “under,” instructing them to position themselves beneath a chair, table, bench, or desk to avoid foot traffic. This specific dog struggled to grasp the concept of crawling under the chair and staying there. Initially, I allowed the owner several attempts using her preferred method—bribing the dog with a treat in her hand. Despite the owner’s efforts, the lab, being somewhat shy, discovered she could merely place her front legs and head under the chair to receive a reward and then quickly retreat. Frustration grew, and the owner interpreted the dog’s behavior as a dislike for the task, considering giving up.
Contrarily, I perceived the dog’s nervousness and discomfort with the task. Recognizing that my approach was not “mean” or “abusive,” I assisted the owner by guiding the dog under the chair with a treat and a gentle, soft pull of the leash and collar. To everyone’s surprise, the dog successfully completed the task on her first attempt with my guidance.