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But…I can’t do that in competition!

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Here’s a phrase that I’ve been hearing lately:

“I don’t want to wait for engagement because I can’t do that in competition.”

So true.

It actually reminds me of the following phrase which I used to hear a lot but which is much less common these days:

“I don’t want to train with food or toys because I can’t use them in competition.”

While both phrases are absolutely true, the speaker is confusing training with competing.  It behooves a person who wishes to compete to move past training the behaviors and forwards towards a trial ready dog.  If you are relying on food, toys or offered engagement to get behaviors out of your dog, you’re not ready to compete.  It’s that simple.

“Training” is the process of acquiring behaviors while developing an emotional state of “want to” towards work.  We use food and toys to train and develop a good attitude, and we use offered engagement to refine our dog’s determination to get the party started without clutching a cookie or toy in your hand.

Food, toys and offered engagement all facilitate your training, but they wont get you into the ring.  You’ve only just begun!  Now you need to prepare for competition.  I wrote a six part blog on that topic which is now a PDF – you can find that pdf on Trial Readiness here for free.  And since free is free, you might as well help yourself.

If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of working through training phases, some of which use food, toys and offered engagement, then there is one more reality I’d like to mention:

You cannot take corrections into the ring either.

So if you decide not use food, toys or offered engagement in training because you can’t take them into the ring, then by that logic you need to eliminate the use of corrections in your training as well. Exactly how you plan to get behaviors on a dog with no food, no toys and no corrections is beyond me.

Training and preparing for competition is never static.  While you are teaching one set of new behaviors you might be polishing anther set, and a third set might be the ones that are being prepped for competition readiness. That is all good and normal!  Don’t doubt yourself.  Just keep an eye on your training and be relatively clear on what you are trying to accomplish with each session.

If you want to train or polish a behavior, keep your cookies front and center.

If you want to improve engagement, keep your patience front and center.

When you have behaviors and engagement, then you can worry about preparing for competition. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

10 responses »

  1. Pauline Hosenfeld

    Once again, you said it so well, Denise. If I knew how to insert one of those emoticons, it would be applause. Thank you!

  2. Best post and reality check ever ….. and sooooo very true! 🙂 Thanks, Denise, for making training vs competition just simply clear.

  3. OH YES!!!!!! EXCELLENT! Give yourself a cookie. A toy. A HUGE on the back. Hell, just pass the margaritas!

  4. “You can’t take corrections into the ring”.
    Hmmm . . . but I have seen it done (traditional pop & jerk) although not lately (but then I haven’t watched much obedience in the last 2 years.) Yes, they are excused (most times) but they were still “able” to take it into the ring. Another great blog.

    • At the end of the day, I suppose some people are reasonably comfortable with cheating, but the AKC regs say no verbal or physical corrections in the ring. What people actually DO – that’s about them. Fortunately, I do not believe that I have ever seen a physical correction in the ring.

  5. Ah, but you can take corrections in the ring! And it doesn’t have to be something that will get you excused, since a correction isn’t usually something like that pop & jerk that too many people think it must be.

  6. “You cannot take corrections into the ring either.”.
    And on the other side of the coin, you shouldn’t need to use corrections in daily life with your dog. If you are, then your training isn’t done. Your dog isn’t really ready to live in a human world.

  7. Denise once again straight and to the point!! You say it as it is and not how we would like it to be!! Brilliant article!!!

  8. thank you so much for the free e-book, you are so generous and it is so appreciated by me and I’m sure others, who are learning on our own.


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