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Do we teach resilience?

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Should you add corrections to training in order to teach a dog “resilience?”

The argument goes like this:

“Adding corrections in life training helps your dog learn how to handle stress.  If the dog doesn’t learn how to handle the stress of even mild corrections, then when something stressful happens in life they won’t be able to recover.”

And for a competition dog:

“By adding corrections in training, your dog will be better able to tolerate the stress of a show and a competition ring”

Go ahead and define the word “correction” however it makes sense to you because that is not relevant to this post.  This post is only about whether we need to consciously teach stress resilience as a generic skill by adding handler induced corrections.  Let’s start with the second point:

Here’s an example of ring stress:  A competition dog will eventually have to accept the stress and pressure of a judge in the ring.  The judge will be directing the handlers activities and may be quite close to the working team.  For the stand for exam, that person will even touch the dog.

I agree 100% that these realities are stressful for many dogs.  To compete effectively we need our dog to be able to accept that person, and to experience minimal (or no) stress at this competition reality.  Better yet, we want the dog to welcome it!

Let’s look at the two ways we could try and make that acceptance happen:

  1.  Add corrections in training so that the dog learns to recover from stress.  Now go to a dog show and the dog experiences the stress of a judge in the ring – the dog (hopefully) generalizes that the corrections/stress they experienced in training are no different than the stress or discomfort they are experiencing with that judge, so they recover and move on.  or,
  2. Add a judge to your training.  Introduce the person at a specific distance – enough that the dog is aware and then remove the stress and reward the dog with a chance to work or with a cookie – depending on the dog’s stage of training.

If you want to teach a dog to handle the stress of the dog show reality, wouldn’t it make more sense to address the SPECIFIC stressors of the dog show, rather than going for a generic concept like “teach stress resilience?”  We know what those dog shows stressors are, so make a plan!

The second option targets the specific issue, and if you really believe in the need for generic “teaching stress resilience,” then it does that as well.  So why would you ever use #1 as a training strategy? It’s too generic and it adds no specific advantage.  It also leaves a lot to chance.

Job done.  No need for the human to add any corrections at all.  And indeed, there is a good reason not to.

I want to be the good guy! I am the one that takes the dog away from the pressure!  I am the one that provides support and works to make my dog believe he is a superstar; always succeeding!  I am the one the dog can count on to REMOVE pressure – not to add to it! And by the time my dog gets to the show, I want him to actively welcome the pressure of the judge because he has been trained that it is nothing – look and dismiss. Move on to the work.

It all comes back to “conditioned emotional response.”

You want your dog to likes you. A lot!  To count on you as the source of interesting activities.   At any given time your dog may not remember why  they like you- the specific cookies that you handed over, games that you played and adventures that you navigated. But your dog knows that they like you and feel good in your company.  You’re on the same team.

The last thing I want to do is be the person associated with “adding stress” to my dog’s life!  I’m the advocate!  And when more severe stress happens, I want to be the one who removes them from those situations! I want my dog to look to me for support when they need help, because experience has taught the dog that I will support them or modify the situation to make them stronger.

Ok, so now let’s go back to the first point; that humans have to add corrections in general life training so that their dogs learn to recover when unexpected things happen that are outside everyone’s control.

Do I need to teach my dog stress recovery “for life,” so that when they stub their toe they don’t have a meltdown?


Life provides the stress for life. Training only takes place for approximately 15  minutes a day – you can count on the fact that the other 23 hours and 45 minutes will provide plenty of experiences for the dog to experience the normal cycle of “That hurt!! ” or “That was scary!” and the end result of “I’m ok!”

You’re just not that important to the normal development of your dog, assuming you expose your dog to the realities of life through socialization.  Obviously if your dog never leaves your home, no one ever comes in, and you’ve padded the walls, then yeah, it’s going to get weird when you try and walk out the door.  But its probably easier to just walk the dog out the door – socialize them – and let the world happen, than trying to arrange corrections to teach your dog to accept life.

 So far, all of my dogs have stubbed their toes at some point or another, and I have yet to see any of them opt out of life or refuse to leave the house after the event.  Indeed, my various dogs have broken bones, dislocated body parts, and gotten stitched up after deep cuts occurred – none of which I actually arranged for – and they moved on.  They did not become freaks.  

Normal good training and socialization should expose your dog to the various realities of dog shows including reduced reinforcement, the pressure of dogs, people and things, travel, etc. You can predict those realities and train for them.  And since you are consciously training rather than approaching “resilience” in a haphazard fashion, you can control the scenarios.  So if you really believe that stress needs to be “taught” by a trainer, then this does the ticket just fine.  No need for corrections at all to get there.

Build your relationship through advocacy.  THAT is what your dog needs from you.  You don’t need to teach stress resilience.  Stress is an unpleasant feeling that is rooted in the emotion of fear.  I no more need to teach my dog how to handle fear and stress thanI need to teach my dog to be “happy”.  All I need to do is think about which one I want associated with me.

On another note:

Congratulations to Katie O. of Louisville, KY for winning a free class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy for the February 1st term!  We look forwards to seeing her there.  We’d love to see even more new faces, so feel free to take a look at the schedule and get enrolled.  Classes start TODAY. Class Schedule


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.

34 responses »

  1. I have a dog that stresses the minute we enter our local training field. Lunging to sniff, is the first symptom. Second is shutting down and refusing to engage in fun activities or even eat a super high value treat. He is a very social dog and loves being aroound other dogs (all are his friends he tells me!). He is a retired show/agility/weight pull/herding/carting/tracking dog that I still want to do rally & obedience with. He doesn’t stress at noise, crowds, weird dogs, etc. He earned his best obedience & rally scores in crowded noisy buildings with gazillions of distractions that through off most of the competition! But now when I enter a training ground that he is familiar with (where all of the (obedience & show trials are held) OR even attend a workshop at a training facility (new to him), he shuts down. I try and engage him with play as this is his preference, but it fails. I have been told more then once that I shouldn’t have to “try so hard” or that I am trying too hard to engage him (fun play). So what stress is he not prepared for? He will sometimes hang the whole day and decide to enagae in some fun just at the end…..rough play, doing his trick repertroire and showing off. (He likes crowds and their attention!). So what could be the stress that I am missing? He has a very active life on a farm with livestock and a varied daily routine, is trained in a variety of places (with varied results). He is definitely not over trained. But there is some stress that can’t identify here. I se it as ssomething that I have not trained/prepared him for? It has worsened over the years. Correction training is NOT the answer, I am sure, BUT how does one identify these hidden type of stress agents??

    • There is a lot of unusual contradiction here – he’s a mess in a familiar place but has had success in competition (also in rally and obedience). So he’s ok in new places and has troubles in familiar ones? honestly I’ve never encountered that, except when something had happened at the familiar location. Without seeing it, it’s pretty hard to evaluate stuff that doesn’t fit normal patterns. Fenzi Academy has a class starting today called “Ring confidence for obedience and rally”

      But I’m not sure if it will help because your situation is so unique. (At the gold level with videos it would probably work but that level is sold out). You might want to send a note to the instructor through the “people” link (Laura Waudby) and ask if she thinks the class might help in your situation. Keep in mind, it’s usually dogs that are fine at home but melt in the ring. That’s not how you describe your situation.

      You might want to search this blog for stuff on “engagement” and work on that to get you started.

  2. I very much agree. Adding corrections just to stress the dog is lame. Life has plenty of stressors and you want your dog to look to you for support. You dog has to believe that when you’re both together, you both can handle anything. If your dog can deal with a vet exam (with you feeding doggy treats), then a judge touching them is nothing.

  3. I guess what I was trying to say is there are some “resiliency issues” that are hard to identify and deal with! is there maybe a Plan C option we have not considered??

  4. We have done classes on ring work that were descended from you, Denise. He aced them almost all the time. My theory/gut feeling is that it has something to do with the type of tension….the fact being that people (judges/other exhibitors/etc) are “looking for fault” and he doesn’t want to be a part of this in any way shape or form…..excellent indication that correction based training has negative results. But with this issue, it is hard to figure out a solution. If I ask people to hang around and discuss him or his performance in a slightly negative way, he just shuts down. I can’t “baby step” this enough.

  5. Corrections are not used just to teach a dog how to deal with stress, but that is one of their advantages. They also teach your dog that you are a human being, not a magical fairy who only dispenses cookies and love. Finally, introducing corrections to a dog’s day to day life as well as actual training sessions prepares him for the real world, a place we all know can be full of stress and negatives.

    Creating a training life or worse yet, a complete home life that is free of stress from the owner/trainer will backfire sooner or later, and not just in the ring. For example, there was a lady on an email group I am a member of who had a couple of BCs that had never experienced any kind of real stress from her. One day she trip over a corner of a rug and landed on the floor near her dogs. I don’t know what finally happened because she left the list, but for at least a month the dogs were afraid to come near her. Which made sense because in their eyes she went from sweetness and light to an ogre trying to squish them. They simply had no experience with her as a fallible human and just had no way to deal with it when she “fell to earth”. Easing a dog thru life does him no favors.

    • Kathleen M Holland

      I agree Kathy. I don’t see how you can live, train. play and travel with a dog and never give a correction. Even though my training sessions for a particular sport or activity may only last a short amount of time out of my day I consider spending time with my dogs, no matter the situation, to always be an opportunity to train. Also, I don’t think a correction should be associated with a negative but an opportunity for my dog to make a different choice. Life is choices and some are right and some are wrong and my dog is entitled to know the difference.

    • OK, so I just seriously scared one my dogs because I burst out laughing and snorted coffee out of my nose (then coughed for 5 minutes) at the “magical fairy who only dispenses cookies and love” comment above. I really don’t think my dogs believe in any such person, as they get to hear me swear when I burn my finger or stub my toe, snark at my husband, yell at stupid drivers on TV, any number of potentially scary things. Indeed, they have heard the word no and been prevented from getting things they want (sometimes, they even get derisively laughed at!). Once, I made a leashed dog stand in the pouring rain for 25 minutes until he peed! The horror! I don’t know any dog trainer who tries to avoid corrections in training whose dogs have experienced zero adversity. That’s a straw man argument commonly used when discussing this topic. We don’t need to add corrections to obedience training to toughen them up. Life is plenty tough, even for my spoiled companions. Obedience is a game we play together for fun, because working together is fun. If its not, we will quit playing.

      • A straw man argument doesn’t apply here, since the OP indicated that aversives are not used at all in context of the trainer/owner. The BC owner in my story took it to the extreme and so had an extreme reaction, but that doesn’t mean that a less extreme approach doesn’t lead to less extreme problems for the dog.

        The premise here is that the dog doesn’t need corrections in training to be able to deal with the stresses that come with exhibiting in the ring. I am saying that dogs need to learn to cope with stresses that come between them and their trainers before they start trialing, because we cannot know what the dog might view as a negative created by their trainer. If the dog has already learned thru corrections in training that being wrong isn’t a bad thing, it is far easier for him to deal with it later on in life, including at trials.

      • That is not correct; I did not say that “aversives are not used at all in the contest of the trainer/owner”. I said I do not add intentional aversives to my training. I also said that all of my dogs have had unfortunate events in their lives and in most cases I was certainly there when they took place and I was certainly involved in their medical care – which surely was not pleasant.

        Life takes care of the stress of life; I do not have to make a special arrangement.

        I will not address the rest of your points because I have given my point of view in the blog post.

      • I’m not sure I understand the difference between “I did not say that “aversives are not used at all in the context of the trainer/owner”. I said I do not add intentional aversives to my training.” If you are not intentionally adding corrections (which are not necessarily aversive), then how do they end up being in context of training?

      • I truly do not understand what you are saying. However, I was as clear as I could be in the article. And you have had a chance to make your point, so all is well.

        We’ll move on now.

    • I’m sorry, I don’t see it. I’ve never “corrected” my dog in the sense that you seem to mean – I avoid positive punishments. She is also a Border Collie and has always been pretty sensitive. Yet she does not freak out forever (or weeks or days) if I accidentally do something scary. And this happens often enough without me having to do something aversive to her intentionally – “scary” is me making a weird noise, dropping something near her, accidentally stepping on her paw, not being careful enough brushing out tangles in her fur, etc. Once I even yelled really loudly because I thought she was eating something dangerous and freaked (it was not an intentional correction meant to teach her anything). She was very startled for a moment, jumped up at me a lot trying to lick my face, and then quickly enough went back to normal. I try to counter condition scary stimuli when I can – something startling happens, she gets a treat if I have one at hand. Again, this is a very sensitive dog prone to over-reacting; yet I can not imagine her avoiding me for longer than a minute. More likely she’d instantly come to lick my face a lot. Meanwhile, I used corrections with my last dog (also a BC) and I could totally have imagined him avoiding me for a day or so at least after such an incident.

      I have no idea what was up with the BCs of this woman, if maybe it was just a super scary situation all around for the dogs due to external factors and their personalities or if something else was amiss, but I’m pretty sure the problem wasn’t a lack of corrections. I’m even more sure not “correcting” one’s dog does not mean the dog will not learn how to deal with negative things happening, since negative things really *are* everywhere, and not using corrections is not the same as isolating the dog from life – heck, I wonder if people who can 100% avoid ever startling their dog(s) even exist.

      • The interesting question here is – what sort of corrections do you think I mean? Because I don’t do the science thing, I really have no idea what you mean by “positive punishment”, but my corrections are certainly not punishment in any way. Things you list doing day to day, even if by accident, are closer to a punishment than any correction I give a dog for anything other than a “sin”, so your dogs are much more used to the real world than the BCs owned by the lady I was talking about. She spent their lives making sure as much as possible that she herself was never connected with anything negative in the eyes of her dogs – she never told them No, the only physical thing she did with them was pet them, all of her training was that sort of free shaping thing, (I forget what it is called) but it never included telling the dog that it is wrong. And no, it didn’t last long – I think her oldest dog was only two years old.

        It’s a condition she built into her dogs, just as you have built it into your second dog to come to you if anything scary happens. What I build into my dogs is that there is nothing scary about being wrong, corrections are not a negative and they are strong enough to deal with things that happen in the real world. As you say, negative things happen despite anything we can do, so I teach my dogs to just deal with it themselves.

      • It appears that no one on this thread even knows the person nor what happened with her, so some pretty big assumptions are being made here. If she recognizes herself and wishes to add to this dialogue, I will gladly put her point of view through. Otherwise, I’d like to hear it from her directly that her dogs lived such a bubble wrapped life. Which would be impressive in and of itself – all of my dogs have been stepped on or had a door shut on their foot or whatever and some recover more easily than others, based on their temperament. Which was the point of the blog – life happens. How a person could live with such care -and then fall over next to them and in such a dramatic fashion that they had their first negative experience in two years – is amazing.

    • Kathy, I think something to take into account is: Training is inherently stessful. When you teach your dog new things, or start perfecting behaviors for competition, or teach something complex, etc., you are going to cause some stress. I don’t use physical or verbal corrections, but my animals do experience stress and do deal with the hardships of life.

      I can’t say anything about the BC owner, but I’d be inclined to think these dogs may have been genetically predisposed to anxiety/fear. There have been a couple studies that I’ve heard of that suggest genetics play a major role in an animal’s temperament, and training may have little to no effect(depending on several other variables).

      Maybe she didn’t do well with teaching them to handle stress. Maybe she did everything right and her dogs were genetically unsound. Maybe all of us are wrong and dogs are manipulating us against each other so we don’t realize they’re taking over. I don’t know.

      What I DO know is, applying corrections doesn’t automatically mean your dog will handle stress, and not applying corrections doesn’t mean that they won’t. A LOT more goes into it than whether you tell your dog “No” or not, lol.

      • April – yes training is stressful, but if the trainer is good it is a good stress because the learning is fun. Being wrong is a different sort of stress, one that the dog should work thru in the familiarity of home rather than experiencing it for the first time at a match or trial. Being wrong, feeling wrong, things look wrong – all of these are essentially the same thing to the dog. All are personal threats, the seriousness depending on the basic temperament and experience of each dog.

        I am not saying that applying corrections will automatically make the dog handle stress well since using corrections is the same thing as anything else in dog training – the better the trainer, the better the results. At this point in time, I have probably trained well over 100 dogs, between my own and those I trained for others back when I was doing that. All kinds of genetic temperaments gain confidence by finding out that “wrong” is not the end of the world, that the dog is fully capable of dealing with anything that comes his way.

      • Note: This is the last comment that will go on this part of the thread.

  6. Excellent points, Denise!

    My +R trained dogs certainly deal with enough difficult and stress in life to teach them that life, and the competition ring, are not always sunshine and roses. I don’t need to add “corrections” into my training to teach them resilience.

    My dogs deal with: vet visits, construction noise around our household, thunderstorms, listening to my husband and I communicate, and sometimes argue, things falling on them (sometimes) and near them, physical illness, random dogs and people coming in and out of the training building doing (sometimes very strange) things, the presence of chickens, a cat, sheep, and horses nearby at the training facility, upset people nearby, upset dogs nearby, the pain of loss, boredom, etc. etc. etc. etc.

    And while I may strive to minimize those things as much as is reasonably possible, I certainly don’t have any idea that I can possibly insulate my dog from all, nor even most, of it.

    Life does the job of teaching that life is not always perfect well enough that I certainly don’t need to add aversives into training in order to convey that message.

    As far as resilience in competition goes, I use +R based techniques to build it in a dog who lacks it, and to cultivate it in a dog who has it naturally. Often confidence building exercises go a long way toward building resilience. I have found that limiting exposure to known stressors can build resilience (paradoxically – but I really have had great success with this). Exercises to build duration build can resilience. Experience itself can build resilience.

  7. I don’t believe that my dogs never are responsible for their mistakes in the ring, but there are so many places where their behavior is a result of my training errors that I find it most productive to correct myself and develop my resilience. I was thinking that it would be great to have a class addressing : seven not quite deadly sins of dog training”
    My list would be:
    1. working too long without fun play time breaks
    2. lumping
    3. not practicing generalization enough
    4. not reinforcing enough fast enough (toys, personal play, food)
    5. not teaching distraction resistance
    6. giving late cues
    7. Not training to real fluency before creating chains

    • Janet Amighi – those are training sins?

      • what do you think are training sins Kathy?

      • Janet – I think training sins are more like continuing to use a method that doesn’t make what you want clear to the dog; moving too fast without making sure the dog gets it; punishing a dog that is trying; and of course abuse.

        The things you listed are rather method specific and almost all aren’t even an issue in many methods.

      • Moving too fast before dogs understand is to me the same as lumping and creating chains when the dog is not fluent.
        I would think that generalization, training to deal with distractions, good reinforcement schedules and cues given early enough are relevant to most training programs, whether it is agility or freestyle or obedience, or trieball or protection, or rally and to some extent nose work.
        I was labeling these undeadly sins. Abuse would be a deadly sin.

        Punishing a dog for trying and not succeeding is such a controversial and complex question. It depends a lot on how you define “punishment.” If my dog mistakenly enters weave poles in the wrong place, I’m going to call him back to help him understand that he was wrong and I don’t reward him for his effort. That is a punishing experience for him. But I don’t know how else to show him he’s wrong.
        I should make it easier for him to get it the second try, if I don’t that would be a training sin. He clearly doesn’t know it well enough to create this chain.

        A lot of what you are saying and I am saying is really a matter of definition. I was thinking of these training “sins’ as the fodder for a class which focuses on how we could be more self aware to avoid these errors. Perhaps I should have called them Training errors, rather than sins. It was a play on the 7 deadly sins.

      • Janet – if I understand what I’ve been told correctly, lumping is whatever you consider to be teaching too many things at once? What I meant by moving too fast is assuming that a dog has learned something well enough to be able to move onto the next step, when the dog doesn’t actually have it down. It really has nothing to do with creating chains, since that is method specific.

        Yes, generalization, training to deal with distractions, and good reinforcement schedules are relevant, but I don’t consider screwing them up as a training sin, just problems. I don’t know what you mean by cues given early enough.

        My definition of punishment is the same as the dictionary’s – “to subject to pain, loss, confinement, death, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression, or fault”. I just don’t use loaded words like “punishment” or “sin” unless I mean them the way the average JQ Public does.

    • Janet – I think you bring up a good point – developing our own resilience is important, as well. I think that is something that is often overlooked. And – I know this from loooong experience – developing resilience in oneself is especially important when working with a dog who is not, by nature, resilient!

      And I think your list of “not quite deadly sins” is excellent! Those are things that I often have to be mindful of, as well.

  8. Denise – no, none of us really knew this lady other than on the list, so we did need to believe what she told us. I do know that it isn’t all that hard to not step on a dog, or not yell at it, or not close a door on it since those things happen rarely to my dogs. I imagine if I were focused on not doing those things ever, I could go for two years without them happening. OTOH, I don’t even know if she had been doing them for two years, all we were told is that the oldest dog was two. She may have gotten him as an adult, or she may have started this stuff when she got the second dog. Dunno – all I know is it makes sense because I’ve seen the results of less extreme bubble wrapping.

  9. I really love my dogs so I am careful not to trap their tails in the door, stand on their paws, leave them standing in the rain, quick them when cutting their nails or anything else unpleasant. These things happen though, from time to time, and I’m sorry and they forgive me. What I don’t understand is why anyone who also quite likes their dogs would actually do something similar on purpose in order to win a competition. Especially when you don’t even have to do it in order to win. I snarked at my dog today for trying to eat cat poo (she ate it anyway) but I don’t think I could, or should, hurt or worry her for not completing an obedience exercise correctly (but she totally nailed that bit)

    • Corrections are not intended to cause a dog pain or worry, they are merely to help the dog be correct. Closing a door on a tail, stepping on a paw, etc – those sorts of things, if done on purpose, are punishments, not corrections. There is no reason to punish a dog in training.

      • Could you just bite the bullet Kathy and say what actually mean when you say ‘correction’ ?

      • I think we’re back to the “words” problem, which is why I wrote the post “controversy” several weeks ago. People need to start blogs if they feel strongly about arguing training methods (they’re free!). Then a person can define correction and show it in action. And if it’s a “depends on the dog” thing – then show that in a video – the correction and why it is appropriate for that dog. Or we’ll just go around in circles.

      • I don’t have to bite any bullets – a correction is something a trainer does that helps the dog to be correct, as I said above. What other definition is there?

  10. So, I know this is an older article but I wanted to leave a comment here that’s sort of related to a few of your posts. I took no reward markers out of my dog’s agility training and started working to set her up for success. This past weekend at a trial she did something that she’s never done (I was facing away from her, she barked and lunged toward another dog). It startled and scared me and I whipped around and YELLED No at her. I’m not proud of yelling at her, but it was a heat of the moment reaction – and one that would typically have given me a furry puddle of sad for at least the rest of the day. She turned, looked at me, came back and was fine. This is the ‘example’ moment, but truthfully? Her resilience is BETTER since I’ve cut out ‘you’re wrong’ and deliberately causing her stress. I suspect not having it chipped away at every training session has given her a little bit of a buffer she didn’t have before. I’m not going to put it to the test and start yelling at her regularly, but she’s much better able to cope with things that aren’t learning moments but are just life.


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