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Don’t tell the dog!

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I rarely tell my dog when they make an error.  Instead I’ll train better to make errors less likely.

And when I make an error?  Same thing.  There’s no reason for the dog to know if I can hide it.  And if I can’t, then I’ll probably throw out a free “screw up” cookie and move on.

And the judge?  What if the judge makes an error?

You can’t throw out a consolation cookie because that’s not allowed, but you can still do your best to hide the error from your dog.

If the judge miscues you in an exercise and you know what was intended, simply proceed as if the judge gave the correct cue.  For example, you’ve just finished the retrieve and your dog is holding the dumbbell in front position.  The judge cues “finish” instead of “take it”.

Don’t look to the judge – that breaks the exercise for your dog.  Simply take the dumbbell as if the correct cue had been given.

How about in heeling?  The judge cues you to turn left when you know it’s an about turn.  Same thing, do the about turn.

How about if you do not know what the correct cue is supposed to be?  For example, the judge simply gets muddled and forgets to cue you, or you cannot hear the judge, or you had forgotten the pattern?

Halt and wait for the judge to direct you onwards.  But there’s one more thing.  The important thing is that your dog have no idea that something just went wrong.  Keep your expression neutral.  Don’t look wildly around in confusion or break your connection with your dog.  Treat is like a cued halt – not a sudden panic stop.

The following video is part of a formal run through that I was doing with Brito.  My judge forgot what she wanted me to do, so gave no cue at all as I approached the wall.  So I picked a direction and kept right on going.  My dog never knew that something odd had happened and I got what I wanted – to see how my dog would do in a formal run through.

All is well.    The important thing is that my dog’s confidence is 100% intact.

Here’s the relevant piece:

It doesn’t matter if your teaching, or practicing or competing.  Keep your dog’s confidence intact and don’t let them know about errors.


If you’ve watched this and the only thing you can think is, “I can’t do decent footwork for heeling under any circumstances,” then consider taking the class, Healing Your Heeling Handling with Nancy Gagliardi Little at FDSA.  As a retired judge with a strong interest in handling excellence, she can fix you.   Indeed, you might find that you add several points to your score and create a much more confident dog simply by cleaning up your own behavior. The dog’s will follow.

We have 36 classes this term – if you’re interested in learning we have something to teach.  I’ll be running Bridging the Gap (to get your dog off the cookies, practice proofing, and generalizing behaviors so you can compete) and Engagement (getting your dog to drive the start of work rather than relying on you to provide the energy).  At $65 for a bronze spot, it’s a steal.  Hope to see some of you there!

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.

4 responses »

  1. that is good to know,
    I was told years ago when I was walked into a wall and I knew it was a left turn and made that left turn, that I was wrong, the judge was all over me,,,she told me that unless she said it . I was NOT to do a thing , I should have stopped and stood in front of the wall until she got herself together,,
    I have always worried about that, never asked another judge,,,
    if that is truly legal it is a way better way to handle things and it certainly keeps the flow going,

  2. You just made my day 😊

  3. Donna, I always do as the judge directs. Since we trial outdoors I’ve never been walked into a wall, but I have been walked to the boundary. I slow down as much as I can.
    As far as I know there is no set-in-stone pattern so trying to guess what the judge is going to or should have directed is no help.
    IF miscues or lack of cues will distress your dog, then do what you feel is necessary but don’t expect to qualify (here, anyway).


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