Dog Training Fail: Feelings Count Too

I could count this as a dog training failure on many levels: I moved too quickly, didn’t test the behavior in a high distraction environment, and didn’t have a back up plan.

But I think my biggest problem was forgetting that in dog training, feelings count too.

If you don't think of feelings, you might face a dog training failure.

I’m glad you understand my feelings so well.
But what made you think I’d like to live on a boat?

But My Dog Did It Other Times

My dog training fail is so huge that it could have been fatal.

Fortunately, it was just embarrassing. Oh, and excellent blog fodder.

Several years ago we decided to get help from a professional trainer. Not because Honey had any difficult behavior issues.

No, we just wanted to grow her confidence and build the skills that eventually led to her living comfortably on a sailboat.

In truth, she was already a very good dog. And one thing I was proudest of was her ability to sit beside me on the porch without running off to greeting every dog and person who walked by.

Good girl, Honey. Good girl.

Until one day…

We were waiting for our trainer, sitting on the top step leading to my front porch. As Russ got out of his car, I could feel Honey’s excitement. But I felt confident. She’d stay right by my side. She always had before.

Famous last words.

In an instant, Honey went running down the stairs and out into the middle of the street to greet Russ, her favorite person ever. The man who smelled of dog treats. And who played fun training games with her.

What had I done wrong?

It's a dog training fail when you forget to think about feelings.

Of course I will stand on the porch without moving. You’ve given me two bags of cool BlogPaws swag to keep me company. If you made me wait too long, I’d just dig into some snacks.

Feelings Count Too

I had totally failed to understand how deeply Honey felt about Russ compared to any random stranger on the street.

Yes, Honey is an extroverted flirt. So it was huge that she could sit by me on the porch without rushing after every stranger.

But Honey didn’t just want to flirt with Russ. Honey looooooooooooooooooooooved Russ.

And my other mistakes partnered with forgetting to take Honey’s feelings into account could have been fatal.

Luckily, no cars drove by as Honey rushed into the street.

And once she got to Russ, she was not going to leave his side no matter what. So he walked Honey to my front door while she stuck to his side like she was wearing a three-inch long leash.

A leash made of liverwurst, that is.

Consider a dog's feelings to avoid a training fail.

Yep, it’s a good thing you thought about my feelings before decided to ask me to do something for you. Because I adore wading. And I might not feel like doing what you ask me to do.

Morale Gal Always Thinks Of Feelings

My husband calls me the captain of our boat. But I think of myself as Morale Gal.

Most decisions I make come down to how everyone feels when facing a particular situation.

Sure, we CAN travel fifty miles in a day while it’s cold and raining. But SHOULD we?

Because although we have the navigation skills to pick our way through the bays, rivers, and canals that make up the Intracoastal Waterway, cold makes us tire more quickly. And we’re more likely to miss a mark or misinterpret it when we don’t feel good.

If you don't account for feelings, you might have a training fail.

Okay, it’s red-right-returning. What the heck do we do with that? No wonder they call it Cape FEAR!

Just like Honey, feelings count for something. And if we don’t take them into account when training (her or us), we set ourselves up for a big fail.

Thanks to one big training fail I go slowly, have a back up plan, train for distractions. But I also consider how everyone is feeling.

Because in dog training, like life, feelings count for a lot.

Consider your dog's feelings to avoid a dog training fail.

Right now, I just feel like taking a nap.

Your Turn: Do your dog’s feelings affect how or what you train?

Positive Pet Training Hop

Join Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days in sharing positive pet training stories, encouragement, challenges and triumphs. The hop is open all week long beginning the first Monday of each month.

For February our theme is “Training Confessions” – feel free to share bad training habits or mistakes, an unedited training session or any other positive training post you would like!


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  1. My dog’s feelings matter, and so do my own. If the objective little voice in my mind tells me I’m being impatient, or less than honestly enthusiastic, I quit, or just do something fun. It’s not fair to the dog otherwise.
    If the dog is feeling a little worried about anything–noise in the neighborhood, that strange looking deer that never moves that sprang up overnight in the neighbor’s yard last November, anything–we take our time. We start with something the dog knows, reward, rev up the enthusiasm. And sometimes, we just plain quit. I’d rather do that than have the dog associate training with unpleasant things.

    • Very wise.

      Anyone who thinks you can train a dog (or a human, for that matter) according to an inviolable schedule is missing something important.

  2. That had to be scary, I went through something similar. My collie Lad was on leash, and I was unlocking our front door when a motorcycle drove by. Lad ripped the leash out of my hand and ran out into the road. My heart stopped, but fortunately the bike was going very slow and saw Lad coming, so no one was hurt. ( except my hand) You just never know what might happen when you have dogs.

  3. I’m totally mom’s nose work dog. I love the sport and am pretty good at it. I would do anything to practice nose work all the time. Tracking, on the other paw, not as much my thing. Mom wants me to get my TD, and then I can stop, but I despise trudging through the tall prairie grass, mud, and all that stuff. Mom felt bad, so we worked on it. Lots of extra articles, lots of super special treats as rewards for stopping at the articles, and now I’m starting to not mind it so much. So yes, Mom did feel the need to help me find a way to enjoy the sport. She didn’t want to train a dog to do something she had no desire to do. Now if I can just get certified and get my title in the near future, I am done and Bailie, the mad, tracking lover can work on further titles and I will focus on nose work.

  4. Harley did that one day with the mail person. He loves that damn truck! He wiggled out of his collar and darted across the street. She was just about to pull away from the curb when she saw me literally lay prostrate across the hood of her truck. She would never have seen Harley standing there barking at the trucks grill. I peed my pants! As far as training goes – Harley will shut down in a NY minute if he doesn’t want to work. There’s no changing his mind, believe me.

  5. Probably most of us have had those coronary inducing experiences. It’s part of living with a species not our own. It is so Pamela, to consider it her failure instead of the dog’s. I do relate though because we are responsible for good and bad behavior and for respecting the individuality of our dogs.

  6. My dogs feelings have changed everything I have done in dog training! Brychwyn was supposed to be my agility champion corgi, but he very obviously did not like agility. He prefers sports/training where he and I are side by side. Who can argue with an awesome canine partner like that? So we work on Rally and Freestyle and my corgi is happy!

    On a day to day basis, considering everyone feelings is more difficult. I have worked several times with an amazing trainer who spends a lot of time making sure the human part of the training team is feeling calm, balanced, and confident. Her theory is that those feelings rub off on the dog and training sessions will be enjoyed by all. But that isn’t always true because, as you learned with Honey and Russ, dogs have their own feelings and opinions. So while I try my best to read how the dogs are feeling, I am often too focused on trying to keep myself balanced to read their moods correctly. I would have done the same thing you did with Honey on the porch. There are certain things we trainers feel confident about but maybe the dogs do not.

  7. I always keep in mind, if i’m not having fun time to stop, if the dogs aren’t having fun time to stop. I always try to keep our sessions short so as not to reach this point but sometimes I get so involved in trying to teach them something new I lost track of the fun part.
    Good thing they forgive easily!

  8. Great post!! Their feelings should definitely matter and I wish more people would pay attention to their dog’s body language. I always try to make training fun if they are not having fun and enjoying what we are doing then it’s not worth it to me.

  9. Yup. There are certain tricks that Mr. N doesn’t like doing so either we don’t do them or we train them slowly with lots and lots of rewards. Same with sports. We don’t do the ones he doesn’t enjoy because what’s the point?

  10. Definitely. Zoey, for instance, is very sensitive and I have to take care when training her, because she has anxiety. It takes a lot of time and patience like with any dog. Recently, she’s starting to stop barking like crazy when someone is on our property. She still barks, but it’s not constant and we can calm her down with a soft word and a light touch on her back or shoulder to let her know it’s okay.

  11. Sam doesn’t handle loud voices very well so I definitely keep that in mind. Standard Poodles tend to be ‘sensitive’ anyway. That said, when he pulled the same thing as Honey, I admit I screamed like a banshee when he ran out in the street to see one of our neighbors across the street that he adores. Oh that dog! 😉

  12. Yes, my dog’s feeling affect my training expectations. A good example is the trainer who felt we had advanced to the point where we could assign Toby a spot in the family room and train him to go there and stay there for a long time. We started to when I thought, “why?” as in, why do I care where he lies to watch TV with us? It just felt so…bossy (he’s already kennel trained). So we quit on that.
    It is scary when they go in the street like that. It’s happened to us a couple of times. I’m glad Honey was fine – bet Russ secretly was flattered that she loved him that much 🙂

  13. Sometimes the crew gets so excited they just cannot control themselves. As much as that frustrates me, I do try to at least understand why they are acting like idiots (LOL). Of course, they feed off each other too which doesn’t help.
    I try to be sensitive to Luke’s feelings when we are working on something I know he is uncomfortable with, like the crate. We take it extra slow and keep it extra short; and I’m sure to watch him for when he might have had too much.
    Our trainer was very good about this when we worked with him. He always watched for when Luke might be getting tired or overwhelmed; and we’d take a break. That was one thing I really appreciated about him.

  14. Sometimes I feel like Nala’s feelings are the things I think about most! Ha! Still, I love this post. And one of the things I love about positive reinforcement training is the way that so many good trainers put feelings at the front and center of training, since Pavlov is always on your shoulder and the behavior that you want can only increase if the dog actually enjoys what you both are doing. It’s a magical thing, truly.

  15. I stumbled across your blog today and enjoyed reading it. As an English teacher, I LOVE the title. While looking at products you recommend like flushable doggy bags, it made me wonder, “Where does your dog go when you’re on the boat??” Hmmm . . .

    My dawgs have their own blog where they write about their crazy adventures. Feel free to check it out:

  16. I’m so glad that your big learning experience didn’t result in Honey getting hurt or killed. We all have stories like that… and sometimes they don’t end so well.

    I have to consider Shyla’s feelings constantly in our training. She’s a recovering extremely fearful dog, and I’ve become very attuned to how confident (or fearful) she’s feeling. My huge fail with her was not realizing how fearful she was when she first joined our family. I took her to town for some “socialization”. I took her out of the car, and she collapsed onto the sidewalk while losing control of her bladder. Town scared her so much that she couldn’t even stand up, and I hadn’t put together all the small signs of it at home to realize that walking around town was going to be waaaaaaay too much.

    Here we are 3.5 years later. We spent an intensive year working with a positive-based trainer using a technique called BAT (invented by Grisha Stewart), and Shyla appears to be a normal dog on most days. But, I do know that the fearful dog lurks under the confident exterior, and I am always on the lookout so she isn’t traumatized.

  17. Ruby is my little sensitive girl, and her feelings definitely shape every training session. As a fearful dog, I have to be very careful not to overwhelm her, and there are some things that will take extra patience, such as anything with props. One of our online trick training tasks was to hide a treat under a laundry basket and have the dog tip the basket over. I used a small storage crate and Ruby was too cautious to tip it over. We worked on baby steps until she was at least comfortable nudging it with her nose. I think that is one of the benefits of positive training – we don’t expect our dogs to behave like robots!

  18. My midlife crisis was saying, “Yes,” to a puppy. We had never been dog owners before. I must admit that Glock, had a better instinct for training people than we had for training a dog. Half Australian Blue Heeler on his mom’s side and half this-and-that shepherd from his dad, Glock is intelligent, stubborn, protective, and bossy. “Just like his mother,” was the comment made by his mom’s mom.

    Probably because we didn’t know what we were doing, Glock’s feelings were very high on the list of ways we dealt with him. To the good and to the bad as I’ve discovered that where we set the bar also has a big impact on how he behaves. For example. Glock is prone to being hyper-excited when he sees the leash or any preparation for a walk. Hubby thought it was cute – enabler – but as Glock got bigger and older, his behavior became obnoxious. A trainer said we probably couldn’t change the behavior. I think he was diagnosing husband rather than Glock.

    I had injured my back and was not the walk buddy when he was younger, so was basically told to butt out when I gently tried to point out that part of the problem was that Glock was always rewarded for his crazy behavior – with a walk.

    When I could finally start walking him, I took his excitement under advisement but decided I wouldn’t react to it or hook him up until he stopped acting like a sled dog anticipating the start of the Iditarod. Glock is very patient with me. That drives my husband nuts.

    Glock has feelings – most in the high energy Oh, boy! Oh, boy! GET AWAY FROM MY FENCE range. Our job has been to learn to be the calm ones. That’s where the training occasionally breaks down, however, because Glock isn’t the only excitable fella I live with.