Training with Patience

The first year with a new dog is a test of patience! So much to train! So much to do!  The first year is more about creating good manners, building a strong relationship, and simply learning about each other. For dog trainers, we also want to teach them fun tricks and skills for future competition. Add to that how each dog takes you down a different path, often requiring a new approach to training. They will learn behaviors in a different way, maybe pick things up faster or challenge you in other ways. You will encounter hurdles and find ways to navigate the obstacle course of training and learning.

And you may get frustrated and feel like you aren’t making any progress. The neat thing of it is … you ARE making progress even if you aren’t seeing it.  It’s similar to not noticing that your puppy or child is growing and changing each day but they are.  Drac is now 14 months old and at times I wonder if we are making progress.  And then I see that growth spurt! He’s a big boy now in many skills and behavior areas. I recently dropped in on an agility class (thanks Anne Stocum!) and I was pleasantly surprised at the skills he had and his self control around the other boisterous young dogs! I realize now that I have passed many hurdles and also still recognize that there will be more to come. I know that I have the skills and resources to work through new challenges and to find new approaches to continue on our training journey.

The thing of it is, so many of the skills we want do not have to be proficient for years. How nice is that? We have the luxury of time to break things down into very small pieces and build success and confidence in our training. One example is our teeter skills for agility.  From the time we started our teeter skills, Drac won’t need to do a full height teeter for 12+ months. That’s a lot of time to take our time and get it right! He is also quickly developing his Nosework skills. He’s certified on all 3 odors to enter trials, but I won’t enter him right away.  It’s too early. He may be ready to pass, but he needs a bit more mileage in novel places and a bit more time to mature. This is not a time to rush and risk setbacks. Foundations take time to build and will set the tone for your long competition career.

Another skill we are working on is a fold back down (thanks Hannah Branigan for the devils in the detail!).  The fold back down does not come natural to Drac. (Luckily his tuck sit came standard!) On his down, he wants to move forward or sit first, then down. Drats, another laborious skill to teach! But wait, it’s ok. I won’t need that finished behavior for years when we are competing in Open/Utility obedience! I have plenty of time to build those muscles and physical understanding of what is required. I am enjoying the process of working on his daily “pushups”!

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What’s the main take way ?? By knowing the timeline for competition you can more confidently and intelligently plan your training. Relax, slow down and enjoy!  Instead of feeling impatient, be excited and take your time. Embrace the process of breaking down skills and appreciate the beauty of small, yet significant accomplishments that will eventually lead to fabulous performances in your future!

Speaking of training, check out all the upcoming classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. You can find my classes under the school of Nosework and Obedience!


  1. I like your angle regarding the amount of time you have to work on and refine skills. And you’re right, we don’t always notice the little improvements, but they are occurring over time. Good stuff!

  2. Thank you for a wonderful and important message. I teach a second stage puppy class at our club and one of the things I see is the frustration and impatience that puppy owners have when things don’t go the way they think they should.
    I have a dog, now going on 6 years old, who does not learn as easily as all my other dogs, past and present, have. Even the same methods, clicker and marker training, do not work with him. It takes him months to transfer anything from one side of his brain to the other. I, because I have autistic grandsons, one low end Asperger, began to believe this dog is high autistic. (He learns similarly to how my low end GS learns.) He also developed strange fears. We worked on those first, taking time and finding the right harness, a tight fitting one that covered his back and sides, and places to take him. One day, I stood by an agility jump and waited. After about 20 minutes of running around the yard, he came, lay down behind the jump and looked at it, turning his head from side to side, then he jumped! I had treats and stuffed him full of them. After that, he could jump a jump. Sometimes he forgets, for a day or two, how to do things he has been successfully doing for months.
    I decided that, as he likes to use his paws and is good at using them, to teach him some tricks that involved his paws. I also started teaching him nose work. He is excelling at tricks and loves basic nose work.
    Last August I put him in a beginner obedience class, not for the training, but to get him used to going out to a new place (our club) and doing something. By the end of the second session he was able to do some of his tricks for the last class. 16 weeks we went to class and he sometimes couldn’t take treats and didn’t seem to hear my voice but it is paying off. Working with him at home and teaching him tricks brought him to the point where he is becoming comfortable with strange places and things. I am keeping him in the beginner class and continuing with tricks. Working with this dog was frustrating. I have had dogs that caught on to things almost at once, but what frustrated me was knowing he has a high level of intelligence but not being able to teach him things.
    This dog learned to open latched gates, on his own, before he was 6 months old and he plays the brain games, the ones where you hide treats in holes, drawers and slots, better then my other dogs.
    Patience and tricks certainly helped me with him. He is an Smooth Fox Terrier, by the way.

    1. Hi Mary! I’m so glad this blog resonated with you. Sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job with your terrier. You figured him out and that is all that we can ask for! I’m glad to hear you are doing Nosework too! Such a great sport for many dogs for many different reasons. Bravo to you :)!

    1. Thanks Sara! Happy New Year to you too! I try and keep up with Buckle when I can :). He is such a looker too :)!

  3. We’ve never met but I think vibes are coming through the hemisphere because I knew you were talking directly to me. Thanks for making me give pause to what I’ve been doing to our nosework team. I want to do everything – now. Because of my impatience and desire to succeed (win ribbons) I’ve pushed us beyond our skill set. Result: failure and depression. Luckily, I’ve had some wonderful Fenzi and one-on-one instructors to keep me going. Now, I’m taking time to enjoy the process.

  4. It’s really easy to push too fast. Especially in this day and age of the internet and FB – we want instant results/gratification or to keep up with others. Usually when “steps” are skipped/lumped, we are less prepared and suffer the fallout. So glad you are learning to enjoy the process!

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