If you haven’t realized it by now, I love to share stories of my colossal screw ups with you.

So grab a snack or a cup of coffee, sit back, and get comfortable because I’ve got another one for you.

Here goes…

“He can come with us if you want…I have a crate in the back seat of my car.” my friend said as she gestured to my dog who was pacing anxiously in his run, seemingly knowing that we were getting ready to go somewhere fun.

We had plans to hit the drive-thru. After all, it was still winter and I could don my sweatshirt to cover up that pesky winter weight that I had been collecting over the past few months.

Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels

“Cool.” I said. And then I paused. “But he’s really awful in the car.”

She laughed. She knew my dog well and she had witnessed first hand his car riding and drive-thru shenanigans. And yet, she was still willing to bring him along. Now that’s friendship!

She assured me she didn’t mind, and in the next moment we were loaded into her tiny car and headed to our favorite Mexican restaurant for a little fast food gluttony.

My dog spun in his crate nestled in the back seat of the car, anticipation brimming as she placed our order.

“Two garbage burritos (it’s really quite delicious despite it’s rather repulsive name) for us, and a cheese quesadilla for the dog.” she told the attendant.

He laughed and repeated the order back to her.

As he did, it was almost as if the dog in the back seat knew the words. A snack was coming his way and he couldn’t contain his excitement.

He whined and barked, his anticipation getting the better of him, and the moment we hit the window, he completely unraveled. In no time (and at the peak of his excitement), he was rewarded with his prize.

She knew I spoiled him in this way, and I’ll admit, we both found his eagerness endearing.

“Simple Ambitions do drive actions…” my good friend, colleague, and former Navy SEAL Larry Yatch said as he stood in front of the room full of executives, giving a talk on “Ambition” the following day.

“…but they do not lead you to live a good life. They may improve your current situation…but what do they do for you down the road?”

He then gave an example.

He asked his students to envision being coerced by a pushy salesman into buying an expensive (and quite impressive) sports car. He then asked them to think about how they would feel the moment they drove that car off the lot.

Smiles splashed across the faces of the audience members. Of course, they’d feel like they were on top of the world.

Then, he asked them to gauge how they would feel 2 years down the road, after having to make exorbitant monthly payments that they couldn’t afford, forcing them to forgo any kind of savings and leaving them financially insecure.

“How would that feel?” he asked the group.

The smiles dissipated as the lesson began to take shape.

This is the crux of simple ambitions. And this is why they can be so easy to latch on to.

Simple ambitions may improve the current situation – they may make us feel good, make us happy, and improve our mood. But how do they affect us in the next hour, week, month, or year?

Instantly, his words resonated and I silently kicked myself under the table for the drive-thru issues that I was creating.

Dog ownership and training are in fact plagued with what Larry refers to as “Simple Ambitions” and more often than not, they sneak in and completely obliterate our training goals, and at times, our relationships with our dogs.

Think about my trip to the fast food restaurant with my dog.

Photo credit @ Tamandra Michaels

Now, this particular dog is very high drive, and generally gets over stimulated very easily. After a hard day’s work, after training, I rewarded him often with a trip to the drive-thru.

It was fun to see him get excited about his treat. But soon, his behavior escalated. Not only was I giving him something that wasn’t particularly healthy, I was setting the stage for him to get over aroused and over stimulated – something he regularly has a problem with.

As he began to anticipate his reward, he began to build frustration. And after one too many drive-thru visits, where he was rewarded with a snack at the peak of his excitement, he began displaying behavior that wasn’t all that desirable.

He began barking loudly the moment we began to order our meals and by the time we got to the window, he was full blown unloading on his kennel, chewing the walls and barking loudly in anticipation of the tasty treat.

Giving him this treat when he was MOST excited was a simple ambition. It made me happy. And it made him happy. And let’s be honest, after one too many repetitions, when he was most naughty, the snack served to shut him up, to quiet the beast I had created.

I’d regularly find myself rationalizing the events, thinking to myself, “How harmful could it be?”

But that simple ambition set us on a trajectory towards some really unhealthy and undesirable behaviors that we had to work hard to undo. Had I simply paid closer attention, and viewed this chain of events from within the context of my goals, I could have leveraged this reward to move me closer to my goals, instead of further from them.

Now let’s think of other simple ambitions that regularly land loving pet owners and seasoned competitors alike, standing defeated on their trainer’s doorstep.

“I got a puppy and I work full-time and live in an apartment on a fixed income.” says the owner who wonders why her dog destroys her house.


“I love how happy my dog is when he gets treats.” says the loving owner contributing to her pet’s obesity.


“I love teaching bite work more than anything.” says the owner who neglects obedience in favor of fun, only to build a dog that is out of control and hard to handle.


Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels

“My dog really loves to sniff, so I let him grab the leash in his mouth and drag me to his favorite spot.” says the owner that regularly fights for control.

Or even…

“I LOVE the excited greeting my dog gives me when I get home from work,” says the owner who doesn’t realize she’s setting the stage for separation anxiety by building her dog’s anticipation for her return.

In all of these examples, as dog owners, we are doing things that feel good for us in the moment. We are latching onto simple ambitions. And we are doing it under the guise that we are giving our dogs happiness. What could be more selfless than that?

In fact, simple ambitions are selfish ambitions. We hold them because they feel good. But we neglect the state of mind we are creating in our dogs. We aren’t looking into the future and we aren’t paying attention to how our daily behavior can affect, and at times obliterate our training goals.

Instead, we need to build awareness of our ambitions, in order to shift our actions from the simple ones to those ambitions that will take us to our end goals.

Here’s what you can to do.

First, get clear on your real ambitions. Those that will help you crush your training goals.

Larry teaches that: “an Ambition is a promise with connected strategies to enable you to live a good life and lead others to do the same.”

It stands to reason then that a “Powerful Dog Training Ambition” is “a promise with connected strategies to enable you to live a good life and lead your DOG to do the same.”

What constitutes a “good life” will be contingent on you getting clear on your goals. But the idea here is that you are happy, and your dog is happy, both NOW and in the future, regardless of whether you want to be the next IPO World Champion or you simply want a confident and well-rounded family pet.

Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels

Now, in order to avoid the simple ambitions in favor of the more powerful ones, you simply need to:

  1. Get really honest about where you are at – You need to identify your current situation. What is going really well? And where do you need some work? Be honest. Identify the things that you need help with and identify where you have knowledge gaps. By getting clear on your current state, you can start building a plan to achieve your goals.
  2. Identify your simple ambitions – We all have simple ambitions that may hurt our forward progress. Take some time to really flesh yours out. Make it a goal to identify 2 or 3 behaviors that you might find cute, that may be hurting your overall goals. Get present and honest with yourself to gain clarity and begin changing your own behavior.
  3. Get clear on your goals –  You can’t build a training plan if you don’t know your goals. You need to know your destination before you can plot a course to get there. So map that out and be specific. It’s the only way you’ll be able to avoid those simple ambitions that threaten to take you off course.
  4. Build your power (we’ll talk about this in a future post so stay tuned). You CAN change your dog’s behavior. You just have to believe you can. Even if you don’t quite have the knowledge and skills to get to your destination, you need to have confidence that you can find them, and build them, whether that means getting with a good coach or trainer or joining a club or group. You need to be able to say to yourself  “I CAN hit my goals. I may need help. And that’s a normal part of the process. But I WILL find that help, and build my skill set.”

In our daily lives, we need to steer clear of simple ambitions that will put us on a trajectory from a happy current situation to a future situation that quite frankly is a bit of a mess.

By getting ourselves aware of where we are at, and where we are headed, we can start to see our own behavior within the context of our goals, and we can start to gain situational awareness so that we can better avoid simple ambitions that threaten to knock us off course.

Learn how to spot and avoid simple ambitions in our new virtual coaching program. What are some simple ambitions that you may be latching on to? Hit me in the comments below and share your stories!

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    7 replies to "Your Training Trajectory: Understanding Your Ambitions to Stay on Track"

    • Patti Collins

      Thank you so much for this post! It has brought so much awareness to me and all of the “simple ambitions” I have been following. Currently my dog is at my daughters as I am home with a broken leg and cannot walk him, but this is great info I can work on while he is gone so I can identify what changes I need to make when he returns home. 🙂

    • C.marshall

      Wow,you hit the nail on the head there ,one of my rearly bad training mishaps was every time I took my dog out for a walk (three to four times a day)he would get so excited and very,very noisy and as both my neighbours work shift I would give him a rubber ring to play with while I got my coat and boots on otherwise he barked loudly and nonstop.only thing was while he was busy killing his toy he was getting more driven then ever and in the end it wasn’t helping at all. So now I work hard at keeping him calm.maybe scattering a few bits of kibble on the floor for him to find,and we don’t leave the house until he is in a calm as I can get state.its definitely working.i have found there are no short cuts in dog training ,getting wrong and you pay the price.????

    • HoundSond

      Outstanding Article!! We are always teaching our dogs “something.” It’s so easy to fall into doing momentary feel-good actions when you don’t keep your end-goal in mind 🙂

    • Smith

      This is one I will continue to read throughout my education with training animals. Excellent piece, thank you for it.

    • Kirsti

      I like ur post on ambition could u please post your credentials l want to study to gain training qualifications l want to be part of a training community that is based on building a relationship with their dogs based on love, trust, respect while understanding how dogs communicate & learn.

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