Photo sitting on counter of white and brown spotted puppy with head tilted, staring into camera.If you know me, you may know this story already, but my first dog Koby was a challenge.

In fact, the word “challenge” is an understatement.

I loved him like crazy, and hindsight being what it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but this dog turned my world upside down.

He was a rescued Bully Mix that suffered from every behavioral problem in the book.

Separation anxiety so bad, he tore a 9 ft hole in the carpet of my college apartment…

So much enthusiasm for his walks, that I could regularly be found struggling just to stay upright and not make a total fool of myself…

Escalating reactivity with other dogs, and very worrisome aggression towards people popping up when he turned 2 years old …

And all this despite the fact that we had him enrolled in training classes from the instant we brought him home.

Listen, I loved that dog like crazy, and I love the lessons that he taught me – my quest to solve his behavioral issues is what inevitably propelled me into a career working with dogs – but back then, it was stressful and frustrating, and I regularly felt like a failure.

Back when I worked with Koby (or perhaps “struggled with” would be a better term), I learned one very valuable lesson that I’ve carried with me to this day.

This lesson resulted in a massive mindset shift that ultimately helped us be more successful. And that ultimately helps me be more successful with every dog that I’ve worked with since.

The lesson I learned was to “Stop should-ing on myself…

The thing was, every day I said to myself “I SHOULD take Koby for a walk”. I mean, that’s what GOOD dog owners do…right?

But walking him was a nightmare. He pulled, he was reactive, and the experience left me drained and my confidence in the gutter.

By “Should-ing on myself” I was setting us both up to fail.

I wasn’t allowing myself the capacity to teach him to behave on lead.

I wasn’t allowing myself the time to show him the right way and expose him slowly to the things he needed exposure to.

And I was adding unnecessary pressure to myself and putting us both in a situation that wasn’t good for us.

I didn’t HAVE to walk him every day. I mean, we didn’t have a yard so I had to get him out for potty breaks – but we didn’t have to spend an hour arguing with one another, me struggling for control while he dragged me all over the place just because I thought that’s what good owners did…

That hour would have been MUCH better spent at home, working out our kinks. Teaching him to accept the leash and walk with me, and slowly exposing him to the things he got worked up about.

And guess what? As soon as we made that shift, as soon as I stopped feeling guilty for not doing the things I thought I was supposed to do as a “good” dog owner, the brain work and dog training we did impacted our relationship in a profound way.

We started having successes, instead of the constant failures we had experienced in the past. And we improved our communication with one another, which strengthened our bond.

In no time, with all of those successes under our belts, we were able to actually get back out there and walk for hours without the stress…

…without the conflict…

….and without the constant pulling and frustration…

Now, I’m not going to say I don’t “Should” on myself these days…I do…

Things like I SHOULD work on heeling at training club tonight because the group is pressuring me to, regardless of whether or not I’m ready…

Or I SHOULD teach my dog that behavior in a certain way, because  XYZ trainer told me it was better, despite the fact that I’ve had great success with an alternative method.

Or I SHOULD feed my dog a certain way because I’m pressured into thinking it’s what’s best.

It happens.

By just being aware, however, I’m able to recognize the “Shoulds” for what they really are…

Expressions of my tremendous care and concern for my dogs. Which is something to be proud of…not something to feel guilty about.

Women's arm by laying down Malinois panting in the grass.All too often, we “SHOULD” on ourselves.

We do things not because they are what’s best for us and our dog, but because they are things we think we are supposed to do to be a “good” dog owner or “good” dog trainer.

So if you find yourself saying “I should XYZ…” stop and ask yourself these questions.

“Why should I do that?”

“Is it going to change things for my dog TODAY?”

“What will I accomplish if I do that?”

And, “What will it hurt if I don’t?”

By simply being aware, you’ll start to experience a profound mindset shift that will move you from feeling guilty to feeling empowered.

Stop “Should-ing” on yourself. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your dog either.

Hit me in the comments below and tell me about a time where you inadvertently “Should” on yourself. I want to hear 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.

    23 replies to "Dirty Words in Dog Training: Don’t Sh*** on yourself"

    • Chris Turner

      To my mind if you think you should be doing something, then whatever you’re doing isn’t working, for your dog. Deffo a people problem, cos your dogs don’t think like that. Should isn’t in their vocabulary. Lol. Only time I think I should be doing something, is when the weather is cold and wet, and I don’t want to go out!

    • marie

      One of my favourite sayings has always been
      Never say I should have, instead say next time I will

    • Kathy Sanford

      The corollary to this is to stop “shoulding” on your dog, too! My dog should know this, know that, do this, know not to do that, be able to do this, etc.

      • Rachel Daley

        I also had a revelation lately about how “I should walk my dog every day.” The thing is, he loves being outside so much, and is rather fearful inside, that getting him back inside was a long, stressful process! He actively avoids you and any encouragement you offer to get him inside, and snaps and lunges at you if you continue to push. And by pushing, I mean just saying the words “come on” or taking a single step toward the door, or trying to turn around on a walk, etc. Now I put a fence up so I can leave the door open and he can come and go as he pleases (at least while I’m home) and we can work more gradually rather than pressuring him to come in. We still have our issues, like when I only have a little time with him and he really does need to come in. He always takes his long lasting treats to his bed, but today he learned to race outside with them so I don’t shut the door once I think he’s settled on his bed! But the setup is much more manageable, he comes in sometimes instead of crying at the door but then snapping when you approach, and we’re working on our recalls and some redirection commands far away from the door in the meantime.

    • Betsy

      I love you for this input! I have, too often, sacrificed training time for walk/exercise. Thank you for “allowing” me more training time 🙂 I’m sure we will all benefit and the walks will even be better.

    • persistencemarket

      Meagan Karnes, thanks so much for the post.Really thank you! Great.

    • Becky Jacob

      Megan, I’ve “should’ed “ myself ever since I got Wallace 17 months ago. He is a working line GSD which I’ve wanted for over 25 years. Finally, my dream come true. Then I had all my teeth pulled, moved my mom with dimentia out of her home and into independent living, assisted living, nursing home, tons of hospital stays and broken hip and wrist, not to mention exposure to mold in my house and an IRS audit, to name a few. All good excuses why we can’t spend more time and money traveling to train and in an effort not to do it “wrong” we just don’t do it. Should have, should be constantly rules my life. Thanks for giving me hope that not all is lost. Because after all, Wallace IS the little be of my life.

      • Becky Jacob

        That should read: is the love of my life.

    • Cindy

      Hi Megan, I am stoked to find your common sense, informative site where you freely share your pearls of wisdom. this article is a helpful reminder to change my vocabulary in life in general. I recently found a saying that has helped me that says ‘if you can change one word in your day to day life, change ‘got’ to get’. Got means we feel we have to do it whereas ‘Get’ means it is a choice. I much prefer to make a choice to do something even if it is something I have to do. the nuance of Get is so much nicer! Thank you

    • Kathy

      I really SHOULD be out training my dog on this nice day instead of sitting inside on the computer! So look what I learned instead? Good article.

    • Maria

      Great article. If you do something because you *should* you probably aren’t doing it in the right frame of mind to succeed.

    • Jen

      Yes having two pups the first pup I felt pressured to bring him to all the puppy classes. as yes there were taught to focus on the owner. classes were still large and overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong I learned a lot. Our first pup became dog reactive. Second pup decided to skip puppy class. All outings were fun and made sure my pup had fun! I later brought my second pup to a class when she was about a year and she was so well behaved. I just prefer training on my own and making sure my dogs behave well in public and they do! I enjoy training them at home and practice in real life settings or with a private trainer.

    • Wendy

      I should have fired the trainer that was working with me long before I did. I wanted a trainer who could teach me how to work with my dog, and this trainer did everything but that. When she flipped my dog on his back and said this would cure him from chasing cars, or when she suggested getting a riding crop to hit him when he pulled on walks, I should have ended it right there. I was referred to this trainer by someone who had malinois. There were so few trainers in my area that truly knew Belgians, so I jumped at the chance to work with someone I hoped really knew their stuff. But this trainer was cruel. She changed training methods over and over. I was either giving too many treats or not enough. Not allowed to work with a toy. I used his name too much during trainning or not enough. It just seemed like everything I did was not right. Then she said to me that my husband should be training the dog and not me. He worked six days a week and was never home!! Then she suggested I rehome the dog. I fired her. The whole purpose of trying to work with an experienced trainer was so I would not have to re-home the dog. I began my own quest for training information since it seemed most of the trainers in my area lacked the Belgian experience. I just wish I would have done it sooner. I wish you would do a blog on the effects of staying with a bad trainer too long and how to identify a bad trainer. My dog was only six months old when we used this trainer.

    • James

      Great article. Training is just so tough sometimes. Great outlook on keeping things in perspective!

    • Wendy Delgado

      So true Miss Meagan! I should have done myself into a not so pleasant experience with my Australian Cattle Dog pup. We had very little fun, all in the name “Proper Training” I am about to go pick out my Ditch Shepard pup this week, am because of your blog am encouraged to have fun with my pup, and quit shiukdings myself and my dog out of enjoying our development together. I will keep reading your blog and articles as long as you keep them going! Thanks Miss Meagan ????

    • Mary

      After reading this article and many of the great responses, I started thinking about what “should” means to me and why I “should on myself”. For me it is lack of confidence in myself as a trainer and faith in my dog to know what I have trained. I now have a new mind set when training, make the training advice my own. My training sessions have been very mechanical, “coach says this is how you train this “ and I followed the steps A, B and C. Now before I start training something , I am going to take a moment to ask myself “is this right for me and is this right for my dog?” The sad thing is I think my herding coach has been telling me this for some time now and I just needed to see it in writing for it to sink in.

      • Casey Wood

        This is so awesome! Love it.

    • Etta Foster

      I am new to your blog. I found it through a post on…thankfully!

      I have a high drive/high energy pup. I have come to suspect that his breeder ran a ‘puppy mill’! My pup was showing significant signs of hip dysplasia before he was 3 months old which has caused him to sacrifice much of his youth and development in a crate and to miss out on some very important life lessons. .

      As a result, he has lost the edge he started with and I have become frustrated with our training decline. On top of that, he is reactive to other dogs (our yard is surrounded by 6 adult aggressive dogs who made him afraid to go into his own backyard for most of his life). He is now about to turn 9 months old and will be undergoing full/total hip replacement on both hips (2 different surgeries?)!

      After reading this article I realize that I have cheated my pup and myself out of a great relationship by ‘should’ing my pup AND myself through much of this ordeal.

      Thank you for the eye-opener!

    • Monica

      Hey Meaghan thanks for such a common sense article— like a couple of others I should have stopped using a trainer who was into command and control— in my heart I knew it was wrong and finally have worked out my approach with help and support from you and groups like this— thanks again Monica

    • Lori Yearian

      So true, l find with my 8 month old German Shepherd pup that I expect her to be like my older Shepherd. I have to step back and remember she ‘s still a pup.

    • Gaynor

      I think I’m the opposite in the sense I say “I should be spending more time training”, and go out for a walk only for the dog to react to every dog. Some days he reacts and some days he doesn’t. Off leash his recall is pretty darn good and checks in with me. I have been kicking myself for NOT training him more

    • Mrs Heather R Speechley

      Thank you for explaining what you have it has helped, I have a 6 months GSD. I am 57 and have an older son . We adore him , I spent a lot on training and it went on line when the time came because of Covid. I read, and i read all i could until i became overwhelmed with information. My cupboards have food stuff and fridge for him and i know what not to feed him etc. However his nails and ears are a real problem and i am full of should i have tried sooner to cut his nails as he now is very mouthy if i try to. I did touch them a lot but the first time i tried to hard and i think he just felt i should know that no meant no and growling which he has never done. Any advice would be really helpful , bearing in mind i have read a lot but alas no help so far, i did get a quiet dremel drill for this dog cutting nails and , my son said “hey look at this mum when i turn it on he goes in his crate ” oh boy should, should, please i just want to feel got there in the end but no luck so far, and the groomers are not taking on.

    • Michelle Bogden Muetzel

      Thank you for the email blast to this article, Meagan! I have a couple of really good, positive-reinforcement trainers helping me with my adopted pup, Dottie. As someone with obsessive compulsive personality disorder, when I learn things from the two awesome, positive reinforcement trainers I work with, I internalize the guidance as hard rules and “should”s, triggering my perfectionism, anxiety and stress. I haven’t been enjoying our walks at all yet because I’m trying to watch out for potential triggers so I can “stay cool” and not transfer anxious energy (HELLO already doing it). I’ve been hyper aware, and ya know, guess who else has been? lol Thanks for helping me reconnect those dots and find a healthier way to reapproach what we are working on. It helped me tonight when I was frustrated with Dottie jetting under the fence after a bunny while still on leash in our backyard. I didn’t want to hop over the fence in my work clothes again, knew I shouldn’t have to, but any amount of kissy noises, pleading, bribing, etc. was working. My brain frantically worked through what I’ve learned. Then, ding! Light bulb. Dogs always can see through what we put on our faces and in our voices and know how we’re feeling about it. I had to change my frustrated attitude into genuine excitement for her to come in a walk with me and do the “happy fun excited” voice when I was actually feeling it. She came right back under and got a “click” and treat. I also have to remember it’ll get easier to remember as we practice.

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