You’ve been training your dog for months…

Labrador practicing obedience

Perhaps you have a family dog who is suffering from reactivity…

Or perhaps you train for dog sports and your dog is getting ready to compete.

You’ve done the work, logged the reps, and now your trainer tells you you’re ready. Ready to take your training into the world, and take your reactive dog for a walk…or ready to enter that trial.

But you don’t.

I mean, there’s no sense in rushing the process…right?

Not to mention, you’ve been busy. Work has been crazy, life is getting in the way, and you don’t feel like you’ve logged the training reps you need to be successful. Just a little more practice and then you’ll do it…

But the to-do list is building and you can’t seem to find the time.

Training sessions are missed, and now you can’t possibly be ready…I mean, you’ve not practiced in a week!

Listen, I hate to break it to ya, but if you’re regularly making excuses as to why you’re not working with your dog…at least a little….

Or why you aren’t ready to take that walk…

Or if you aren’t entering that trial…because you just need a little more time…

It’s generally not because you’re too busy and couldn’t find the time to practice or train. And it’s not because you need one more sign that your dog is ready, or 1 more week to proof a behavior, or one more expert to tell you you’re ready.

If you’re regularly making excuses about training or competing, here’s the tough love.

You aren’t too busy…you’re afraid.

Listen, I’m right there with ya.

And I’ve got to say, so many experts tried to help me overcome my nerves.

I remember walking my reactive dog all those years back when I knew nothing about dogs except that I loved them.

I didn’t want to take him outside…

For fear of what other people would think when he inevitably had a meltdown on our walk.

I dreaded taking him in public and as a result, I just plain didn’t. And in fact, I made excuse after excuse for not doing the work.

Yes, I worked full time…

And yes, I sat in traffic at the end of each day…

And yes, I had errands to run and things to do.

But I didn’t lock him away because I was too busy to log the reps (despite what I told people).

Truth was, I was simply afraid.

Fast forward several years…

I learned a thing or two about training but I was still plagued with those pesky nerves.

I could teach students all day long but I had a terrible fear of training in front of people I respected…

Of being vulnerable and less than perfect in front of trainers who were really, really good.

So much so that it shook me to my core…

My hands would quiver, and my timing would suffer, and then, I’d take my missteps as proof that I wasn’t good enough and should just hang up the leash.

So I’d not take my training in front of others, not because I was too busy to make it to training that day (like I told so many people, myself included) but instead because I was simply afraid.

Or what about competing?

I literally threw up minutes before my first trial.

And despite the fact that I repeatedly sought help for my nerves…

And hired expert after expert to help me overcome them, it wasn’t until fairly recently, that a coach cracked the code with a single simple concept.

And when he did, it was like a hard punch to my gut.

He said “There is actually no such thing as failure. You either get the success you want or the lesson you needed” ~ James Wedmore.

Let that one sink in.

He went on to tell his students that if you are unsuccessful, you were shown a valuable lesson that you required in order to be successful. And in fact, you’d never learn that lesson, and never succeed if you hadn’t failed to begin with. So failure, in essence, was a success.

Good stuff…I mean, REALLY good…but this was the important takeaway…

The problem is, we give failure meaning based on our own beliefs.

We believe failing means we aren’t good enough…

We didn’t train hard enough…

We aren’t smart enough…

We are a loser or a disappointment…

And with dog owners, failing meant we failed…as a dog owner. Failed the critters we love so much.

But the fact of the matter is, those are meanings we create. Those are definitions we prescribe. And those are things that just plain aren’t true. They are just manifestations of our fear. And those manifestations are regularly stopping good dog owners dead in their tracks.

Think about it.

I just watched a big name trainer fail in competition.


This is a trainer that people clamor to meet…

A trainer that people fan over like crazy…

And this trainer FAILED in a big way.

What do people say about the failure?

That the trainer sucks?


They say, “tough break…maybe next time.”

In fact, as I watched it I thought… “that was a tough trial”. And the trainer handled the missteps beautifully. It actually made me like him more because it showed me that he was a real person.

And I guarantee I’m not alone.

Now, what did the trainer think about his failure? What did he believe it meant about himself or his training?

If it were me, all those years back, I’d surely have taken it as proof that I sucked. That I didn’t belong on the trial field. That I was a bad trainer, and even worse a bad dog owner.

Thank goodness my dog was so forgiving of my (numerous) follies.

So tell me…

What do you think your own failure means? And here’s the best question…do you think the same of others?

That people with reactive dogs are terrible dog owners? That people who fail in trial are miserable dog trainers who have no business owning a dog?

I didn’t think so.

Yet still, we love to let our nerves stop us dead in our tracks.

I hate to break it to ya…

If you make failing mean anything other than “try again”…

Those are definitions YOU give to your setbacks…

When in all actuality, 99% of people (the good ones at least) don’t define your setbacks that way at all.

And that 1% that might be critical…

Those folks are fighting their own demons and they need to put other people down in order to make them feel better about themselves. So why let their demons become yours?

So if you’re not putting in the work…

Not logging the reps…

Not working with your reactive dog…

Or not entering that competition…

And if you regularly find yourself saying “I’m too busy” or “life got in the way”…

I’ll challenge you to fail more often.

Because those failures are crucial stepping stones in your path to success.

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.

    4 replies to "Fail More Often: The Single Concept that helped me overcome training setbacks"

    • Sherry

      THIS is such truth! I admit I used to be super nervous (downgraded from terrified) every time I’d take Bella, my reactive Mali, out for a walk when there might be dogs out and about. But guess what? Now I have equal parts dread and anticipation that we’ll see another dog: dread that I’ll do it wrong, but anticipation that it’s a chance to practice. And it’s paying off. Bella has had some really surprising (in a good way) reactions that show me our training is starting to sink in. And that’s for both of us. So I completely agree that you have to set your fear aside, even for just a few minutes, to take those critical first steps. Bella and I have surprised ourselves, and I’m hoping we continue to do that each and every day until we both feel comfortable setting out the door. Thanks for all you do, Meagan!

    • Barbara

      What a great Great Article! So true!

    • Jennifer

      Insert yourself every place you said dog and you could preach it to the masses. Trying is a 100% better than nothing at all! Good reminder for my new guy—Zorro— early CPD retiree due to seizures. We’re still in breed shock!


      # surprisemalimommy

    • John Cash

      Meagan, thank you. I have been struggling with this for some time now.

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