Don't Make These Mistakes

Learn the top 10 Mistakes dog owners make when training their dogs, and what you need to know to avoid them.

14324572_10210691416980919_4372725617593767589_oA while back, I wrote an article about a new adolescent male Malinois I brought home under precarious and less than ideal circumstances. (If you didn’t read it, check it out HERE.)

As usual, and these days as expected, the Internet Bullies came out in force, calling me everything from stupid, to moronic, to irritating, to annoying for getting myself into such a dicey situation.

Love you all too.

But I want to use that experience, and the so many like it to make a point.

Now, I’m going to say this once, and I am going to say it fast. And, I may include some choice language, but I think it adds to my point. And after I make my point, I’m going to leave it alone and go back to giving you stories about my experiences and training.

So pay attention if you want. Or, check out and pass judgement if you’d rather.

Here goes…

In dog training (and in life), shit happens.

Oftentimes, we know what ideal is. We know what we SHOULD be doing, and we know the results we are after. And oftentimes, many of us strive for that ideal: That flawless training session, those well timed exchanges, or that perfectly planned and executed lesson (or that seamless introduction with a new dog). But sometimes, all we can do is the best that we can do.

Thing is, sometimes, when things don’t go as planned, it isn’t a reflection of our ability (or lack thereof) to read and understand dogs, and it isn’t a testament to our experience or talent as a trainer. The simple fact is, some things are simply out of our control. Like I said before, sometimes shit happens.

14650688_1133879999999818_9074165145577390610_nI’m reminded of a meme I have seen floating around the Internet, that clearly illustrates the difference between what we intend to have happen in our training, and how things typically work out. A perfect picture of the idea that more often than not, things don’t go quite as planned.

Here’s why we love it. Dogs are living breathing beings who speak a completely different language than we do. They are dynamic, shifting based on circumstance and environment….

…….And sometimes shit happens……..

Sometimes, you opt to work at a quiet park and an off leash dog approaches, your session obliterated as you strive to keep everyone safe.

Sometimes, you think you are working your dog with minimal distractions, and all kinds of craziness comes out of nowhere (ask my friend Amy about the time a STRAY PET Bunny AND a cat crossed her path at a typically quiet public park within two minutes of one another).

Sometimes, you ask for too much, you don’t read your dog perfectly, or you push for JUST…ONE…MORE…REPETITION.

And sometimes, you are completely unprepared to pick up a dog, but you know you have to do it anyway.

Shit happens to all of us. And sometimes things don’t go as planned. But if you ask me, one of the biggest problems in the dog training industry is the fact that we don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to shine a big ol’ spotlight on the fact that things don’t always go exactly as we want. Instead, we post videos of flawless obedience…30 second clips of our dog looking like a star.

As trainers, we don’t like to publicize the process – the clumsy, nitty gritty exchanges where our dogs are trying to sort things out. Instead, we opt to show our cleanest sessions and our end results. The times where things play out exactly as they should. The times where we look like we really do know what we are doing.

And as owners and handlers, we only talk about our successes….never the struggles we’ve gone through to get there.

As a result, social media threads are packed full of perfection leaving dog owners and handlers to play the comparison game.

Ever looked back at your training sessions that were…..well…..not so great, and compared them to the perfection you see littering your newsfeed from all across the globe? Those 30 second clips of the things people WANT you to see? I know I have.

Sure it’s fun to share our brags. And sure it’s fun to show off when our dog acts like a star and gets their training lesson right. But where we get ourselves into trouble is when we start comparing our struggles to the good stuff people put out there. Playing the comparison game isn’t fair to our dogs, and it isn’t fair to ourselves.

And, more importantly, being overly critical, and attacking people for the mistakes they make, the mistakes that make them a better handler, and the struggles they go through to get to their end goal is simply not okay. (And don’t make the assumption that because you post something on your wall, or in a private training group, the subject of your criticism won’t see it, or be hurt by it. This is the Internet folks. People can see more than you think they can.)

I’m pushing for a culture change. I want to stop this cycle of making people feel bad when things don’t go as planned in their dog training (and in their lives). And I want to instead, shift to celebrating the mistakes as awesome learning opportunities that mean WE ARE GROWING and doing things that are HARD. And, most importantly, I want us all to be able to look back and laugh when SHIT HAPPENS…when there is no lesson to salvage, and you simply have to throw up your hands and own the fact that the only piece of positivity you can dig out of the mess is that it will make for a really awesome story somewhere down the road.

For those reasons, I will continue to share my many missteps with you. The times that things don’t work out right. The times things don’t play out according to plan.

So here ya go.

15235725_10211369791579860_8410429042974063031_o
Moment Captured Flawlessly by Tamandra Michaels at Heart Dog Photography

My name is Meagan Karnes, and I’m not perfect. In fact, here’s a picture of me falling on my a$$ at training when I made a rookie mistake and let the leash tether around my feet.

Shit happens in dog training. Own it. Learn from it. Or throw your hands up in the air and simply make a note to do better next time. But whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up over it. No one benefits from self deprecation.

You can’t control everything. So quit trying. And don’t compare yourself to the stories of perfection that you see littering the Internet. I guarantee, those trainers have fallen on their asses a few times too.


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.

    25 replies to "S*** Happens: Breaking the Perceptions of Perfection and Control"

    • Randy Noel

      Very good!

    • Connie

      It’s refreshing to hear someone speak of shit happening!So! I am 67 yrs old woman and most probably will never get a Ch in Obedeince,agility ,or trackin ,and that’s OK!The journey that my rescue Sheltie Kate and I are on ,is one of incredible fun and a huge learning experience that I will ever have.We will get titles,as we have already have in agility ,and this coming spring we will go for Obedience and tracking titles.She being a working dog she will work until she drops!As long as it’s fun!! I won’t train unless I am mentally up for it,so there are days we just hike trails and fetch sticks!! Those days of always striving for first place is no longer there and what a relief ! Age does make a difference in ones thinking!

    • Kathi Warren-Flynn

      Well-said, Meagan. Anyone who claims they have never made a mistake, REGARDLESS of experience, is a liar. We learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our success. Anyone who doesn’t admit to mistakes is far too egotistical to be a good trainer.

    • Kelly Hayes

      Well said!
      I often think that “shit happens” in trials (and what’s life but one big trial anyway!?) to keep us humble. A simple reminder that we are not in control & won’t ever have it all together 🙂
      What’s more, I believe, that’s actually a good thing!
      And our best response is the one you have in the photo above having landed on the ground smack on your ass…a laugh!

      Thanks for this article it was timely for me personally 🙂

      Kelly Hayes (to which shit also happens)
      & Dyna (being a mere 16 months old, she tends to make the shit happen!)

    • Tammie

      I enjoy your articles so much! They are so down to earth and make a rookie like me feel like I have a chance to become a great handler. I ha e been working with my mal on his place command and one day he’d do well, and the next.. Ehhh.. Not so much. One day I shut him down, and realized I had to back up to where I knew he could be successful and quit. Several sessions later, and with help from our trainer (mainly on improving my cues) he is doing very well, even over hurdles. Indeed, yesterday I posted a video if a successful training session, but of course never videoed the ones where we struggled. I love learning and growing with my boy and can’t wait to compete! Thanks for all the great information!

    • Jeanine

      Ya got it. My very very first agility trial — many moons ago — I ended in an Novice class in which a well-respected World Team member was also running her baby dog. Talk about intimidation…… She NQ’ed and I NQ’ed. She ran a whole lot better than I did.
      But honestly, I want my Tessa dog back a whole lot more than I want safe runs. And I’m so so lucky to now have a dog that pushes me every second we are on course, and takes me into obedience, scentwork and bitework because — he enjoys so much too. Failure is hard — but getting past it is oh so sweet.

    • Allison

      Well said lady- I think that the culture of only displaying ‘the perfect’ makes it difficult for new handlers (like myself) to feel comfortable expressing our struggles and subsequently getting timely help and advice.

    • Sammylee English

      Thankyou so much for sharing that, I needed it.

    • Jodi

      All of this! I do wish trainers were more open about missteps, which, as you say, are really opportunities to expand your knowledge and expertise. Thank you for posting this!!! ????

    • Christina

      Yes, THIS! What you said!

    • Tammy Mowry

      Thank you for this. I am a novice owner. And have a Belgian Groenendael. I has owned one previously with the most precious, loving personality. She passed at 16.5 years. I have a “new” pup with totally new circumstances. The previous Groenendael lived with 2 playmates, a Brittany and a Golden Retriever. They were separated by 3 – 6 months of age difference between them all (I know a little crazy but it worked out very well somehow.) Now, with my Groenendael (Lupae), she being raised by herself. She exhibits very different play behavior traits but is the same otherwise (loyal, loving, follows me everywhere). I believe this is because she does not have a “play sibling” and does not exert her frustation and energy, along with her youth being a factor, even though I spend at least 2.5 – 3 hours a day, constant movement; jumping, running, ball catching along with my husband also runs with her since he marathon trains. Sometimes she gets so “excited” that she grabs onto me with her teeth. She doesn’t hurt me, and we continuously try to correct this but I feel extremely “shameful and guilty” because many people tell me to put her down (which will be when they put me down) or punish her with extreme force. She does not do this with any one else. She has made tremendous strides due to different training techniques I have learned that work with her. Again, I want to stress, she is never aggressively mean, she is in play mode. She has progressed to every “now and again” incidences. I have also hired a trainer that comes to the house to see how I am giving her the signals that say “it is okay to engage in this behavior.” So thank you for the post. I will keep working with her but you have made a very good point that training doesn’t always go so perfect. ANd, I have found, it is when I make mistakes, that I learn the most.

    • Dina Delsman

      Every so often, I post a video of my first competitive agility run with my first dog. It is a comedy of errors & I share it so others who are new to the sport will know that everyone starts somewhere. As I’ve matured in the sport, I’ve actually come to get more joy out of those less than flawless runs – especially the ones where my dog bitches me out for poor handling. When I stopped worrying about being perfect, we started having better runs & more fun.

    • Janice

      You go girl! Keep sharing. It’s appreciated more than you will know.

    • Toni

      People who throw rocks on the internet tend to be the least skilled and able. They seem to thrive off criticizing. Must make them feel good to berate everyone around them.

    • Dawn

      I remember that story. I am so glad you posted it because someone else will surely would make this mistake as well without your cautionary tale.

      My husband gets a little annoyed seeing all the videos of great work and not as many videos of how they got there. There is so much This Is What You Can Achieve and much less, Here’s What We Went Through ( of course you can’t put that into a neat little 30 second video)

    • Christina Brown

      I was sent this article by a friend and it really resonated with me. I volunteer for a german shepherd rescue in Wisconsin and often take in the dogs with lack of socialization, training, manners etc. I always prided myself on being able to reach these dogs through use of routine, structure and lots of love. However, my past couple of fosters have made me question my abilities and feel like others in the rescue question it as well. Throughout it all, I am open and honest about my mistakes and my mantra is “never give up and keep learning”. These dogs never give up on the people that actually take care of them and they deserve the chance to live the life of a loved family member.
      Thanks again for being honest and open about your challenges and reinforcing what I know deep down inside, S*** does happen and what you learn from it is more important than actually making a mistake.

    • Ashley May

      I loved this article! I agree with it 100% and agree with so many of the comments here. I am a search and rescue K9 handler and recently have felt like I cannot do anything right then beat myself up over it later. I try to use the criticism to become a better handler. I just tell myself with every struggle that this will only make me and my dog better in the long run. Still sometimes the criticism and struggle is hard to take day in and day out. This article came at the right time! You are right on!!! Thank you!!!

    • Chris Jafarkhani

      Thank you

      • Chris Jafarkhani

        Hahaha… hit reply to soon! Thank you Meagan for a great post!!!! I actually love reviewing my training tapes and finding errors. I then can learn and train harder for ” MY” ideal handling or behavior. No one is perfect, gosh how boring if they were. Yep, sh** happens, the spice of life. 🙂

    • Nicole

      Thank you so much for being so open and sharing this! It brought tears to my eyes as I read on and it sank in. People can be so horrible and judgmental that you begin to be the same way to yourself. I have been training for 9 years and have always had an open mind to many methods, but with all of the online bullying I have become fearful and even doubtful of my own methods, because, “things don’t go as planned”.

    • Sue Boyle

      Absolutely the best and most true article I have ever read. I needed to see this. Thank you so much!

    • Karen

      Its very useful when trainers show (through video, or if you are lucky enough to see them in person, live) mistakes being made and how they would work through them, or show less than perfect behaviors and how to improve them. Two top trainers I can think of that do this are Susan Garrett and Denise Fenzi. They have been doing this for a long time, and I would recommend their schools to anyone.

    • D Burkitt

      Absolutely agree 100%! Thanks for the read and look forward to some more great ones!

    • Sandy

      Wow, thank you for this. Well said!

    • Elaine

      You mean like the time I corrected my dog for messing around with a turtle shell on a TDX track and then the tracklayer (standing behind me) said, “uh, that’s the article”? Thank you Meagan! Love all your articles! Even though I don’t train much anymore, I always look forward to what you’re doing and sharing 🙂

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