Malinois pulling owner
Perfectly timed photo by Tamandra Michaels at Heart Dog Studios.

So I have this dog…

If you’ve been in any of my courses, inevitably you’ve heard stories of this great, impulsive behemoth of a dog…in fact, I’m certain that by the end of this post, you’ll be able to guess who I’m talking about.

He’s the dog that has more drive than sense, who is completely lacking in the self-control department, and whose brain I can literally see spilling out of his ears if he so much as hears someone mention the word “tug”.

This guy came to me when he was about a year and a half old and, as is typically the case with older dogs, I didn’t know everything there was to know about him until he moved in…

After getting to know him, I learned that not only was he impulsive and very, very driven, but he had developed some bad behaviors that were very deeply ingrained.

First, he liked to chase cars…a dangerous impulse that could have potentially disastrous effects if left unaddressed for long. And at 90lbs, with zero sense of self-preservation, he could easily plow through a privacy fence to catch a car if I wasn’t careful.

Second, he was possessive. Like no joke, completely dismember you type of possessive…but Dr. Jekyll only turned Hyde in certain situations.

For example, he was playful with toys. A bit of a hoarder, but he’d still engage and we worked hard to get him regularly bringing toys back. But add a second toy to the mix and you’d better watch out. He’d pile them both into his massive jaws and if you got within 5 feet of him, he’d lose his mind.

Malinois chews on flattened soccer ball and tug toy.
I got the not-so-great photo! But met Mr. Hyde in the process.

In addition, soccer balls were a big deal for him. I swear, I think soccer balls held the equivalent value of 47 toys all wrapped up in one. I had no clue he had this issue until he dug up a soccer ball in my yard. He was coated in mud, I walked over to take a picture, and Mr. Hyde flew out of my sweet, goofy little Dr. Jekyll letting me know we had some serious work to do.

And I had to watch myself around raw meat – I mean, who could blame him? And I was warned about this one in advance so I wasn’t really surprised when I saw it.

Ok, fast forward a few months.

Since clearly he and I had some issues to work out, I had to prioritize.  

Priority #1 – The car situation. This was by far the most dangerous and it needed to get gone…and fast. Check. 

Priority #2 – The food situation. I could feed him in his kennel until I could address it but I wanted to feel safe in my own home with this behemoth dog so this was another issue that had to hit the road. Another check. (In fact he took it so far as to start sharing his meals with our chickens.) 

And then…

Waaaaaayyyyy down on the list…

Somewhere around Priority #447 was that pesky soccer ball issue.

Let’s face it. I had bigger fish to fry with this dog. Soccer balls were easy to remove from our lives. And as I was working through everything else, soccer balls fell by the wayside. In fact, I completely forgot about them…

Until today…

How this happens to me, I have no idea.

But today, he found a soccer ball. I guess a neighbor who is, oh, I don’t know, 5 acres away kicked a soccer ball into our yard. And I’m not kidding you guys, it was laying right outside the door that we walk out of when I put him in the play yard in the AM.

I literally threw the door open, he tackled the thing and was off, leaving me saying some choice obscenities inside my head and scrambling for a plan.

All I can say is thank goodness for Flexi leads.

Many people hate them and that’s fine by me. But I use them every day and love them (you’ve got to know how to use them right, for them to be safe and effective tools).

Malinois dog stares at camera while sitting with yellow ball between front paws in grass.

You see, he was able to take his soccer ball and get far enough away from me so that I wasn’t a threat to his prize (resource guarding wasn’t triggered at such a distance) but he also couldn’t retreat to some distant corner to hoard and hide. I still had control. Hallelujah.

Also thank goodness he and I had a relationship, and we had logged many hours training.

I’ll spare you the details and just tell you that after some creativity and a little fun, the soccer ball issue is no longer an issue. And no blood was shed in the process of getting there.

I’m sharing this story with you for one very important reason.

It’s not to tell you how I tackled his resource guarding issues. We’ll save those stories for another day.

And it’s not to pat myself on the back for a job well done (although silently I’m singing inside).

And it’s certainly not to encourage you to strap a Flexi lead to your resource guarding dog and go head to head (if you are dealing with any aggressive behavior do not attempt to address it at home – instead PLEASE seek the advice of an IN PERSON professional).

I share it because there was one thing, and one thing alone that helped me overcome this hurdle.

And that one thing was my mindset.

You see, when he got that soccer ball, I had two choices.

First one was to get frustrated. To think “Why does this stuff happen to me?”

To get angry at him and to take this personal. He was hoarding a toy and would have threatened me had I got close without getting strategic. That can feel like a very direct attack. And I, the one who feeds him and gives him the best life ever? How rude.

I could have been upset.

I could have felt defeated.

I could have felt disrespected.

I could have felt challenged.

Dog trainer, Meagan Karnes pets Malinois dog as it sits and stares at her.
Photo by Tamandra Michaels of Heart Dog Studios

Alternatively, I could have been excited about the setback. And I was.

You see, whenever we hit a roadblock in our training, it presents us with a very unique opportunity.

For me, this roadblock was a gift.

It reminded me of a hole in my training.

It provided an opportunity to improve.

It allowed the two of us to get better.

Listen, I get it. It can be frustrating when you hit a set back in your training. And it can feel personal. But I’m here to tell you that the beautiful thing about dogs is that it’s NEVER personal.

They aren’t vying for control.

They have no hidden agendas.

They aren’t out to get you.

In fact, they aren’t capable of conscious disrespect. That’s something you’re projecting. Not something that’s real.

Listen, setbacks happen. But how you react and respond will dictate how far you will go in your training.

You can stay where you are comfortable, avoid pushing the envelope, stick to what works, and keep internalizing your failures. You can get mad instead of getting better.

But you will only go so far with that strategy.

Alternatively, you can embrace your failures. Because they help you improve. Failures are simply an opportunity to grow. To get better. There’s nothing personal about it. Unless you and your mindset make it personal.

Even if you don’t know how to tackle a problem or setback, uncovering it means you get to grow. To learn something new. And you can get help. There is loads of it out there.

When people meet me, they always ask about the tattoo on my neck. A simple number “90” in big black print.

It represents the philosophy of 90/10.

Where only 10% of life is dictated by the things that happen to you, those things that are out of your control.

And 90% of your life is dictated by how you react.

So tell me, in the face of failures, how will you react?

Learn how to conquer your training roadblocks in our upcoming courses. We’re adding new courses regularly so check back often for the latest updates!

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.

    3 replies to "Soccer Balls and Setbacks: Conquering Roadblocks with One Simple Strategy"

    • Linda

      so how did you address the car chasing issue. Asking because I have one also.

    • Dot Mace

      You mentioned once that you don’t like dogs to play with soccer balls. But that Jolly balls are okay. I got a Jolly ball and my dogs loves it. But I don’t see the difference, except the Jolly ball I bought is small enough he can’t pick it up I. His mouth. Can you explain your position?

      • Casey Wood

        I don’t give them Aussie Dog Balls. Soccer balls are okay but Jully balls are better as I find them to be more durable and long lasting and generally safer. But the Aussie Dog Balls I avoid because there is no way for the dog to find satiety and because they can promote obsessive behavior.

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