Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Handler: You are going too fast! Listen to me!


Handler: You don’t even know where we’re going!


(Credit to Things Dog Handlers Say for that one!)

All joking aside, when I was getting serious about dog training, I was the one who was going fast. It was the perfect storm really: I had a dog who LOVED to learn and a burning desire to teach her ALL THE THINGS. She was so fun. I had a choice: go fast or focus on fundamental skills.

Plan A: Going Fast

My goal? I wanted my girl to earn her Champion Trick Dog (TDCH) title with Do More With Your Dog! My friend had earned this title with her border collie, and I was going to do it with my smarty-pants spaniel mix. Without going into too much detail, that meant she had to earn her Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert trick dog titles first. Most of the novice tricks were pretty easy, and we polished those off in no time. Then I learned that you could use advanced and expert level tricks to earn lower level titles and then again for the higher level titles. Excellent! I’m all for speed and efficiency! Remember, I’m going fast.

And we did get through her Expert trick dog title pretty quickly and fairly easily. Then we started on the Champion title. Some things were easy. And we got hung up on some other things. Really hung up. I was so frustrated. What the hell had happened? My girl was still all in, so that means I was the problem, right? Yes. Yes, I was.

So, what had happened? Well, I hadn’t spent enough time on the fundamentals. There were some basic skills that I glossed over in my rush to get to the more sexy stuff. And that had come back to bite me in the ass.

Plan B: Focus on Fundamental Skills

After I stopped kicking myself for being so short-sighted (although that was not the word I used to describe myself in my head), we went back and filled in those gaps. We dug back into those foundation skills: polishing some, retraining others. She did indeed earn her Champion Trick Dog title, and I’m so damn proud of her! Of us really. But it was neither fast nor efficient.

When I got my border collie about a year later, I was determined not to make the same mistakes with him. (I was creative enough to find other ways to make mistakes with him, thankyouverymuch. 😉 ) We focused on the fundamentals. I haven’t even bothered to get any trick dog titles with him. But, damn, I’m proud of the dog he has become! And I’m especially pleased with the path we took to get here.

Bottom line: don’t underestimate the value of seemingly simple and fundamental skills. They are the building blocks for everything else you do. It is more efficient, and ultimately faster, to get those fundamentals nailed down before attempting the fancy stuff.

I have been intentionally vague about what those foundations are. I’m not trying to be secretive. While there are many skills and behaviors that most of us want our dogs to know fluently, there’s no master list. There’s no rule that says “Your dog is trained if and only if they can do X, Y, and Z.” Really. I’ve looked. 😉

Question: For you, your dog, and your life, what do you consider to be foundation skills? What behaviors do you want or need your dog to know well? Leave a comment below. I want to hear from you.

That’ll do for now!