Training my dog is so hard

13 Jan 2022, 7:08 a.m. by Tracey McLennan

Today I want to tell you a little bit of a story about why it might feel hard to train your dog. I know that when I got my first dog, I thought that training him would be easy. Then I started trying and suddenly it wasn’t all that easy. To make things worse for me, when I took him to training class, the trainer there could teach him things easily. I remember watching her teach him to skateboard one night in class and he picked it up really easily.

I couldn’t do what she could do. I felt disheartened by my lack of success and like a bit of a failure. I told myself – yet again – that I am bad at doing things and that I struggle to learn new physical skills. One of my core beliefs about myself for most of my life was that I am bad at learning new skills and generally bad at doing any physical. For some reason, I hadn’t thought that training a companion dog would need any real skill – until I had a dog and realised how wrong I was. I would watch the trainer and I would tell myself “I will never be able to do that”.

I’ll be honest that I still struggle at times with training that looks like what I saw when the trainer taught Calgacus to skateboard. Last year I did a test for my MSc that required me to use those exact skills to teach my young cocker spaniel to get onto a platform, turn around and sit. I had to teach the whole thing from start to finish in one session and video me doing it. To make it scarier for me, I couldn’t practice it because it was important for the test that she didn’t already know how to do the trick. I was being marked not on her performance but on my ability to teach her. It’s been nearly 20 years since I was in those classes with my first dog, but those old feelings of failure were still there, and I was terrified of the test. I had lots of talks with myself in the run up to that test to remind myself of all the skills I do have. Eventually, I took my video and I handed it in. I was sure I was going to fail but I handed it in anyway – and I got 90%.

If you are like I was and find training your dog difficult, there is something that really helped me to improve my skills and help me to keep on working on training even when I felt like it wasn’t going so well. What I did was lots of trick training. It was just for fun so it didn’t have the same pressure on it as training I might do for prey drive would have. I was way less attached to the outcome of teaching my dogs tricks than I was to the outcome of teaching them to recall or be able to follow scent trails without getting lost. I would work a bit on tricks every day just for a few minutes. If I got stuck, I would get help and then move on. As I worked on those tricks, my skills grew and having more skills meant that any training I did to help with prey drive got better too. Really that’s my top tip – teach your dog things that don’t matter so much to you. Practice the skills for a few minutes a day. Get help when you need it. It will all help as you deal with the enormous challenge of your dog’s prey drive.


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Hi - I'm Tracey

I am the author of Canine aggression: Rehabilitating an aggressive dog with kindess and compassion and founder of Best Dog Learning and Stuff Ltd. I specialise in helping people with dogs who have a high prey drive. I have an honours degree in Canine behaviour and training, am a Tellington TTouch practitioner, and an ACE Advanced Tutor. I am currently studying for an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Training.

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