Why Mastery Matters (or Your Dog Knows Too Much!)


The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation want you to know about the following:

I think it’s time we give our dogs a bit more credit. There’s a giant difference between having some information/understanding some concepts, and mastery. We seem to understand this intuitively when it pertains to humans, but somehow think the rules change when we’re dealing with k9’s – oh if only that were true – dog training would be a cinch.


So what exactly am I getting at here? Ok, lets imagine you’ve decided to learn how to rollerblade. You’ve got your blades, and you have your friend who’s pretty good who’s going to help you along. You start off super shaky and super uncoordinated, but after an hour or so, you’ve got a bit of a handle on it. Fast forward to later that week, you’ve been practicing diligently, and (in your mind) you’re really starting to make some magic happen on the blades. But here’s the thing, yes, you are technically rollerblading – you are standing up, you are moving forward, and you only swing your arms around in a life saving gyration to regain balance every 100 yards or so…but just because you are technically rollerblading…yes, you are doing the act…this doesn’t change the fact that to every person who sees you careening down the street, that it’s obvious that you are a beginner, a novice, a newbie.


And just how exactly does this have anything to do with dog training? Well, like I said earlier, I think it’s time we give our dogs more credit. Just like the person witnessing your attempt to master (or just do) rollerblading clearly understands that at this point in time you aren’t very good at what you’re doing (even though you are technically doing it). Our dogs sense the same thing when we are attempting to be pack leaders, when we engage in training, or are working to fix behavior problems…it’s painfully obvious to our dogs that we are a long way from mastery…that we are in fact often flailing about. And here’s the deal, it’s the mastery of all the little things: timing, reading your dog’s body language, using the appropriate intensity for corrections, keeping yourself relaxed and staying absolutely cool under fire, not tensing up on the leash, having multiple strategies for dealing with a situation (and many other components), that create and transmit a sense of certainty and confidence to your dog. That’s all your dog wants to know: are you certain? Can you convince me that you know what you’re doing, so that it makes sense to my DNA to follow you?


The biggest thing that good dog trainers bring to the table is confidence and certainty, born out of experience, and lots and lots of practice. Dogs immediately sense when someone is experienced, confident, certain…masterful…and when they are not…and they respond accordingly, without exception.


So the point of all this is to remember, like any skill in life that is valuable or worthwhile, it usually takes lots and lots of time to move from bungling, to proficient, to good, and if your truly dedicated, finally to masterful. And no one knows better your degree of skill than your dog. So if you’re struggling with basic training, advanced training, mild to severe behavior problems, remember, it’s not your dog that is the problem…and I know this is a tough one to swallow, but it’s you…it’s you and your ability or lack of that determines your dog’s progress. How good your dog becomes is a simple reflection of your abilities as pack leader, authority figure, dog trainer, and behavior modification expert. Your dog will simply be as good as you are…as you get better, your dog will get better.


So instead of getting frustrated with yourself, or your dog, relax, and remember it’s a process, a journey, it’s gonna take time. It’s not about overnight success, it’s about small continuous victories and steps that are headed in the right direction. This is the journey of earning your dog’s respect.  And if you hold mastery as your goal, you should at least hit pretty damn good, and for most dogs that will be more than enough.


  1. gordana bordighi said:

    its good to remember that if we don’t try, we never master anything….and dogs are so forgiving of our failures….as we should be of theirs…arms flailing less & less…..

    • oshandy said:

      Thanks for posting Gordana! I always appreciate your take (and humor!) on things!

  2. elle said:

    I love this post. Every single time my two big dogs get the best of me, it’s because I am in a weird space/my head is focused somewhere else/I’m frustrated, etc…i guess you are saying if I feel it, they feel it!

    • oshandy said:

      Hey Elle, thanks for posting! Ya, your dogs will always know when you’re at your weakest and when you’re at your strongest mentally. You’ll notice that when you’re feeling invincible your dogs will almost always listen/respond better. They are programmed by nature to follow strength and ignore or attack weakness…so that kinda explains the whole enchilada! 🙂

  3. Rich Simmons said:

    Great blog Sean, I totally find the hardest part with my dogs is not getting irritated or upset when things are not working out the way they are supposed to, I think when I hopefully can get a good grasp on that things will take off.

    • oshandy said:

      Hey Rich, thanks for taking the time to read and post! Appreciate it! And trust me, we all struggle with the irritation/frustration aspect of training/living with our dogs…but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that whenever I’ve lost my cool or tried to meet intensity with intensity, that’s when things go south! The most important thing to focus on is always moving in the direction of improvement…even if you falter, lose it, or screw up – learn from it, then let it go, and get back to getting better at it! Remember, dog training, like everything else in life, is far more about the direction you’re headed in, than where you happen to be at the moment. You’re working on multiple dogs in your pack, so you’re dealing with a lot over there! Hang tough and you’ll get there!

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