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Trust Your Dog

“Trust Your Dog”. Three simple words. They were on a t-shirt worn by a woman at a barn hunt trial in Harrisonburg over the Memorial Day weekend. (More on the trial later in this blog.)

I commented to the wearer of the shirt that I share those words with my dog training clients.. It’s easy to be unsure when you’re learning something, let alone learning something while also teaching it to your dog. And if that dog is reactive or pulls on leash, it can be daunting to believe things will ever change.

Consider service dogs and they work they do. The human part of the partnership must trust that their dog will alert them when their blood pressure drops or will go for help when the human needs it. That’s a lot of trust to put on a living being that can’t speak our language.

When I take a dog training client to Lowe’s or Home Depot or another dog friendly store, almost every one of them is amazed that their dog behaved as well as they did. They believe the worst will happen, and I get it. I am a person who believes the glass is always half empty, rather than half full.

Dog trainer Susan Garrett says dogs do what they do with the information they have in the environment we put them in. Which is why we might teach “sit” in the living room, for instance; then move it to the kitchen, then to the deck, then in the yard, etc.

But by believing in yourself and trusting your dog will do the right thing when given the opportunity, it’s an amazing transformation for me to witness with my clients. Sometimes change doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s OK because we go at the speed of the dog.

To see a client with a dog that no longer pulls them down the street or no longer reacts to every dog and person who comes into view gives me great joy. And how do you get there?

By applying the techniques we work on during one-on-one lessons in your home and then by TRUSTING YOUR DOG. Train in different scenarios and then when one presents itself, trust that your dog will make the right choice and your dog might just pleasantly surprise you.

If you don’t trust the process OR trust your dog, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Yes, the dog might make a mistake. Yes, you might make a mistake. But that’s part of learning and growing as a team.

Now, back to the barn hunt trial.

Barn hunt is a sport where live rats are placed in tubes and the tubes are hidden in bales of hay. Also hidden among the bales are at least one empty tube and one or more tubes containing litter that the rats have used.

The dog and their handler walk into the area and in a pre-determined amount of time must find all the rats. Sometimes they also have to go through a tunnel and climb onto a bale of hay. In some divisions, the handler doesn’t know how many rats are hidden throughout the course. So they have to trust their dog to tell them when the course is clear.

I’m fairly new to barn hunt trials. Hokie and I started in February. We did another trial in March and then the one Memorial Day weekend. Usually I’m nervous, trying to think about where a rat could be hidden and I completely forget about my partner, whose nose is working overtime as she’s running around the course, jumping on bales of hay, and telling me when she finds a rat. I have to trust my dog that she’ll find the tube containing a live rat (and not an empty tube or one filled with litter that the rats have used) and also tell me when she’s found it.

In the past, I thought I was trusting her but she found the tube containing the rat only about 50 percent of the time. Once, she altered on a piece of wood! But as we have become more confident and continue working together, we’ve built a bond where we trust each other. If she passes a tube and walks past it, I might ask that she check it again. If she walks past it a second time, I have to trust the fact that it might be a tube but it doesn’t have a rat in it.

This time, Hokie was on fire. I was less nervous and it was at a familiar location and fellow competitors. She and I knew what to expect. In the other competitions, Hokie would qualify in one trial each day and not qualify in the other. So I expected the same could happen this time around and didn’t want to put any unrealistic expectations on her.

However, she qualified by finding two rats in 2 separate trials Saturday and 1 trial Sunday, which meant she earned another title and was eligible to move up to the next division. . .which had 4 rats hidden among the bales instead of 2.

Those in charge of the competition felt she would do great at the higher level. Hokie had never found 4 rats before-even in practice. So I thought we would just have fun and see what would happen for our final trial of the day. I trusted when Hokie told me she found a tube; and that it, in fact, contained a live rat. She found all 4 rats, went through the tunnel and jumped on a bale of hay. In fact, she was so fast, she won first place and had the fastest time of all the dogs in that trial!

Your dog might not be a competitor but trust the knowledge you have and the bond you’ve worked hard to forge with your dog. You’ve put in the work. Now trust that you can go to a pet friendly store and your dog will be a rockstar, greeting people nicely and enjoying all the attention. Or trust that your dog won’t have a meltdown when they see another dog on a walk.

And if you need help gaining the trust of your dog or working together to build that bond, contact us at (540) 353-2485 or We can help!


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