Never Waste A Failure!

inspirational preparing to show Apr 05, 2021
Competition Obedience dog completes scent article exercise

It’s been ages since most of us have had a chance to compete, and it’s exciting to think about showing again 😍. However, showing is not without its challenges. Some of us are crating outside, only allowed in for a few minutes of warm-up. Things are different, and there are bound to be setbacks and frustrations after so much time off.

It is easy to let the cloud of disappointment overwhelm us when our dog makes a failing error in the ring. A failure may feel like a waste; a waste of time, effort, and money. But it does not have to be. When you enter the ring for the first time after months of inactivity, you can learn more from a single performance than you can in another month of training!

Several years ago, Nick Saban, the revered coach of the University of Alabama football team, was asked how he felt about a loss to the Clemson Tigers. His reply was, “I never want to waste a failure." If we follow Coach Saban’s sage advice, we will glean information from every performance, both the successes and the failures.  

Do Not Disregard a Mistake as a Fluke!

The most common way to waste a failure is to consider a mistake to be a fluke, assume it will not happen again, and fail to address the error.

For example, imagine your dog fails the drop on recall because as you give the signal to drop, dogs start barking, causing your dog to become distracted. You think, that was bad luck. I should just use a verbal command. Stop! Before you change your performance, evaluate your dog’s performance. He got distracted! This time it was dogs barking, but what else could it be? It is always safer to treat the symptom (e.g., your dog was distracted by barking, what else might distract him?) than to blame it on the circumstance (e.g., it was unusual for dogs to bark at the exact moment I was giving my signal).

Every time you go in the ring, make it your primary aim to gather information about the aspects of your performance that did not meet your expectations. The information your five-minute performance provides should direct the focus of your subsequent training sessions. By carefully evaluating your performance, no performance is wasted!

Analyze - Exercise Problem or an Attitude Problem?

Competition reveals when we have an exercise that is simply not ready for competition. Your dog makes an honest error and upon reflection, you realize that he simply does not yet understand how to perform correctly in every situation. For example, your dog is performing the go-outs fast and straight in all the places you train, but he goes to the show and looks lost. It is likely that your dog does not yet have enough experience to perform in a new location.

Sometimes our dogs are distracted or disinterested. A performance may start well but deteriorate as it progresses. For example, in Open A, the Broad Jump is last. Upon evaluation you realize that your dog was slow on the Retrieve on the Flat, almost missed the jump on the return over the jump, and then walked the Broad Jump. This may be indicative of a dog that has become disinterested and distracted culminating in a failure of the last exercise. In this case, the challenge is to improve the dog’s attitude as opposed to working harder on the failed exercise.

Learn to Recover!

Whenever your dog fails, tell yourself, "That is the only mistake we will make today!" and then continue your performance with that determination.

If you allow the disappointment to overwhelm you, one mistake can become many mistakes. You will not only be disappointed that you failed an exercise, but you will also end up disappointed in the entire performance. My father, and tennis coach, used to tell me to “shake it off” when I missed a shot. That exactly what we should do when our dog makes a mistake in the ring – shake it off!

You can’t take the moment back, but you can salvage the rest of the performance. Be determined to do everything possible to continue with a flawless performance.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down!

The easiest exercise to fail is the one immediately following the exercise you thought you were going to fail!

Sometimes, we breathe a sigh of relief or take a moment to celebrate after our dog successfully performs his weakest exercise, and unbelievably, we fail the next exercise.

This is not unique to competition obedience. It is true in every sport. The professional golfer misses the easy putt after an amazing shot onto the green. The tennis player wins the game when his opponent is serving, and then lets his opponent win the next game when the serving advantage is his. Don’t let your guard down. Own the mantra, “One exercise at a time.”


There are only two things that happen when we compete: we succeed or we fail, and we can learn from either. However, I think we can all benefit from Coach Saban’s sage advice to “never waste a failure.”

~ Connie


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