Flinch-free Training

At a recent obedience show I observed multiple instances of dogs flinching in response to what looked like a random movement from the handlers.

A few days later someone sent me a link to a training video that included some great ideas about teaching a fast and clean retrieve but again, I noted multiple instances in the video where the dog flinched in response to what appeared to be incidental motions/movements of the handler.

Dianne Jones photo of Sparkle demonstrating a flinch-free retrieve.

Dianne Jones photo of Sparkle demonstrating a flinch-free retrieve.

Unless the dog has some sort of Flinch-disorder (I made that up, FYI), I suspect the dogs were flinching because they anticipated something unpleasant/painful/scary happening to them.

I have a lot of thoughts about why people train with force/pain/unpleasantness – call it what you want. Sadly, I think some people are just mean. Others are ingrained in training habits that are hurtful to dogs and are not interested in changing. But so many simply do not understand that training a dog does not require unpleasantness.

I want you to know this: It is entirely possible to train a dog to perform well without resorting to things that the dog would prefer to avoid.

 Pinch collars. Shock collars. Hitting. Choking. Dragging. Fear.

 All unnecessary. Seriously.

 And never be fooled into thinking something is okay because a dog is forgiving and gracious.

The ease at which another forgives us is not an effective judgment about the moral correctness of our actions; the ability to forgive and move on, after all, tells us only about the character of the wounded one.

Rather, training behaviors and actions stand alone for assessment, justified neither by the end result nor the ability of another to forgive us.

Training a dog is an invitation to see who and what we are when nobody is watching. How we interact with a dependent, devoted, and vulnerable being who cannot tell on us whispers about the condition of our soul.

Except dogs actually do tell: they speak volumes when they flinch.


  1. Be nice to your dog.

  2. Only work with trainers who will help you with #1.

  3. Training a dog is a window to your soul. Keep it clean.