Dancing Hearts Blog

Rehabbing An ‘Untrainable’ Rescue Dog

How can you train an “untrainable” dog?

Do such dogs even exist?

Many clients have come to me over the years with claims that their dogs are out of control and untrainable. Usually, they’re at the end of their tether both emotionally and physically.

Dogs described as “untrainable” are not “bad dogs.” They may be stubborn, frustrated, or even fearful, but they’re certainly not “bad.” I’d go as far as claiming that no dog is a lost cause.

Out of control? Maybe. Untrainable? Definitely not!

Unfortunately, a lot of so-called “untrainable” dogs end up in shelters eagerly waiting for someone to take a chance on them. One such hopeful pup was my sweet border collie named Maya.

Maya was deemed by many as “untrainable.” By the time she turned six months old, she had three different homes and I was her fourth. Each owner said the same thing as the last. Maya was out of control. She was impossible to train.

I took what they said with a grain of salt. After all, how “bad” could this dog be?

I got to work rehabbing Maya. It wasn’t an overnight success by any means, but we did see an incredible transformation in her using the same key partnership principles I teach in my Brilliant Partners Academy.


Rehabbing Maya using my partnership principles

Maya was a young puppy when we first met. She was six months old, bright-eyed, and eager to explore the world. Maya was deemed uncontrollable because nothing and no one could stop her from chasing farm animals, wild animals, fleeting birds, and grasshoppers, etc.

No fence or gate could contain her. She was the world’s best escape artist, and she knew it. She was very clever but some of her less than perfect habits were becoming a serious problem. Chasing animals was one of her biggest issues and potentially dangerous for both her and the animals she chased.

I started to incorporate some of the partnership principles during my training with Maya. The first was to build our foundation. Establishing trust and confidence was at the top of my priority list. Before I could teach her to listen to commands, I had to develop a trusting relationship with her first.

Maya had been with three families before she came to me. Those families had seriously misunderstood her and so, she never had a chance to develop trust with a human. So, we started from scratch and put the safe, calm, and happy principle into action.

I kept Maya away from our cattle during the beginning stages of building a foundation of trust with her. I didn’t want to put her in a position where she would “fail.” We began role-modelling everyday life as a family. Classical conditioning was a huge part of it.

It was also important that Maya felt heard and listened to so that she would feel like she belonged with us. She was a member of the family now, and we wanted to make sure she knew it.

We ditched the timelines and any high expectations that may have been swimming around in my head at the time. We met her where she was and didn’t ask too much of her. There was no pressure. We took it one day at a time and I managed her using our Clarity Chart.

“It’s important for us to first have a foundation that is built on trust, confidence and communication, so that we know how to dialog.”

Before I made any decisions, I’d ask myself these questions:

Does this build trust?

Does this build competence?

Is it a step towards our desired outcome or goal?

If it wasn’t, that decision or choice was scrapped.


Rehabbing An 'Untrainable' Rescue Dog


Focusing on our partnership

As part of a partnership lifestyle, we need to work on the dance steps with our dogs. Maya became very familiar with these dance steps, including the dance invitation.

This was a crucial step for Maya to grasp because she was not interested in listening to me a lot in the beginning. I took her out for a morning walk with my other dogs and it took me 20 minutes to get her leash on. 20 minutes!

She was so distracted by everything the other dogs were doing that it took forever to get her to come close enough to get the leash on. Whenever a dog so much as perked their ears up, Maya would shoot off like a rocket.

I spent six months building a foundation with Maya and focusing on our partnership. Since she had a rough start at life, I paid close attention to meeting her need to belong.

When she was a young puppy, her unwanted behavior warranted punishments from her owners at the time. These unfair punishments led Maya to be very hand shy and sensitive. So, whenever I picked up my purse or I carried something in my hand, Maya would cower and pee. This happened despite the fact that Maya was house trained, which was very sad and so I wanted to teach her that she had nothing to be afraid of.

I wanted her to know that she was never going to be struck again. EVER.

I heard her in the sense I knew she was uneasy when humans carried something in their hand. It took time but as the weeks and months went by, she slowly got better. She trusted me more and her confidence soared.

“I was very mindful to let her know that she was never going to be struck or punished again.”


The 95% rule

I teach members of my Brilliant Partners Academy something called the 95% rule. This means that you don’t ask your dog to do something that you’re not 95% or more certain they can do successfully.

I applied this rule to Maya during my training time with her and it’s a great way to help ensure your dog succeeds in their training.

I also role modeled for her a lot, especially with how we live as a family group. The first dance step I taught her was the invitation. To do this, I would invite my other dogs to join me and they would respond to the invitation by moving towards me.

Maya watched this series of steps carefully. Within a week, she started to respond to my invitation even though it was directed to another dog. It worked well in the house with limited distractions and after a lot of practice, it began working in highly distracting environments such as sheep herding.


An incredible transformation

In a few months, Maya would come when I called her and respond to my invite instantly. She would even stop working other dogs and come right back to me, which was quite the transformation considering she was once labelled as an untrainable dog.

As she gained more experience, it wasn’t long before we were competing in nursery and pro-novice competitions. She placed very well and was even a finalist in some of the double lift trials at just four years old.

Oh, and she was in the top 40 in the North American standings. It was an incredible transformation and Maya became the most amazing partner.

Maya is a perfect example of an “untrainable” dog who just craved a loving leader and someone who would make time for her, understand her, meet her needs, and be the partner in life she craved.

I hope this story of Maya inspires you to never give up on your dog, even if your dog is difficult, out of control, and “untrainable.”


You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 92, which you can listen to here.

If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrolment!

Watch a short video trailer of the episode below:


2 Responses

  1. My dog escapes continually to chase hares. He never comes back and can be gone overnight. Someone always finds him somewhere and calls me. We’ve resorted to having to tie him up when he’s in the garden on a long leash.

    Is there any training way around this?

    Many thanks,
    Avril Charleton

    1. Hi Avril,
      You will definitely need to manage your dog on the long line until the time when you have a solid foundation. I suggest listening to my podcast and get started with a trusting partnership right away!

      Here’s a few podcasts that will get you started:





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *