Herding | Dancing Hearts Cognitive Dog Training

Archive for category: Herding

How to Start Herding the Right Way

August 16, 2017

Kathy Kawalec and her border collie LucTo: Fellow Herding Dog Enthusiasts

From: Kathy “learned the hard way” Kawalec

If you have a herding breed dog, you have likely thought about how cool it would be to enjoy a trip out to the farm and give herding a try!

Maybe you have a herding dog who really needs a job and misbehaves without a proper outlet.

Or you’ve been dreaming of starting herding with your dog…the right way.
I had dreams of what it would be like when I started herding with my young border collie, so many years ago.

I imagined beautiful sunny days in green pastures … me and my dog, happily working contented sheep…gracefully collaborating as good partners do…learning and having fun together.

I thought I had a good relationship with my dog, and she already had basic training…we were good to go, I believed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I discovered is that learning Herding is hard…and unless we are prepared in advance: it will bring up ALL the holes in our relationship, our foundation training and in our working partnership.

My own start was rocky, that’s for sure.

My first herding trainer used those common and outdated ‘yell, chase in circles, wield your stick, harsh pressure’ methods to train herding dogs.

Even though I was positive and refused the ‘instructions’ to physically correct my dog, I didn’t realize just how damaging those tactics really were. My poor dog!

And, it breaks my heart that this is STILL common, 20+ years later. These poor dogs!

Well…there is a better way!!

After going from a struggling beginner to 9x national sheepdog finals qualifier (and more) with 5 different dogs, and supporting 100’s of coaching clients and many herding breeds to achieve herding success…

my dream is to share what I’ve learned with everyone who loves herding and herding dogs…

…and wants to have success WITHOUT sacrificing their trusting relationship with their dog.

That’s YOU, right?


Why You Should Do Herding with Your Dog and
How to Start Herding the Right Way

3 Skills you and your herding dog need …
for herding AND for everything you do together:

Skill #1: Herding Dogs Need to Know How to be Mindful.
They need to be attentive and responsive to us. And keen and mindful in their work. This means they are thinking, and they are learning, and they are applying what they learn into the context of the moment.

Skill #2: Herding Dogs Need to Know How to follow your Positive Leadership.
Communication, trust, understanding, role modeling are crucial skills that you and your dog will develop together.

When we know how to effectively communicate with our dogs by understanding their nature and their emotions, and by creating and maintaining a dialog loop, our dogs naturally choose to follow our leadership because they trust us.

Skill #3: Herding Dogs Need to Know How to be Responsible.
Partnership doesn’t happen because your dog is obedient. Partnership happens because your dog understands their responsibility and looks to you for positive leadership.

There’s a formula for that!


Kathy Kawalec and her border collie Sue at a sheepdog competition

Kathy Kawalec and her border collie Sue at a sheepdog competition

Just Imagine…

…your dog: always eager to learn, train and compete with you…happy to be your partner. Stress and tension that causes your dog to misbehave fades away as you become fluent in communicating with your dog in a way that he/she really understands.

…how great it will be when you and your dog are working together, as herding partners. No challenge is too difficult when the two of you solve problems TOGETHER.

…that amazing feeling that happens as you finish a great run. The partnership…the focus…the good handling…the great work your dog did handling those tough sheep. It was an awe-inspiring experience that you FELT and others noticed.


Herding magic happens because of a partnership that is built on trust. A deep trust that comes from learning how to be a good partner…from working TOGETHER with your dog as you learn, as true partners do.


Herding as a life skill.

Herding shows us ALL of our relationship/partnership foundation ‘holes’ in full HD detail. AND it provides a perfect venue to work on our partnership…to bring us to that place of brilliance that we envisioned when we brought home our herding dog.

Herding dogs are so smart, so sensitive and so attuned to their environment and to us … any mistakes we make in raising and training them can’t be disguised … and our herding dogs, with all their sensitivity, can either make us look brilliant or make us look embarrassingly inept. Don’t I know it!

The path that herding dogs take us on requires commitment, consistency and it requires passion. Most importantly, it requires skill.

Many people acknowledge that herding is, by far, the hardest thing they have ever done with their dog. Maybe the hardest thing ever. Period.

Those of us who jump in, get hooked on this life-changing experience we call herding.


To truly enjoy herding as it’s meant to be:

  • You need to develop YOUR skills as your dogs trainer, handler and partner.
  • You need to develop herding-specific skills in you and your dog.
  • You need to have a solid herding foundation that you can build upon as you and your dog progress. Without this foundation, your path will be blocked with frustrations and challenges that stand in the way of your brilliant success.


5 Great Reasons to do Herding with Your Herding Dog:

  1. Dogs that are bred for herding may realize their reason for being.
  2. Enjoy fresh air and open spaces.
  3. A new kind of partnership will blossom between the you and your dog.
  4. Give your dog a real job!
  5. Herding trials are everywhere and fun!

Sue in shedding ring at WWSDA Labor Day trial


Why do herding Kathy’s way?

Most beginners are thrown into a pen with their untrained dog, some sheep, and a tool they are told to use to keep their dog away from the sheep. Chaos ensues, as the uninitiated dog and person frantically try to figure out how to do what the instructor is yelling at them to do as everyone runs around the pen.

It’s crazy. We don’t learn, nor do we teach anything else to our dogs in this manner.

5 Great Reasons to do Herding, Kathy’s Herding Partners way:

  1. Fosters respect for all: sheep, dogs, people.
  2. Accelerates learning for dogs and people.
  3. Establishes a calm, mindful practice of sheep handling.
  4. Allows keenness to emerge in a supportive setting.
  5. Keeps everybody safe.
  6. A bonus reason: it’s way more fun! 🙂


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Herding Dog, No Sheep? 3 Simple Skills You Can Practice At Home

September 22, 2015

part 3 Herding Dog, No Sheep sm

3 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN PRACTICE AT HOME to accelerate your herding progress.

This is Part 3 of a series…see part 1 and part 2 for some fun games to keep your dog mentally and physically satisfied…and work on important skills!

It can be a challenge to make progress when you can only practice herding once a week or twice a month! But there are LOTS of things that you can do at home that will speed things up, create a partnership with your dog, and build crucial skills that are transferable to herding.

Here are 3 practical herding specific things you can do:

1. Visualize and Actualize: Practice Your Footwork.

One of the best ways to shorten the learning curve when you are learning a new skill is to practice the footwork without your dog.

When you visualize the finished skill, and you physically rehearse the moves you are creating neural pathways and muscle memory that will make a huge difference when you do it ‘for real’.

You’ll want to have a very clear mental image (like a video clip) that you can play in your mind of the desired end result. Your mental movie should include you, your dog and the sheep.

For reference, you can ask your herding coach or a friend who has already mastered the skill to demonstrate for you and video the demo with your phone…or maybe just seeing it will be enough.

You can apply this concept with any lesson you and your dog are currently working on when you do get sheep time.

Let’s say you’re a beginner, and you’re learning how to wear and make turns, while supporting your dog’s flanks and stops at balance…perfect skills to rehearse at home!

I did that for hours and hours when I was a beginner. In fact, I got so good, and my dog and I advanced so quickly, even though we could only practice on sheep twice per month …  that the other students where I was training asked ME to teach them the footwork, since the instructor had no clue.

Or, maybe you’re more advanced, and you are learning how to shed with your dog.

There are a lot of details and nuance to this skill…more than meets the initiated eye! In addition to all the steps it takes to train you and your dog…there are the little details about how you move, stand, your posture, your focus … that you can rehearse at home.

Think of these questions to set up your practice for success:

  • What are the actual moves that you will be making…what are your feet doing? Your arms?
  • Your posture? Your eyes? Your position relative to the sheep, and to the dog? How are you using your presence? I teach something I call “The 3P’s” … a crucial part of understanding your influence on your dog.
  • How is your dog responding? How can you adjust and modulate your moves to be more clear? I call this the “Dialog Loop” and teach my students and clients how to be so present that they can actually tap into the brilliance of their dogs and progress through the steps so much more quickly.

If you’re not sure about the steps and all the details, get your coach to break each move down for you…so that you not only understand the “why” but so that you are rehearsing accurately.

I see so many people rehearsing skills incorrectly…which, as you can imagine, really delays progress because you are embedding the wrong thing!

Footwork rehearsal and mental movie visualization is something that I incorporate into each lesson with my herding students and it’s amazing how much quicker they learn and how much better their dogs respond. Try it!

2. Learn a New Language. 

Spanish or Chinese anyone?  Ok, more seriously, if you and your dog can learn the basics of a new language at home without the distraction of sheep, your progress will increase at 10x the speed! No kidding.

When you start learning herding with your dog, that’s just what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ … a new language for communicating in the context of sheep herding is developing. If you approach this process deliberately, and with mindfulness, you’ll be minimizing the miscommunication that is so common.

FF Dance Invite smSo that you can be most helpful supporting your dogs flanks, stops and steady … you both need to learn how to speak in “Dance”. That’s what I call the language of personal space, also referred to as the flight zone.

I call it “The Dance” because it allows you to communicate crucial moves that will support your dog’s desire to control the sheep…and it’s like a ballroom dance, moving and responding to one another in an attentive and responsive way.

The basic moves are: move in, hold/pause, and move out. Basically, you are sensitizing your dog to be attentive to personal space. Not only is that useful between you and your dog…but it’s crucial between your dog and the sheep, right?

It’s great fun to stay present, using your 3P’s to communicate with your dog and create a dance. First practice with your dog very close to you … then from farther and farther apart.


Now the next thing you can do is use use your Dance and Your 3P’s to rehearse connection, focus and importantly: impulse control.

Gates and Doorways are great places to practice these skills. The idea is that you will NOT (or try not to at first) put your dog in a sit/stay before you release through the gateway or doorway … instead you will teach your dog to be attentive and responsive to your communication.

You’ll want to be very clear, supportive and in a teaching frame of mind as you and your dog learn to interact in this new way.

Herding1-staywebYour dog is a master at reading details, that ‘s why herding dogs are so great at ‘reading sheep’ even at many hundreds of yards away.

So, use that amazing ability of your dog by learning what each tiny move you make means to your dog, and to modulate/adjust your 3P’s to get the desired result:

Your dog eagerly waiting for your invitation to come through the gate or door with you…without being ‘on command/cue’. It’s a beautiful thing!

Not only does this practice enhance the communication between you and your dog .. but your skill at staying present, and staying in the dialog loop will quickly expand into mastery!

And that, of course, will help you to read the sheep better, read the situation better, and to have a language with your dog that you are both familiar with when the distractions get high: sheep!



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Herding Case Study: From Frustration to Partnership from a Simple Perspective Shift

March 26, 2015

Stockdog Journal

As originally published in the Stockdog Journal

Herding Case Study

How to have a good working partnership with your stockdog.

When your herding dog doesn’t listen, it’s a call for help, not a reason for a correction. That’s when a partnership based on trust and clear dialog changes everything.

Remember the last time your dog ‘got distracted’, ‘blew you off’, or just  ‘didn’t listen’?

  • Was that last week when your dog wouldn’t stop and you nearly got run over at the gate?
  • Remember that last training session when your young dog was racing around the sheep in ever tightening circles as you tried desperately to make him get further off?
  • Aren’t you still smarting with embarrassment from that trial where your dog chased sheep down the field?

These training challenges and others just like them are the source of frustration for so many of us. We think we’re doing a good job training and handling our dogs, and yet we are still experiencing these problems. Maybe just once in a while, or maybe a lot.

So we train harder, train more often. Still, the same problems crop up and we get frustrated as we try different things that just don’t work or don’t stick.

When we can’t ‘train away’ the problem, we might ultimately conclude that our dog ‘has her own agenda’.

And, I completely agree with you. But not for the reason you think. After 35+ years of training and showing horses and dogs, I’ve discovered that our dogs DO have their own agenda, and here it is:

Dogs THRIVE when they are a contributing member of well functioning partnership.

Dogs are social beings, like humans. We have a lot in common, and that’s one of the main reasons we get along so well. Dogs LOVE to please us, in the same way we love to please people (and animals) that we care about. Like us, dogs SEEK harmony, companionship, and a way to contribute to the overall well-being of their family group. THAT’S their agenda.

The reason that you are having these training, working and competition issues is that your dog does not understand what you want, in the context of collaborating with you to get the job done. They are confused or conflicted. Or both.

Here’s how I think about this in terms of a working partnership with dogs:

Every time your dog ‘makes a mistake’ or ‘blows you off’ or ‘gets distracted’ or ‘doesn’t listen’: It’s FEEDBACK. Plain and simple.

Your dog is communicating to you. She’s saying: “I don’t get it.” Or: “This is really hard, maybe too hard.”

Maybe he’s saying: “Could you please be more clear?” Or: “I could really use some help with this!” Or: “Are you SURE that’s what you want, because that feels wrong to me.”

Your dog is NOT saying: “Screw you. Get out of my way so I can do what I want.” If you have thought this about your dog…stop reading for a few moments, open your mind, and re-imagine the scenario from this new perspective.

OK. See what I mean?

Kathy Kawalec and her border collie Sue at a sheepdog competition

Here’s a perfect Case Study of a confused dog and a frustrated handler.

Recently, a woman and her young border collie were here at the farm for a herding lesson. They are novices, and are making great progress in their herding skills and teamwork. The lesson of the day was to expand their stock skills through learning how to handle three very flighty cheviots by staying calm, focused and carefully reading the sheep as collaborative partners.

The sheep were calmly grazing at the far end of the small field, and the assigned task was to have the dog gather them and to settle the sheep with handler.

The first couple of attempts didn’t go so well because the dog was tense, fast and tight, causing the sheep to run which caused the handler to yell at her dog to get out…which in turn caused the dog to stay tense and tight.

All my student wanted was for her dog to gather the sheep, bring them to her and settle the sheep there in front of her…but instead the sheep just ran from place to place in the field. When the dog did get the sheep near the handler she was harsh and abrupt with trying to get her dog to lie down, which caused the sheep to flee instantly.

Even though we thoroughly discussed in advance what might happen and how she should respond in a helpful way, the handler allowed herself to become quickly frustrated and after those first failed attempts, she threw up her hands, saying angrily that her dog “wasn’t listening and he wasn’t even trying to do it right”.

She then loudly declared to me in frustrated exasperation: “He’s running past balance, over-flanking and he won’t lie down when I tell him.” Whew.

My intention is to teach my students the process for understanding, problem solving and making valid choices…to help them to become great dog trainers and stock handlers...not only to listen to my advice, but to be effective even when I’m not there with them.

So, we stopped the action and discussed the situation.

Here is what we discovered:

  • The handler was not closely watching her sheep, she was much more focused on her dog, so she was missing vital details about the sheep.
  • She was not doing her part to quietly contain the sheep in front of her when her dog did bring them to her. Instead she was rough in her movements causing the sheep to flee.
  • The dog wouldn’t lie down where she wanted, because she was asking him at the worst possible time in the worst possible place.
  • That caused her dog to become very tense because he couldn’t do his job properly (gather sheep to his person). The more confused and tense he became, the worse things got.

The solution:

  • The handler needed to take a deep breath and relax.
  • Then, assess the big picture. The set up was too hard for her dog. How could this be made easier, ensuring success?
  • We repositioned the dog at the start to promote a proper flank shape, and the handler moved into a more helpful position, part way between the dog and the sheep.
  • We made sure that we sent the dog to gather the sheep in the direction most likely to be successful, so he could more easily cover the sheep, which would help him to relax and do his best outrun.
  • The handler was to contain the sheep without pushing them away with rough movements as they approached her. In other words, she should model the exact behavior she wanted her dog to mirror. Calm, mindful, attentive and responsive stock handling.
  • And she was to carefully watch the sheep…and her dog for the indicators of balance…not asking her dog to lie down until he was at balance. (fyi: balance means the exact place that controls the sheep in the desired position)

The result:

Perfection! The dog calmly brought the sheep to his favorite woman. She calmly communicated with the sheep, containing them in front of her. The dog lied himself down at balance, she didn’t even have to ask him. It was a beautiful and perfectly executed gather. They then repeated that in several places around the field, and it was perfect every time.


This dog was begging for help from his handler. All he had on his agenda was to bring her the sheep like he knows to do. He needed help, not a correction. He needed information, not an accusation.

Is your dog begging for help?

Think of the last time your dog ‘made a mistake’ or ‘blew you off’ or ‘got distracted’ or ‘didn’t listen’. Then follow the steps in my Formula for Herding Training Success before you step through that gate with your dog again. This formula applies to any type of dog, any type of stock, any level of expertise.


Kathy’s Formula for Herding Training Success

  1.  Assess the big picture — what exactly is the lesson, task, goal of this work session/trial run/training session?
  2. What feedback is your dog giving you, precisely? You’re looking for your dog’s perspective here…so that you can be the leading partner your dog truly needs.
  3. How can you set up the work easier or more clearly, ensuring success for you, your dog, your stock? How can you break this down into ‘baby steps’ for maximum clarity?
  4. What information does your dog need from you, moment by moment during the work, in order to be successful?
  5. Get More Clarity. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the interaction with our dog when we are in the middle of the action. You might need another set of eyes to help. A video camera is perfect! You can review later, and so can your coach. Make a new plan.
  6. Then go ahead and try again. Make adjustments as needed…you may need to go through the steps several times until you become fluent in the process.

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Games to Play with Herding Dogs Pt 2

September 18, 2014

Games to play with bored herding dogs

More Games to Play with Herding Dogs When You Don’t Have Sheep in Your Backyard

Remember: Herding dogs not only require serious physical activity every single day, but they need serious mental activity too. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.

Most of us don’t have sheep in their backyard…so what is the next best thing?

Play interesting games that provide physical AND mental exercise! This is part 2, so if you missed the first part, click here to read it.

Here’s my list again of the important elements you need to include in all of your games so that you ARE providing mental exercise:

Games that include these important life skills are perfect for exercising herding dogs AND they utilize their natural herding instincts and qualities:

  • Taking Turns (Learning Patience)
  • Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control)
  • Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You)
  • Search/Find (Learning Dedication to Complete a Task)
  • Retrieve (Learning to Bring YOU Valuable Things)

You can be creative with inventing games that include these skills … one of my favorites is Find It…and my next fav is Hide ‘n Seek. Below are the simplified version of the games so you can get started right away:

Game #1: “Find it”

My first dog as an adult, out on my own was a standard poodle name Max. Max loved this game. I can’t remember the exact number anymore, but I believe Max knew the names of 50 different toys/objects that he would go search for and bring to me upon request.

He was so good, that he could identify different colors of the identical object…like the yellow tball or the blue tball. And he could pick out different objects of the same color, like the blue tball and the blue rope.

This is a game that is fun, mentally stimulating and relatively quiet, so you can easily play this inside on a rainy day.

Step 1. Start with one of your dogs toys, and give it a name as you are playing. Let’s say it’s a red ball. After a few repetitions, your dog will associate that name with that particular object.

Step 2. Next, take the red ball, and put it behind your back or somewhere easy that your dog clearly knows where it is…you dog SAW you hiding it. Ask your dog in a playful way..”where’s your red ball?” “find your red ball”…encouraging your dog to ‘find’ the red ball, either by touching it, and/or taking it, then giving it back to you. Celebrate success!

Step 3. Then, fake a throw of the red ball, and when your dog is looking away, quickly put the ball behind your back again. Repeat the playful encouragement to ‘find the red ball’. Have a party when your dog finds it!! Let your dog use its nose and its mind to figure out where the ball is. You can give hints, if your dog seems confused at first…like flash the red ball out and back again. Or, look directly at where the ball is hiding.

Step 4. Now, you’ll hide the red ball in a more challenging location, like under the couch, or behind a pillow. Repeat. Then, you’ll hide it a little further away. Repeat this until you can hide the red ball just about anywhere, and your dog will find it…you can move around, pretending to look for the red ball with your dog until the game is really understood.

Step 5. Then, start the entire process over again with a different toy. And then another. At some point, you will be able to have two or three toys together, and ask your dog to find a particular one, celebrating when your dog picks out the correct one.

Ultimately, your dog will be able to run over to the toy box and pick out the toy you have requested…for a really fun game of fetch!

Kathy Kawalec with Dallas, Reno and Haley

Kathy with her dogs in 1999 (l-r) Dallas, Reno and Haley. Dallas and Haley are waiting on the rainbow bridge. Reno is 15 and enjoying retirement in 2013.


Game #2 Hide ‘n Seek

I love this game for soooooo many reasons. It’s great fun. It teaches dogs to find family members. It teaches dogs to be attentive to you. It teaches dogs to be responsible for keeping you in their sight at all times, which is a crucial life skill. It’s an awesome way to spend quality time indoors when the weather is awful. Outside, it can be more ‘energetic’ and involve lots of running and play.

I remember frequently playing this game with my three dogs Dallas, Reno and Haley. Oh my gosh, what fun we had…me, being inventive on where I could quickly hide. The dogs, loving the game so much that I could barely hide from them because they became so savvy. I would often start an instant flash mob kind of game with no warning. We all had such a blast!

Everybody loves a game of hide ‘n seek, right? Two things that make this game possible is the way dogs gather information. Dogs look for movement and silhouettes. So, if you are perfectly still, and you camouflage your silhouette by being next to a wall, piece of furniture etc…you can ‘hide’ from your dog in plain sight…for just long enough to make the game interesting. Fun!

Step 1. You casually get up and go somewhere, like to the bathroom. As you enter the bathroom, you slip behind the door which is ajar, and just hold still. If your dog doesn’t come looking for you, make a fun sound, like whistle or smooch, or giggle. Then be quiet again, while your dog looks for you. Give hints if your dog doesn’t get it at first. When your dog ‘finds’ you: laugh, play and run out of your hiding place, while your dog runs with you. “Good dog!”

Step 2. The moment you see your dog gets distracted…maybe she runs to get a toy because you are in a playful mood…you go hide again. Duck behind a chair, around a corner hugging the wall, behind a door, on the other side of the bed…you get the idea. Again, give fun little sound hints if your dog isn’t actively looking for you, but do be a bit patient, so they get to ‘work’ at it.

Step 3. At some point, you’ll find that you can’t get away from your dog. As soon as that happens, you’ll need a distraction. The best one is to throw a toy and while your dog runs for the toy, you go in the other direction and hide quickly. Or, you can pretend to ‘end the game’ and as soon as your dog relaxes and goes to do something else…you go hide again.

If your dog LOVES the game, you can hide sneakily. If your dog isn’t that excited yet, then let your dog see you hide. What you’ll do is the human version of the play bow towards your dog, laugh and go running away, inviting your dog to chase you. Then you duck into your hiding place. Your dog will easily find you, and you go running away again to a new place while your dog chases you again. Such fun!!

Step 4. Play with another person…or more! While one person hides, the other person invites the dog to ‘find Mary’. “where’s Mary?” “where did Mary go?” “Find Mary”…you can help at first if needed. Then while the dog and Mary are partying about the find, you go hide and Mary repeats the process. “Where’s John?”

Step 5. You can move this game to multiple levels of your house, like upstairs or the basement. And, you can move it outside too.

This game is a great way to teach your dog to be reliable off leash…simply because your dogs will not let you out of their sight! Start where it’s safe, like a fenced yard, and move it to unfenced (but still very safe) areas when your dog is glued to you like fly to poop. lol.

Have fun!

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A Fun Game to Satisfy Your Herding Dog’s “Herding Instinct” When You Don’t Have Sheep to Work.

September 6, 2014

no sheep?

One of the things that get herding breed dogs into trouble is not having a REAL job to do every day.

A real job like grazing the sheep. Or bringing the cows home. Or putting the chickens and ducks to bed each night.

You might be doing a great job of providing plenty of exercise to your herding dog … but if you’re not also providing MENTAL work … you’re not meeting the needs of your herding dog.

Herding dogs not only require serious physical activity every single day, but they need serious mental activity too. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.

So, if you don’t have sheep, cows or chickens, what to do?

Play interesting games that provide physical AND mental exercise!

What provides mental exercise for a smart herding dog, you might be wondering.

Games that include these important life skills are perfect for exercising herding dogs AND they utilize their natural herding instincts and qualities:

  • Taking Turns (Learning Patience)
  • Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control)
  • Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You)
  • Search/Find (Learning Dedication to Complete a Task)
  • Retrieve (Learning to Bring YOU Valuable Things)

You can be creative with inventing games that include these skills … one of my favorites is Fetch.

I teach my dogs to retrieve, and we have a blast with a soft frisbee. A ball will work just a well…mix it up! When played with the intention of incorporating important life skills, fetch is a super way to provide physical and mental exercise and to engage in social time with your herding dog.

Playing frisbee with two or more dogs makes it really interesting for you and your dogs.

Click the play button to watch a video demonstrating some serious learning, and mental exercise while I play with two of my border collies.


You’ll notice that my dogs are not ‘frenzied’ or freakishly/obsessively offering behaviors they think I might want. They are alert, eager, fast, fun, calm, mindful, attentive and fully understand their jobs.

Can you imagine how this ‘way of being’ would be useful in anything you do with your herding dogs? Not just in every day life and play…but for herding, agility, obedience, rally, conformation…anything you do where you need an eager, attentive dog. That’s all the time, right? 🙂

CLICK HERE for Herding Dog, No Sheep? Part 2.


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The Secret to Creating Partnership with Your Dog

May 4, 2014


I’ve been thinking a lot about creating deep and solid partnership with my dogs. And how to help others do the same.

Most of the time what we think about is how to be better at our handling and impeccable with the training of our dogs…the mechanics of it. Like our position, body language, signaling, timing.

We practice our skills. We rehearse being calm and clear, good leaders. We remember to breathe. All important. Really important. Cannot be overstated important.

That gets us far. We’re happy, our dogs are happy.

And then.

It’s not enough. We fall apart. Our dog doesn’t do what we expect. We get frustrated, annoyed. Maybe even angry. Sometimes it’s brief, but often it goes on, starting a spiral that sucks us and our dog into the abyss where partnerships are wounded.

We look around at what just happened, and don’t know how we got here. Geez. Sometimes we blame ourselves. Other times we blame our dogs. Or the conditions. Or the sheep. Or the equipment. Or the judge. Or the trainer/coach. Or the bad luck at being last to run and the entire crew is already in break down mode, distracting us and our dog.

Eventually we (emotionally) recover and go back to training, practicing, getting better and more prepared.

We believe that once we get to a certain level of expertise, our partnership with our dog will reach the level of the “stars”…like those teams who are brilliant…no matter what is going on around them. You know who I mean, right?

Oh, how we long to be like that. Calm, confident, competent…partnered with a dog equally prepared and awesome. Standing in the winners circle…happy and filled with gratitude and grace.

The Secret.

What’s the secret? It’s so simply, really.

You know those moments in training or competition that I mentioned earlier, when things fall apart?

Those moments when things start to fall apart are doorways to inspired partnership.

Think about it: you are standing in a threshold that leads directly to brilliance.

You have one brief millisecond to decide.

Will you step through to the place where partners are true partners? To the place where you work with your dog to get thru the hard?

Will you choose to step into that place where there is no blame. There is no guilt, no frustration, no old baggage?

There is just you and your dog in this place.

And your common goal…your purpose for engaging in this activity…your shared delight at solving the problem at hand.

This is the place that truly inspired partnership happens.

It’s what I call a Choice Point.

It’s a choice that is potentially life-altering. It takes you on one life path or another.


In this place of partnering, you can be the handler and trainer you dream of being.




How to make a better choice:

1. You take a breath.

2. You connect with your heart…your heart connects to your dog.

3. You assess the challenge at hand and together, with your dog, you create a plan to work thru this hard.

4. And you work your plan with focus and devotion … always knowing the process is more important than the outcome. Yet, it’s the process that will get you the outcome you most desire.

5. Then, you come out the other side of this ‘hard’ more deeply connected to your dog. More prepared to step into the next level of partnership. Then…

You smile. That was easier than you thought it would be.

Your dog looks up at you with loving, smiling eyes…and you know that you made the right choice.

Oh yes.


Are you ‘Training’ Your Way to Herding Trial Failure?

April 1, 2014

Are you training your way-

My first herding trial entry for the year was made two weeks ago. My calendar is programmed to send me beeping reminders over the next month to mail entries to all my favorite trials coming up. I know that if I miss the opening date, I won’t get in.

Lots of folks trialing these days. More entries than spaces, usually. I hear it’s the same in most dog performance sports like herding, agility, rally, tracking. We are definitely passionate about our dogs, our training and showing our hard-earned skills and teamwork to the judge of the day.

The pressure starts long before we arrive at a trial.

All that building excitement gets us to thinking about ‘getting ready’ for the launch of trial season: This is the year we want to shine. Earn those points, get those Q’s and legs, finish those titles. This year, we’re better handlers and our dogs are more solid in their training…at least we think so, right?

We count off the time: 8 weeks to get ready for the first trial of the season. Some of us are more organized: we make a list of the skills that we want to polish before then. Others of us simply decide to practice and train more frequently. Some of us hope to be carried forward on our success from last season.

Most of us will rely on some intense training sessions the week or two or three before the trial.

And that, my friends, is where it falls apart.

That last minute pressure to get ready is a killer. We push ourselves. We push our dogs. We push so hard that something breaks. Our dog is injured, our partnership teeters on the edge. We’ve basically made our dog crazy with all the pressure. Then, we have regrets: If only I would have (fill in the blank). It’s something that we know would have made such a huge difference in the outcome. Our first trial would have been a happier, more fun and more successful event…if only.

I remember doing this so many times when I first started competing in sheepdog trials. Looking back, I can’t believe Dallas stuck with me through some of it. She just kept trying and trying to please me and get it right. Getting faster and more tense by the minute. My little Reno didn’t stick with me so much. Whenever I put too much pressure on her before a trial, she would just stop working and look at me like I was an alien. Then I would be worried and frustrated because now my dog was broke, and we had a trial this weekend. Ah…the good old days. Not!!

Now, I Plan for Herding Success — it’s way better.

First, take a good, deep breath and as you exhale, push out all that anxiety or worry or pressure about getting ready. Maybe you need to do that again. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Good. Feels better already, right?

Next, Let’s look at the bigger picture. 8 weeks is a fairly short time, but a lot can be accomplished with a good plan that focuses on the areas that will most likely bring success. If you train 3-4 times per week, and you have 8 weeks to your trial, that means you have about 25 training sessions to work with. That number gives you a clear idea of what is possible in the time available.

Now, you need to be honest and ask yourself if you and your dog are close enough to having the skills needed to trial at the level you plan.

And then you need to know your purpose for entering this trial. There are lots of reasons to enter a competition. To win. To place in the top 10%. To finish the course. To get a score better than your last. To get experience. To work on your mental conditioning in a trial setting. To remain calm and connected to your dog, whether things go well or not.

Knowing the reason you are entering a herding competition will either make this a successful adventure for you and your dog…or leave you miserable and frustrated.

Once you know your reasons, assess your strengths. What do you and your dog already have in place that will make this a successful trial? Then, look at your weaknesses – where can you improve? How can you use your strengths to boost the areas that you want to improve? And, how can you chunk down those things into small bits that can be easily learned in one training session? Small, thin slices that are fun and easy. So important. Spread those chunks out over 18 of your 25 training sessions. Then spend the last 7 sessions having fun and rehearsing all the things your and your dog have learned. Now, you are ready for a successful outing at your first trial!

Maya and Kathy work at the Bluegrass ClassicSharing My Plan

This year, I plan to be a better handler…to be the best I can be. To notice every relevant detail about my dog, the sheep, and myself during our runs and to fluidly and expertly facilitate a beautiful communication circuit between me, dog and sheep.

I plan to bring that into every training session and to chunk it down. This week, I am focusing on my breathing, my posture, the sound of my voice as I bring my dogs to the starting place for our work. I am focusing on keeping my dogs fully engaged with me as we enter the work area and I will not send them to work until I sense they are with me and I am fully with them. Next week, I will be better able to focus on my breathing and posture as we work. I will notice how my breath and posture changes when my dog is working well, and when he/she is not. And I will regulate as I go, rehearsing staying fully present, focused and calmly in sync with dog and sheep.

The third week my breathing and posture will be subconsciously regulated when all is well, and I will notice quickly when it shifts out of sync and adjust. By this time, my dog and I are working nearly as one, and my dog gives me instant feedback when I am out of sync. The fourth week my breathing and posture are fully subconscious, and I can stay in this coherent state the entire working session.

Awesome awesomeness!! I love this plan already. And, I have a similar plan for each of my dogs and their skills.

So, How About You?

Have you experienced that Get Ready craziness that happens two weeks before a trial, but doesn’t work out so well in the end? I’d love to hear your story!

When is your next trial? Do you have a plan? Tell me your strategy for getting ready.

Want to Learn More About Herding Partnership?

From Beginner to Advanced, Kathy can help YOU have the herding partnership you dream of!

Click Here to Download Your Free pdf: 5 Herding Dog Partnership Secrets

Lessons, Clinics, Sheepdog Trials, and more!

September 21, 2012

Kathy and puppy Clark sharing a kiss.

Kathy and puppy Clark sharing a kiss.

What an amazing summer this has been!

“Busy and exciting” is a complete understatement, for sure. I had the honor and privilege to teach, coach and support so many wonderful clients and students (and their dogs, of course) at home and at clinics and lessons around the midwest. Such fun, and so rewarding to see people and their dogs blossom. It’s a beautiful thing!

I so enjoyed judging a couple of herding trials — getting a front row seat to teamwork, partnership, passion and dedication is priceless. One of my favorite parts of trialing is the opportunity to rehearse being calm, present and connected to my dogs in an unfamiliar environment. It’s also one of the most challenging parts, if you know what I’m saying. 🙂

Sheepdog Trials – Fun!

The new trial season started with a ‘rush’. As president of the Land of Lincoln Border Collie Association, a club that puts on two big sheepdog trials each year, I had to step up to the plate as fearless leader for our August trial. Thank goodness I had the incredible help of awesome board members and club members that are as passionate and dedicated as I am putting in long and loving hours to make this trial a grand success. And it was! So many compliments and such great feedback. I didn’t hear one complaint…simply awesome!

Kathy and Luc at the LOLBCA August Sheepdog Trial

Kathy and Luc at the LOLBCA August Sheepdog Trial

As a bonus, my dogs had great runs at the trial…I was so pleased at how well we worked together. That turned out to be a needed confidence builder going into the next couple of trials, which were uber hard. Oh my. The WWSDA Labor Day trial was held in a beautiful new location and the rented flock of sheep turned out to be more challenging than anyone imagined. As it turned out, the majority of the Open (top level) teams could not successfully put the sheep through the course.

Both Sue and Maya had some difficulty, even though I was so happy with their work. Luc was the star of the family, having little difficulty handling the very challenging sheep with two good runs, earning him a coveted spot in the Top 10 Finals. It was his first try at a double lift in a trial setting and the second gather turned out to be too difficult for him to find the sheep, and we retired after a nearly perfect first gather and failed second gather. But, we came off the field happy and satisfied at giving it our best shot.

View of the WWSDA Labor Day Trial

View of the WWSDA Labor Day Trial

As soon as our Finals run was complete, we jumped into the rig and headed out to Meeker, Colorado for the famous Meeker Classic Championship, one of the oldest, toughest and most prestigious trials in North America. We made it out there on Wednesday, giving the dogs only a day to acclimate to the elevation of 6200 ft.

Sue ran first, and she cast off to the left on a spectacular outrun, it was breathtaking to watch her navigate hills, rocks and difficult terrain that hid the sheep from view. I caught a brief glimpse of her as she went deep, hunting for the sheep. Then, I waited for her to lift, saw the sheep shifting, waited some more. Then finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I whistled her recall, but no response. Oh no. Did she get onto the road behind the field? The dog right before her had done just that. Then, the course director quietly tapped on my back and said go ahead and call her back again, she got in the set out and the crew sent her back out. So, I called her back and we retired, disappointed at not being able to give the course a try. She did great at her first Meeker last year, and I was hopeful she’d be even better this year. It was not to be. Deep sigh.

Looking out over the Meeker Championship field

Looking out over the Meeker Championship field

Had to mentally recover from that, because Luc was up early the next morning and I needed to be fully present. This was his first try at Meeker, and I was confident that he could handle the notoriously impossible sheep quite well. I sent him to the right where I could see him the whole way and help him if needed. The trade off is that the dogs can’t see the sheep most of the way and need to trust.

About halfway out, I saw him look in a bit, so I gave him a redirect whistle, which he took beautifully and cast out smartly. About 3/4 of the way out, I gave him another whistle, because it was difficult to assess his depth behind the sheep. He took that beautifully as well. A great start! Very good lift, and a great fetch where he confidently worked the resistant sheep into the fetch gates and finished the fetch with a nice turn.

The drive was awesome…except for my mistake at over-trying to get the sheep into the drive away gate. The sheep hate going thru that gate and we got ‘em in!! However, we lost too many points and too much time messing with that gate, and in retrospect, should have let it go and went on much sooner. One of the old time competitors and a judge who watched my run, said I lost an extra 8 points messing with that panel. Darn it! We missed getting into the semi-final round by only 4 points. And all that time spent kept us from earning shed points too. A deep sigh about that. But: I couldn’t have been happier about how Luc handled those sheep, and I was thrilled beyond words at our level or partnership. It was an amazing run. I am eager to go back again next year!!

Back on the home front

Young Laying Hens being raised

Young Laying Hens being raised

The summer we were busy raising up 8 new layer hens who are happy and safe in the garage, until we transition them to the ‘big girl’ hen house this weekend. They are feisty and beautiful, and will gift us with plentiful brown eggs for years to come.

Fiona, Jasmine and Aslan

Fiona, Jasmine and Aslan

And, our three new barn kitties are also ready to move out to the barn, where they will have plenty of work and good eating with the prolific mouse population this year. I guess mice like it hot and dry, because they are everywhere! Fiona, Jasmine and their brother Aslan are happy and healthy, and have come around from being feral to seeking out petting and rubbing themselves all over anyone who visits them. They are so beautiful and we are looking forward to many years of purring cat companionship.

Raven and Clark watch the trial

Raven and Clark watch the trial

In between my active work schedule, I tried to find time when it was cool enough to start training my two yearling border collies. Clark and Raven are growing up, and maturing steadily. I haven’t worked them as much as I planned, but in spite of that, they are doing fantastic. They are natural, smart and oh so willing to please. Which is perfect, because they are very keen and have lots of drive. They learn so fast at this age. I’ll put up some video for you to have a look. I believe you’ll be impressed! I am!

That’s it for now my friends. You are awesome for reading this long, long post!


Tell me: what have YOU been doing this summer?

Have you had success with your dog? Unexpected results? What was your reaction? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear.

The Long, Hard Road to Dog Training Success.

September 21, 2012

Dreams and Transformations. Love Stories, really.

Sometimes things aren’t what they seem, you know? Sometimes it feels like there’s not much happening, like time is standing still and we’re in the same place we’ve always been. Then, one day our life is completely changed. The thing we thought we might never get to is right there. We are astounded and filled with a sense of disbelief at first.

Am I dreaming, we ask ourselves, blinking our eyes and looking around more carefully, holding our breath. Then it sinks in. We did it! We really did it. Holy crap!

It’s been a long, hot and dry summer this year. So hot and dry that the grass stopped growing and turned a deep golden brown. It crackled under my feet. Dogs feet payed a high price, turning to raw and red when they made the mistake of running too hard, turning too fast.

Mostly I remember looking for shade. A tree. An umbrella. A big hat. The shade was holding a space for me, ready when I needed it. I needed it a lot this summer.

Holding space for someone is sacred work.

Being someone’s believing eyes is sometimes challenging but always fruitful. It’s what we are meant to do for each other. I’m sure of it.

I do that often, holding space and believing in dreams. It’s life affirming and makes me whole. It’s also a chance for me to pay it forward, because I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of that incredible act of kindness. More than once.

This summer, while standing in the shade and believing in the dreams of my clients and friends, my fellow earth walkers…magic was happening. Hard, slow, meticulous work was being lovingly carried out, one thin slice at a time. And then the rains came. Beautiful, beautiful rain that softened the hard ground and softened the heart-callouses of long, hard work.

This is a story of success. A story of the joy that comes from sticking with the hard, waiting for the rain, then finding yourself in the middle of the most beautiful field of flowers ever. It’s also a story of celebration. Not only for those in the story, but for all of us. Indeed.


Remember the transformation story of Dee and Phalen?

Dee and Phalen share a hug

Phalen is Dee’s dream dog. A stunningly beautiful White Shepherd. Along with his handsome looks, he came with some ‘stuff’. Reactivity being the one thing that scared Dee to her core. Dee was crushed and their relationship suffered severe damage the day Phalen attacked another of their dogs. As serendipity happens, Dee found her way to me and we worked out a plan. One that honored the love between Dee and Phalen, and built trust between them.

Dee wrote in her story: “My language has always been about changing Phalen. “Phalen is perfect, except for the reactivity. I wouldn’t change anything about Phalen except for his reactivity. If only he weren’t reactive we could do anything.” It has been through my work with Kathy that today I can say; “I love Phalen exactly as he is today and think he is perfect “. That has been a major shift for us and while it may seem small it is gigantic and changes everything for us.”

Their long, hard work payed off.

It is with great honor and respect and awe that I share this wonderful news:

Last week, Phalen earned his CGC. And…wait for it. His TDI. Phalen is now a certified Therapy Dog. Dee is happy beyond words. I am so happy for them both!

Phalen earns his TDI certificate

You may now stand and applaud. And cry. This is a time for congratulations and celebration!

Dee and Phalen, you ROCK. And, I wish you a long, happy and joy-filled life, together.


Now, remember the story of Tresa and Fleck?

Fleck, a close up

Fleck is an intense border collie that would get so ‘busy’ while he worked that he couldn’t listen to Tresa. At all. They sought the help of many trainers. Went to many clinics. Tresa told us in her story that because the trainers all felt that Fleck was ‘blowing her off’ he needed to be handled rather harshly, and being a ‘ruler with a harsh hand’ just wasn’t her. Nope, she wasn’t gonna do that to her dog.

Tresa was ready to give up herding completely, even though she knew Fleck loved it so much, and so did she. She was brave enough to try one more time. This time with me.

Tresa wrote in her story: “Kathy quickly helped me realize that the breakdown in our relationship was that I didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what I really wanted Fleck to do. All these years I went to trainer after trainer and clinic after clinic trying to “fix my dog” and all the while I just needed to fix me.”

We worked out a plan that would help Tresa to communicate with Fleck with clarity and consistency. To stay calm and focused and to chunk things down into thin slices. This was long, hard work. They both had habits that needed transformation. They stuck with it.

In July, Tresa and her husband Don hosted a herding trial at their lovely farm. It was a big undertaking and an act of love for sheepdogs and herding. As I sat in the shade of a canopy, judging the runs that day, what I was witnessed was heart-warming: a competent dog and handler, working in the pens and pushing sheep out to the setout…calmly and with the finesse of a team that belied their novice status. I was blown away.

But that didn’t top the day. Coming down to the post, and running the course as non-compete, Tresa and Fleck laid down a nearly perfect run. The best run of the day, by far. Again, I was blown away, as I thought about how far they had come together. About the long, hard work they had put in to get to this amazing place.

While Tresa and Fleck are learning to drive, working with whistles and looking forward to soon moving up a class to Ranch…they made a trek down to a sheepdog trial in Indiana, competing in Novice.

I am pleased as punch to report this:

Tresa and Fleck earned a 2nd Place at the Columbus Scottish Festival Sheepdog Trial!!  

Tresa and Fleck earn a 2nd Place

Standing O, everyone! They have earned big congratulations and a reason to celebrate!

Tresa and Fleck…you ROCK! And, I wish you many more years of learning, partnership and having fun together.


‘Nancy and Bruce Learning to Dance’ was a wonderful story to read. Remember?

Bruce working sheep, showing great style.

Bruce is a keen border collie with lots of drive, power and style. He’s a lot of dog for Nancy, who has been lucky to be trained by easier, softer dogs earlier in her sheepdog career.

I know this dog well. I brought him into the world…and he is much like his sire, Russell and siblings, my Sue and Luc. Good dogs all.

Nancy told us in her story that staying calm, focused and unemotional are not natural for her. She explained that she gets impatient and frustrated when things don’t go well. Which happens a lot with a young, keen dog. That starts a crazy vortex that spins everyone to place where partnership and collaboration are pipe dreams that don’t apply to this context. Not good.

Even when training and practice was OK, the extreme pressure of competing in pro-novice and open ranch tested their working partnership to the max, and they traveled home from most trials wanting better for each other and from each other.

A road map to a better place is what Nancy and I planned out. Changing Nancy’s focus to clear communication and away from blind commanding. Thin slicing everything so that supreme clarity could be revealed. Good timing, supportive intonation, competent execution, and enthusiasm for the process became her mantra.

The long, hard road to transformation was initiated. Now, they had a reliable map to follow. Nancy wrote in her story: “With Kathy’s help, I was ready for a methodology that could take my mind off of the dog I didn’t have and put my heart into the dog I do have. I used to think that training a sheepdog was about having a dog that would do what you said when you said it. Turns out it’s about creating a champion working partnership with a partner that trusts you to ‘lead the dance’.”

This long, hot summer provided the space for Nancy and Bruce to work together in the way they longed for. I was privileged to witness some wonderful partnership and work from this budding team: setting out sheep at the Laughing Frog Farm trial – a pleasure to watch from the shaded judging tent. Pushing out sheep at the LOLBCA trial with the finesse of an advanced team. I have to say that brought a brief tear to my eye.

Here’s the big news, folks:

Nancy and Bruce made their “OPEN” debut last week down at the Columbus Scottish Festival Trial.

(FYI: Open is the top level of border collie trialing) Two runs that were well completed, including the sheds. AND: first time Open scores in the mid 70’s. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

Nancy and Bruce setting out sheep at a trial

Let’s hear it everyone: cheering and clapping. Loud enthusiastic celebratory whistling.

Nancy and Bruce: you ROCK! I see many fantastic runs in your future! And I wish you much excellence, partnership and joy in all you do together.


The Moral of the Story

Follow your dreams. Seek believing eyes…someone who has been there and can light the way for you, holding space in that beautiful place of success. Stay your course. Work hard and long. You’ll get there. Your dog is counting on you. And your dog is teaching you, each step of the journey. Enjoy it.


Ready for YOUR transformation? I’m ready to be YOUR believing eyes! Click the banner below to learn how.

Kathy Kawalec's True Potential

Miscommunication and Training Failures Transformed

June 19, 2012

Robie walking up on sheepThe Long and Winding Road to Partnership…it’s a beautiful ride!

(This is a guest blog by Debra Smilie Blomgren)

I was born wanting a dog. Thanks to my beloved Grandma, whose family raised Boxers in Germany, my gift for my 12th birthday was a dog. My wish was for a German Shepherd. Instead, a wrinkled Pug puppy was placed in my waiting arms. I loved him instantly and named him Bonzo.

Bonzo would be the first of decades of dogs that I would train in obedience. I had an excellent instructor with Bonzo who taught me foundations of obedience training. There were no treats or clickers or special collars. I took a training class from him with many of my dogs.

Throughout my life, all of my dogs have been successful in obedience training. Occasionally, I dabbled in competitive obedience. Ten years ago, I started doing therapy work with my rescued Sheltie, Sam. My now 5 year old Border Collie, Kai, followed in Sam’s paw prints. In 2009, I brought home my second Border Collie, Robie. All of my training methods and techniques first learned with Bonzo and tweaked and readjusted as I trained my German Shorthair, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Shelties, Belgian Tervuren and Kai, exploded into pieces when I started to train Robie.

I knew then that Robie was telling me that my training methods needed some drastic changes if he and I were going to be successful partners.

Debra's first childhood dog, Bonzo

I set off to find a new trainer and a new way to train.

I quickly learned at our first obedience class that always inquisitive Robie found no value in the word “stay”. An ant crawling along the floor or a hawk circling in the sky demanded Robie’s immediate attention. The trainer, upset with what she saw as my ineptness in reigning in Robie, ordered that I use a prong collar on him, a command that I disregarded as I searched for another instructor. The second trainer, who demanded that young Robie learn to stay, was also convinced that Robie and I were just total failures. One day we got to her class early and the jumps from the Open class were still set up. With my guidance, Robie sailed over all of them. I knew then that Robie was telling me that my training methods needed some drastic changes if he and I were going to be successful partners. I set off to find a new way to train.

Starting our new adventure.

On a cold winter day in January 2011, Robie and I traveled to meet Kathy at Dancing Hearts to see if Robie had instinct for herding. Robie calmly keened in on the sheep and with instructions from Kathy, we moved the sheep around the pen. I liked what Kathy explained to me on that first lesson. Instead of wanting us to resort to different collars or more treats, Kathy described how success begins in clearly understanding my goals and finding the road I must travel to reach them so I can communicate that vision and that pathway to Robie. It made sense to me. This was where I wanted to train and Robie and I returned for more lessons.

Work obligations and another dream I was chasing with Robie kept us away from herding lessons for awhile. Kathy’s words, though, stayed with me and I saw how they worked in all aspects of training with both of my Border Collies. Last Fall, Robie and I returned to herding lessons, committed to building a successful partnership in the field.

Understanding what my dog is telling me.

While Robie has his natural instincts, Kathy taught me that I have to learn to develop the clear vision so I can assist Robie in learning how, when and where to use his instincts. Once I can define the vision, it is up to me to communicate that information to Robie. I have learned that when Robie focuses on sniffing grass rather than watching sheep, it is because I have not clearly communicated to him what to do at that time.

Robie and I have begun to take monumental baby steps forward in our quest to become successful herding partners. I have started to feel the flow of our steps together. My confidence is increasing as I learn to train in this new venue.

Kathy’s lessons don’t stop at the pasture gate. Every day is a training day. Learning to clearly communicate has meant that always impatient Robie now sits at the door and waits for his collar rather than endless circling. I now understand why Kai or Robie do not follow through with something I am trying to teach them.

Instead of repeating the frustration of failure, I embrace the challenge of finding a better way to communicate.

Debra with Kai (l) and Robie (r)Building any partnership in life on a solid foundation takes time. There are no shortcuts if you want to do it right. Robie and I have embarked on a new journey of learning. I know with Kathy’s guidance, my commitment to succeed and to develop clear, concise communication skills, Robie and I will achieve our goal of becoming a solid working partnership, in and out of the pasture.

Debra enjoys life with her two border collies and husband in northern Illinois. For the past 10 plus years, she has been involved in training therapy dogs. Sheltie Sam, and now her Border Collie, Kai, work in a large hospital-based animal assisted therapy dog program. Debra is also a Therapy Dog Inc. evaluator. Her Border Collie, Robie, has taken her into new ventures, including herding, agility and earning his Grand Championship in conformation.


Here’s what I would LOVE for YOU to do for each Personal Story of Transformation published here:

Show your appreciation. Send supportive comments. Share your similar experiences. These brave and wonderful women love their dogs with all of their heart, and would love to feel your gratitude for their willingness to share.


Learn about the training system Debra embraced: Get Your Free Copy of “5 Step Formula for Dog Training Success!”