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The Biggest Myth About Dog Training

May 5, 2017

Biggest Myth blog header

Is “training” REALLY the best solution for a misbehaving dog?

Or … is it the one thing that should be SKIPPED?

I think back to my very early dog training classes where I was so wowed by how easy it was to shape behaviors in my dogs … and how amazing my dogs were in class.
I also remember the intense guilt I felt when my dog didn’t listen in real life and well-intended dog trainers lectured me in front of my classmates…

I was told:

“You need to spend more time training every day.”

or “You need to be more consistent.”

or “You need to develop better timing.”

or  “You have to use rewards your dog likes better.”

When my dog misbehaved in spite of my best efforts, I felt like a complete failure, and I was so embarrassed. ugh. Can you relate?
The crazy thing is that the idea behind ‘more or better training’ is the biggest myth
Based only on behavior-focused studies, which does NOT consider other crucial factors, this MYTH can set us up for failure.

Biggest Myth text


“If only I was a better trainer, and could spend more time training, the struggles with my dog would be solved”.

I believe that as serious and committed dog people, we need to look at where dog training is working and where it’s not, so we can keep growing and learning.

Let’s face the limitations and look for better solutions as a community of passionate people who love our dogs, let’s continue to educate ourselves…our dogs deserve that.

We have this culture of dog training that categorizes training into one of two camps:


No matter which side of the road a person stands on, they say: “This is the only way that works, and the other fails miserably”.

So, as a dog lover, you ask yourself, “which method will work best for me and my dog?”

Now, the reason we are still having this debate, in my humble opinion, is that we are asking the wrong question entirely. And, I’ll get back to that below.

Let’s take a quick look at the Punitive style of dog training:

It uses Correction and Coercion. If a dog makes a choice that is incorrect according to the trainer, the dog is corrected or threatened with correction.

Unfortunately, this method gets quick results. (Fear and pain are strong motivators.) That’s why this method is still employed by some today.

I don’t know about you, but I have a visceral response to this, and I dream of a day when this method is a distant and unpleasant memory.

Then, we have the Positive style of training:

It’s the method of choice for those of us who reject punitive and coercive methods.

It uses ‘positive reinforcement’, meaning the dog is rewarded for making the right choice. The unwanted behaviors, when properly managed, fade away, and the reinforced behaviors grow into habits.

This method has gained popularity over the past 10 years. It’s allowed us to teach our dogs in ways that feel much better to us, and our dogs.

But, it’s not that easy for everyone to learn and use properly.

For many, it’s difficult to master, to get right. There’s a learning curve, and a lot of tools to manage, with the leash, the clicker, the treats or toy.

Timing is difficult to master. The steps to the end goal are often not well designed.

Even with experienced trainers, when the dog is not responding as expected, more training is done.

As more and more training is done …

Dogs become more and more confused, and try hard to make the choice that gets them the thing they want.

The dogs keep trying things to find the magic combination, getting increasingly more frantic. Or they shut down, check out, stop trying.

If you honestly look around, you can see so many examples of positive training (operant conditioning) not working well in real life circumstances. It is simply not meeting our needs, or the needs of our dogs.

It’s a world better than punitive training, certainly, but it’s not the end. It’s a stepping stone towards a better way.

So, then what does the future hold for us and our dogs?

  • We don’t want to physically correct or coerce our dogs.
  • We don’t want to bribe our dogs with treats and toys.
  • It doesn’t seem right to treat our dogs like they are ‘just’ conditioned response machines.

What we do want is …

  • A dog that loves to be with us, and is respectful and fun to hang out with.
  • A dog that loves to listen, and does listen even when you don’t have a cookie or toy.
  • A dog that loves to work train, compete with us…to be our team mate, our partner.

The way to get there is not through training, but through a partnership that recognizes that dogs are smart, emotional, and by design, want to connect with us in a real way.

In human research, behavioral science has been moved to the side by cognitive science.

And, modern science is leading the way to the next generation of dog training.

Through neuroscience, we now know that emotions are responsible for regulating every action we take.

Cognitive science recognizes the specialized intelligence of each species and research with dogs shows that dogs have a particular genius when it comes to understanding humans and have a natural motivation to cooperate with us.

So, we’ve gone from believing that dogs have no feelings or emotions …

… to the intelligence and emotions of dogs are not relevant …

… to dogs are emotionally driven and have a unique intelligence that makes partnership with humans a natural way of life.

Dogs, like humans, are socially intelligent … and we can and should use that intelligence to form cooperative partnerships as a lifestyle with our dogs.

OK, here’s my bottom line with training and this big myth:

Dog training is evolving, as it should. Positive training is simply a stepping stone on our journey. Let’s take the best of what IS working, and push it forward to the next best version.

And to the Myth of needing to be a better trainer or handler … I say:

You are having struggles with your dog NOT because YOU’RE not good enough…

it’s because of the limitations of the training method.

Biggest Myth Training types chart

So, if your dog is not behaving as you’d like …

  • If your dog is Reactive, Distracted, Worried …
  • If your dog is not performing the same at shows and trials as at home …
  • If you’re relationship just doesn’t seem as good as it should be …
  • And if you have put in the time and effort, but the training is just not working …

What can you do instead of more of that same training that’s failing you?

Try these 5 simple tactics that are proven to work in real life (NOT just in a training class)

1. Build a foundation partnership with your dog…one that is based on trust, intelligence and the bond you naturally share.

2. Learn to truly dialog, to communicate deeply, respecting your dog’s innate emotional and social intelligence.

3. Be a loving leader and a guide for your dog … leading by your example with genuine, sincere dialog.

4. Respect your dog as a thinking, feeling intelligent being and open your heart to form a deep connection and two-way flow of communication.

5. Adopt a relationship building and partnership enhancing lifestyle that encourages your dog to be attentive and responsive and responsible to learn how to behave.

Oh, and remember that question I said I’d get to?

Instead of asking yourself:

“which training method will work best for me and my dog?”

I believe you should ask yourself:

“how can I learn to be the best possible partner for my dog, so that together, we can reach our true potential?”

It’s partnership, not training, that gives you and your dog the inspiration and motivation to work through any struggle that comes your way. You can have a better relationship and breakthrough results with less training.

The benefits of partnership is quite amazing and no wonder it has changed my own life and so many others who have adopted partnership training as a way of life with their dogs…

Which is why I’ve created “Your Guide to a Brilliant Partnership and a Happy Dog” – a FREE online Partnership Quiz.

Take the assessment, then I’ll guide you to the next steps you can take to get the quickest results using my Foundation Formula framework.

It’s simple and it works!



Take your PQ Partnership Quiz and Download Your Results Roadmap pdf:

CLICK HERE to take your Partnership Quiz Now >>>

The Joy and Struggle of Life with Dogs

February 14, 2017

Joy and Struggle

There’s the joy, the fun, the adventure…the stuff we love, and the very reasons we are so devoted to our dogs in the first place!

And then there is the struggle. The challenges:

  • Our dog seems to be defiant, and we feel frustrated.
  • Our dog is a ‘problem child’ and we are exhausted, trying to ‘fix’ our dog.
  • Maybe our dog is anxious, stressed, reactive, fearful…and we feel overwhelmed with worry and concern.
  • Sometimes we are embarrassed with the way our dog behaves.
  • Or we don’t understand why our dog who does great in practice is distracted or won’t listen at competitions.

You can you relate, right?

I’ve certainly had all of these experiences at one time or another with my dogs over the years. It’s made me a better person, that’s for sure.

More than once, I have said to myself as I look up into the sky in a moment of impatience, “do I Really need to work on growing my character Again? Really?”

Ah, yes, such is life.

Well, if you are anything like me, (and I know you are) you’d like to minimize those big challenges that force us into a new and better version of ourselves…and instead, plan for the growth, so the ‘new and more brilliant us’ blossoms in a less painful way.

That’s where the whole Partnership thing comes in…and where Cognitive Dog Training started, and the Foundation Formula too.

I wrote this on a page on my website:

At the heart of it is … the process of acquiring profound understanding and knowledge about our dogs, about ourselves and how we interact and respond to one another.

I just read it again, and I still love it…the significance of it. I love the ‘profound understanding’ part. It’s part of the foundation that is so important for building a trusting partnership with our dogs. Seeking this deep understanding has influenced how I train and compete with my dogs over the years.

Luc at the WWSDA 2012 Labor Day Trial

I’m thinking of Luc as one good example.

When I started his sheepdog (herding) training, he presented me with a challenge that I had not come across. He was clearly talented, and we had a solid foundation, a budding partnership. At a year old, I enjoyed working and training with my little man.

He was willing to take my direction, to listen, to please me. The challenge came with finding balance when he got closer to two.

When his instinct (which had perfect pitch) argued with my instruction, he believed he had to choose. He had to disregard his instinct and do what I said. Or, he had to disregard what I said and follow his instinct.

Wow, that was quite a difficult place for such a young dog to be in, right?

So, my challenge was to figure out a way to keep the communication flowing between us. I had to figure out how to allow my instructions to be taken as ‘clear guidelines’ but not as ‘must do commands’. I had to develop our partnership and communication, without taking away his initiative to follow his good instincts.

It was hit and miss for a while as we worked it out. Sometimes we nailed it. Other times, he was looking at me instead of the sheep … sometimes he was ignoring me, focusing only on the sheep.

Sometimes I was filled with joy with our progress. Sometimes I was frustrated at our imbalanced partnership.

The thing that got us through this new and challenging period was our foundation. Our trust for one another. Our partnership. It just kept growing, getting better and better.

Ultimately, our partnership became brilliant! One exciting example of that: We were Finalists at the USBCHA Nationals.  Luc and I worked our way to the championship final round, the famous double lift. It was quite an experience and I am both humbled and proud of our accomplishment as partners.

Take my little story about Luc, and imagine yourself and your dog in our place, in any context at all. The same struggle story applies to life skills, agility, rally, anything that you do with your dog:

Just imagine this struggle between your dog’s natural instincts and desire to please you and do what’s right.

Now imagine the successful outcome you dream of…

Here’s what I imagine you want to ask me:

Q: OK, I want that too! How can I get this kind of partnership with my dog?

A: Through the 5 step foundation formula that I have been teaching. Step-by-step. You’ve heard me talk about baby steps a lot. It’s the only way to go.

Partnership is really all about ever-increasing levels of good communication. Getting deeper into understanding. Deeper into what I call the ‘dialog loop’…an active exchange of thoughts, feelings, words, expressions, actions between me and my dog that informs my next move, my next choice of how to go on with the lesson my dog and I are learning together.

This is the “Partnership” that I tell you about. An interactive, collaborative relationship with our dogs that transforms struggles into joyful possibilities.

Follow these 5 Steps to work your way toward partnership with your dog:

  1. Start with an intention to actively communicate with your dog. To dialog. To truly listen with all of your senses, all of your being, to what your dog is telling you.
  2. Strive for clarity as you interact with your dog. Get really clear about what you want, and about how your dog needs you to teach this skill.
  3. Be a loving leader in the dance of your life together. The dance requires you and your dog to be competent at being attentive and responsive to one another.
  4. Foster a deeper, heart-to-heart holistic connection with your dog. This means that you become as balanced mentally, emotionally and physically as your dog.
  5. Develop a foundation of collaboration with your dog that becomes your cornerstone for easily transforming any struggle that crops up into brilliant possibility for success.


Click the Banner to Download Your Free Book and get on my VIP Subscriber list for the latest tips and insights:

Ebook-Promo-Banner-headingExperience Success in all you do … sports, performance and every day life.

This FREE guide will teach you 5 Core Principles that will help you:

  • Identify and Solve Your Dog Training Challenges.
  • Get the Performance Results You Want.
  • Be a Fun, Confident, Attentive Trainer that Your Dog Adores!

How to Train Your Dog When You Have No Time

April 13, 2015

How to Train Your Dog when you have no time 800px

A most common complaint from people about training their dogs.

You know, I’ve been working with horses and dogs for a really long time, about 35+ years I guess. And, for the past 25 years, I’ve been helping teach people how to have a better relationship with their dogs, and how to get results in a way that feels great to them AND their dogs.
Over the years, one of the most common ‘complaints’ I hear from folks is:

“I don’t have time to train my dogs.”

As a result, their dogs misbehave, don’t have good social skills, don’t respond to cues…you know, the really important stuff suffers.

Well, if you’re anything like me, and most dog people I know, life IS crazy busy.

It’s true: it seems like there is not enough time in the day to do everything we want to do.

And, often times, resolving those troublesome behaviors takes the back seat, because priorities rule.

Here’s another important thing I’ve discovered after years of struggling with the ‘no time’ problem:

We do NOT need to set up a ‘training session’ to train our dogs.

As a matter of fact, when it comes to basic life and relationship skills, it’s better NOT to have a ‘training session’.

Yep, you heard me right. After research and a discovery process to learn why my most admired dog trainers and handlers, and later my self, had success at this important foundation training, without training sessions, this was my conclusion. And, this is ONE of the key principles of dog training success.

Here’s how it works:

  • Dogs naturally seek information and guidance from their people.
 (we are their “role models”)
  • If relevant information is not received from us, dogs become worried, anxious or even frantic…this is often interpreted as unruly behavior, or ignoring behavior, or blamed on distractions.
  • Being focused and attentive allows valuable dialog between a person and their dog.
 This is where the magic happens!
  • Our own inattentiveness accidentally teaches our dogs to be inattentive to us and our requests.
 (Remember, we are role modeling how we want our dogs to behave)
  • All throughout the day, every single day, each time you are with your dog: Be attentive and teach your dog important life skills
as you live your life together.


What I’ve found is that we don’t need to ‘train’ our dogs until we move into specialty areas, like: herding, agility, rally, disc, obedience, conformation.


If we teach our dogs to be responsible members of the family as we interact in every day life, our dogs are automatically trained…AND future specialty training is crazy easy.


Action Steps

  1. Read my “5 Step Formula for Dog Training Success” book again, this time noticing how Mary incorporates Max’s training into everyday living and how effective it was for them.
Each time you interact with your dog in any way, practice staying really focused on just your dog for a few seconds at a time.
  3. During those times of focus, add in some simple requests that teach your dog how to focus on you, how to be attentive to your body language, how to have impulse control by waiting for you to lead the action.
  4. Increase your mutual attentiveness by a few seconds each interaction, remembering to admire and praise your dog for being attentive.
  5. And remember to praise/reward yourself too!


In a week’s time, you’ll notice you and your dog are more attentive and responsive to one another … and that your dog is more willing to follow your lead and happily comply with your requests.

That will continue to get better over time, as you learn to become even more attentive and responsive to each other…creating a brilliant collaborative partnership!

Try it and let me know how it goes!

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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Is Your Misbehaving Dog Begging for Help?

March 12, 2014

Is Your Misbehaving Dog BEGGING 600px

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

• Maybe the last time your dog broke her stay?
• How about when he left you to sniff the ground or pee on a post?
• Wasn’t that just last week that she leapt right over the A-frame contact?
• Aren’t you still smarting with embarrassment from that trial where your dog chased sheep down the field?
• How about the time when your enthusiastic greeter slapped muddy paws all over your neighbor’s dress clothes?

These training and performance 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. Looking back at our training and trial preparation, we just don’t find the answer to where it went wrong. So we train harder, train more often. Still the problems crop up.

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 family. 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) 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 and performance issues is that your dog does not understand what you want.

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 he’s saying: “Could you please be more clear?” Or: “I could really use some help with this!”

Here’s a perfect example.

Sue turns range yearlings at the BluegrassLast week, 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 learn how to handle three very flighty sheep by staying calm, focused and carefully reading the sheep. The first couple of attempts didn’t go so well because the dog was tense, fast and tight, causing the sheep to run even faster. 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. Even though we thoroughly discussed in advance what might happen and how she should respond in a helpful way, the handler got frustrated and threw up her hands, saying out loud that her dog “wasn’t listening and he wasn’t even trying to do it right”. She then declares to me in 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...not only to listen to my advice, but to be effective trainers even when I’m not there with them.

So, we discussed the situation. Here is what we concluded: The handler was not closely watching her sheep, nor was she doing her part to contain the sheep in front of her when her dog did bring them to her. 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. The more 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, and the handler moved into a more helpful position too. We made sure that we sent the dog to gather the sheep in the direction most likely to be successful. The handler was to contain the sheep without pushing them away with rough movements. And she was to carefully watch the sheep, 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 to 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.

Summary: 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 my Formula for Dog Training Success. This formula applies to any type of dog training, any dog sport, any venue, any level of expertise.

Kathy’s Formula for Dog Training Success

1. Assess the big picture — what exactly is the lesson?

2. What feedback is your dog giving you, precisely?

3. How can you set up the lesson easier, ensuring success?

4. What information does your dog need from you, in order to be successful?

5. Get Help. Have your trainer/coach watch, or even a friend. A video camera is perfect! You can review, and so can your coach.

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.


Click the Banner to Download Your Free Book and get on my VIP Subscriber list for the latest tips and insights:

Ebook-Promo-Banner-headingExperience Success in all you do … sports, performance and every day life.

This FREE guide will teach you 5 Core Principles that will help you:

  • Identify and Solve Your Dog Training Challenges.
  • Get the Performance Results You Want.
  • Be a Fun, Confident, Attentive Trainer that Your Dog Adores!

Let’s Be Perfectly Clear: Dog Training Basics

February 18, 2014

Let's Be Perfectly Clear blog graphic


Clarity leads to each partner taking responsibility for their part of the partnership…intuiting what the other wants and needs. It’s a beautiful thing!


If you’ve been around me for more than a minute, you’ve probably heard me speak about “Clarity” and how important that is to training our dogs. But, what does that mean, how do we do that, and how is it applied to our training?

[klar-i-tee] noun
clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.


In order to deliver clear information, there are a few things that we need to take into account.

1. Bridging the Language Gap.

Establishing a common language between dog and human is crucial to communicating clearly. That seems so simple, yet it’s an often overlooked aspect of training. Because we humans are taking the lead with the training process, it is our responsibility to learn to ‘speak’ to our dogs in a way that they can understand.

We know that dogs naturally communicate by reading body language, expression, movement and direction. We know that we want to teach our dogs to respond to hand signals and verbal (audible) cues, since that is our natural communication style. But how do we bridge that gap effectively, in a manner that encourages partnership and an eagerness to seek understanding?

I suggest we establish a ‘common language’ that is based on the native communication skills of our dog…which is, fortunately, also part of the communication toolbox of humans!

Start by using appropriate body language, expression, movement and direction to communicate our desire to our dogs…and then we begin to name (assign a verbal/audible cue) to the active response by the dog…and ultimately fade out much of the body language and movement as the dog becomes fluent at responding to our verbal cues or whistles.

This common language gives us the foundation upon which we can build the skills that are necessary for the required task.

For example: we crouch down and move invitingly away from our puppy to encourage her to move towards us, right into our open, palm up and soft hands. Eventually, that becomes our recall. And, it becomes a cue to move toward us with the sheep in between as we are developing a gather. That ultimately leads us to be able to call our dog in smartly to hold off a single sheep.

Puppy Sit:StayThe flip side is when we are teaching our puppy to wait at a doorway, or to keep his feet on the ground: we stand tall, raise a flat and solid palm-out hand, and extend our personal space out in such a way the puppy reads our body language and “feels” the edge of our personal space bubble and understands not to move into that bubble. That communication becomes a wait or stay, it can lead into a ‘back up’ away from the handler; it eventually becomes a pause then a stop behind the sheep, and importantly, it helps us to help our young herding dog to ‘feel’ the sheep as we merge our own personal space with that of the sheep.

Mindfully and artfully used, we have now established a solid language that communicates two fundamental skills: move in and move out. We will be using this language for the most basic foundation skills on up to mastery of advanced skills. And, so it goes with ALL of the language we will be establishing with our dogs. This system can be used to build skills for any sport or activity and for every-day life.

2. Communicate with Intention.

In order to provide clarity to our dogs, we need to establish our intention. It’s like your declaration of a course of action that you intend to follow…and an objective that will guide your actions. Dogs clearly read our intention and the way they do this is by reading the minutia of our communications. It’s in the tiniest of details in our body language and expression. It’s the same way they read the sheep.

Our lack of attention to those same details is what makes our timing off, our communication sloppy and ultimately what causes our dogs to not “listen” to what we are saying. If we take a moment to be clear in our own heads and bodies about what our objective is in the present moment, then our intention will be clear to us and to our dog.

For example:

• Do you want your dog to flank correctly right now, or do you really just want the dog to get over to the side so you can let the sheep in the gate? Your intention will communicate to your dog what you really expect, no matter what you are saying audibly.

• Do you really want your dog to lie down right there? Or, do you mean that he should turn in at balance and move the sheep towards you? When you have clear intention, your dog will better understand what you are asking for and you will be more likely to help your dog to rehearse good moves.

• Do you want your dog to think and take initiative for what to do? Or, do you want your dog to just listen to your instructions? Your mindful intention makes all the difference in how your dog will respond in each situation.

3. Congruency brings Clarity.

The most direct path to clearly communicate with your dog is to be congruent: All aspects of you are in harmony, without conflict or disorder. That means: what you are thinking, how you are feeling, what your body is doing, and what your voice and expression are telegraphing must all be the same. Or at least really similar.

In order to be congruent, we must be mindful and aware of all of the aspects of ourselves. That is a learned behavior and requires intention and much practice. Lots and lots of practice. Speaking from my own path of experience, I can say that it takes determination, persistence and patience to learn to BE congruent. At least the majority of the time. OK, maybe a little more than half of the time. It’s one of life’s HARDS.

Dogs know when we are congruent and when we are not. When we’re not, they are confused. That confusion translates into different things for different dogs in different circumstances. Some dogs distract themselves by eating grass or poo. Other dogs get fast and frantic. Or stop and look back at their handler.

For example, if we want our dog to lie down, we can’t be thinking about stopping that breaking ewe. When we want to create ‘flow’ for a shed, we can’t be focused on stopping the leader.

Communicating with ALL of ourselves is what will help our dogs to understand what we want, and will help them to willingly comply. This is critically important in the beginning and intermediate stages of training and if done well, leads to a breath-taking dance where you and your dog seem to be like one.

Kat_puppies_wClarity leads to:

Each partner taking responsibility for their part of the partnership…intuiting what the other wants and needs.
It’s a beautiful thing!

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Do You Say This to Your Dog?

January 8, 2014

Kathy Kawalec blogs about relationship with her dogs

I’m pretty sure that when I say that I can relate the child raising struggles my young niece has to the struggles I have with my dogs, that she politely waits until my back is turned and then rolls her eyes.

Dog rearing and child raising have similaritiesBut, it’s true. I can’t help but see the parallels between child raising and dog rearing, it happens a lot. I guess I’m obsessive about the relationships we have with our dogs and finding better ways to communicate, teach, and influence choices.

In case you’re wondering: yes, when I take those online quizzes, I always come out as a border collie. Obsessive and passionate about their work. That’s me…lol.

Back to my point. I recently read an article about what makes a great ‘sports parent’. Author Rachel Macy Stafford talked about one particular sentence that inspired her to change what she says to her kids as she drives them around to different activities, determined NOT to be one of those ‘nightmare sports parents’ mentioned in the article she read.

“I love to watch you play” are the 6 words that opened the door to a new relationship with her children.

So, as I do my usual ‘relationship relating’… I began to contemplate the words and the feeling behind the words that I say to my dogs. Do I use a similar phrase myself?

I’m not talking about words of encouragement, guidance or cheerleading. We all do that, right?

No, this is something different.

samface1I remember this morning, my dogs eager faces are looking expectantly up at me. My throat tightens and I catch my breath, my eyes tear just a little. I feel so awed by their rapt attention. Not because they are ‘trained’ to ‘watch’ me (they’re not) but because they freely offer their willingness to ‘be’ with me.

I think: “I am awed and I so love your beautiful eyes connecting deeply with mine”, allowing that feeling to expand out from my heart. And then I see their eyes soften just a bit, an appreciation of my appreciation.

I imagine they are thinking:

There’s no pressure here. She just loves to be here with us. That is all.

Luc shows great style and athleticism

My dog runs out on a beautiful cast to gather the sheep to me, sent by a ‘shhhhhh’ only my dog can hear. I am awed by the determined purpose and by the graceful athleticism of my dog as he runs.

I think: “I love to watch you run.”

The sheep quietly arrive at my feet as my dog pauses, waiting to hear what I need next. I softly move away from the sheep as I call my dog to my side. “That’ll do,” I quietly say as I unconsciously pat my leg.

Then, to this amazing partner of mine, I say from my heart: “That was so awesome, buddy.” My dog responds by gently leaning into my leg, and releasing a sigh.

That familiar feeling of throat catching, eyes welling, heart swelling comes over me.

I imagine he is thinking:

There’s no pressure here. She just loves to be here, doing this with me. That is all.

Sue and Kathy getting ready to run at SOTN trialI’m reminded of so many times like this with my dogs.

The times that I soften my body and open my hands into an invitation, and without a spoken word: my dog runs, full speed, eyes smiling and presses her head into my waiting hands.

I am awed to be the subject of this pure adoration, unrequested attentiveness, and eager responsiveness.

As my dog is pressing her head lovingly into my hands, I hope she is thinking:

There’s no pressure here. I love when she invites me into her hands. I love just being here with her. That is all.


Special Thanks to Ms Stafford for your inspiring article.

Here’s Your Challenge:

How can you be a better partner for your dog? How will you change the words and underlying feeling as you train, work and compete with your dog? Tell me about it in the comments below. Or, do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this topic? I will be your eager supporter and I can hardly wait to read your thoughts!



The Cognitive Dog Training Infographic

August 29, 2013

This fun infographic showcases Kathy Kawalec’s Cognitive Dog Training system: Important Dog Training principles, How to Communicate with your dog, The effect of your dog’s emotions on behavior, training and performance. Check it out!


Cognitive Dog Training Infographic


Read more →

Dog Training Partnership that Rocks!

April 8, 2013

I just have a quick announcement for you today.

 A new video of me and my dogs.

As I put this quick video together today, I am reminded of how much I LOVE the partnerships I have with each of my dogs. My heart fills with gratitude and love just thinking about it.

You can have that too. Check out my video and come back here to let me know what you think.

 The Foundation Formula - Kathy Kawalec's Dogs


Happy Spring!

Kathy xoxo


One of my most painful mistakes and what I learned

April 5, 2013

If you’re anything like me and most of my students and clients, your dog is a core part of your life…and you do, or would like to do, lots of fun things with your dog.

You dream of enjoying the benefits of having a happy, friendly dog in your life…a dog that you can take anywhere!

Maybe you dream of competing in a dog sport like agility, herding, or obedience…and of being successful … bringing home ribbons and titles … or even national championships.

And for you, the process of getting that good as a team is the enjoyable part…the ribbons are a bonus to all the fun and adventure you would love to have with your dog as you train and compete.

But, like most of us, you’ve also been in that place where your dreams seem out of reach because a challenge or struggle with your dog stops you dead in your tracks.

So, You reached out for help and what you found were methods that you didn’t like and wouldn’t use…or techniques that seemed too hard or just took too long to get results.

You’ve probably tried so many things, but nothing sticks and you end up in the same or worse place than before.

It can be so frustrating. I know, I’ve been there.

For the past 15 years or so, you might know that my passion has been sheep herding. When I first set out to learn about sheep herding with my first border collie, Dallas, I already knew about positive and natural training methods and I KNEW that I needed to find someone who could help me learn this new and really challenging ‘hobby’ in a fun way.

I knew this because of a really hard lesson. Really hard. This is a story that is still hard to share, 20 years later.

Here’s my story

I brought home my beautiful sheltie, Haley, when she was about 16 weeks old. You may have already read some of Haley’s story on my blog, but there was one part I left out. It was just too painful to write about. Still is, but I’m gonna cowgirl up. <gulp>

Haley enjoying a visit at a friends farm.

Right before I officially dropped out of competitive obedience, there was an incident that blew a hole into my world as I knew it.

Sometimes ‘having great potential’ is a curse, not a blessing. It can cause us to make decisions that we later regret. We can put pressure on ourselves and our dogs that blows things up in our face.

Haley and I had a stellar obedience beginning, in spite of our many challenges. She being really shy and timid with people. Me, inexperienced, with my first ‘obedience’ dog.

Our CD came easy. Three tries, scores in the mid to high nineties. Stressful in many ways for both of us, but still fun.

“Potential: The Curse” Could be the name of my next book. Or a movie.

My obedience trainer said I “had” to put a pinch collar on Haley, my beautiful and sensitive sheltie, in order to get snappy heeling and I “had’ to pinch her ear until she cried out so that I could shove the dumbbell into her open mouth. That was the ONLY way to go on, working towards our CDX. That if I didn’t do these things, I would be a loser. Yes, they said that I might get a Q if I was lucky, but there would be no chance of winning or being really successful.

I was firm about the ear pinch. But, my friends were so convincing as they told me that the collar would not hurt Haley, but that it would provide more clear communication. One of my friends had a collar with tiny little prongs that she assured me would not even penetrate my dog’s thick fur.

So, I tried the collar once.

Up to then, Haley had only worn a plain flat buckle collar because I had refused to use a metal slip collar. (aka choke chain) Everyone I knew thought I was a freak because of my beliefs. At the time, there was NO other way, or so everyone thought.

We fitted the prong collar on her and I heeled with her up the side of the ring.

That went ok, until Haley moved a tiny bit ahead of me and the trainer said now, just give her a tiny little quick pop. I did.

Haley cried out, shocked and scared.

“She’ll be ok, it didn’t hurt her, it just scared her”, they told me. “She needs to learn how to take a correction”, they assured me.

I decided to call it a night and take Haley home, rather than continue with the class.

I went home that night, confused, frustrated, angry at myself. Not sure what to do next. We practiced with our normal buckle collar and had fun during the week.

The next week at training class, when I reached into my training bag, and Haley saw that borrowed collar, she shrank away from me with a look on her face I will never forget.

So, right then and there, I quit obedience. That was 20 years ago. I cried as I wrote this today. And I cried again when I read it for edits.

That decision changed my life. For me, for the dogs I will have the rest of my life, and for so many that I have shared my hard-earned philosophies and methods with…


The lesson that really stands out for me is this:

Positive Reinforcement isn’t an end to the evolution of dog training, it’s a beginning.

Partnership-driven training for dogs and their people is on the horizon. I’m on a mission from DOG … to make the world a better place for dogs and for people too!

Love your dogs today,

Kathy xoxo