Herding | Dancing Hearts Cognitive Dog Training

4 Ways to Calm Your ‘Winter Stir Crazy’ Dogs and Get a Better Partnership

January 7, 2018

Stuck inside with your dog? 4 things you can do right now!

Having wild, pent-up dogs could be a really good time to work on some important skills that’ll come in handy now AND later. So, think of it as a blessing in disguise! lol

Seriously? You probably think I’m crazy, reading my quote. (and, I’m not sayin you’re wrong!)    😉

Here’s Why:

The Dogs: Can learn how to have better impulse control. They can learn how to allow their person to calm them when they’re excited or tense. They can learn that sometimes thinking, mindful action eases the crazies better than spinning, jumping and racing.

The Humans: Can develop their ability to read their dog…to sense their dog’s mental, emotional and physical state of being in any moment. They can practice being calm, centered, relaxed and clear. They can learn how to help calm and relax their dogs in different environments.

Ahhh…feel the calm and connection.

Some backstory assumptions…aka Kathy’s worldview:

  • Dogs naturally have a desire to mature into contributing members of their family group. They innately understand that they must fulfill certain social and cultural obligations to help create a happy, balanced family group.
  • Any being (dog or handler) who is tense, distracted or frantically over-aroused cannot possibly think, learn, effectively teach or be their best.
  • We humans have a powerful influence on our dogs thru our body language, emotional state, and intention.
  • High-Arousal Activities that your dog engages in should be limited to no more than 15% each day.
  • Just “being” … hanging out together … is a really, really useful experience for your dog to have daily!

Here are 4 really useful things you can work on when it’s icky bad outside and your dogs are driving you crazy:

Dallas and Renie play in the snow#1. Teach your dogs to pay close attention to you and to be responsible partners.

I’m talking about having a dog that is fully aware of their part of the partnership, and knows to look to you for information by watching your body language…reading your intention…and feeling your feelings. They’re really good at all of that. We just have to expect them to be natural and inquisitive.

For example: you can teach your dog to sit or lie down and wait until you say it’s OK to approach their dinner bowl…WITHOUT SAYING A WORD.

Then, teach them how to do the same at doors, gates, crates, vehicles…everywhere.

And, teach your dog to ‘take turns’..for anything and everything. Like getting a treat. Or retrieving a ball. Or going thru the gate for a run with the pack…ONE DOG AT A TIME. In a different order, at your random choice.

Make it an adventure of experimenting and discover how to dialog with your dog with clear intention and body language using your “3P’s”: Posture, Position and Presence.


Dallas playing#2. Develop your skill at REALLY reading your dog.

This will be sooooooo useful as you train and handle your dog…whether it’s sheep herding, agility or anything else. I’m most familiar with sheep herding, but use your imagination to apply my comments to your own activity.

You want to know when your dog is tense, stressed, over-energized or manic. So, pay close attention.

What is your dog’s body posture? Head position? Facial expression? Are the muscles tense? Quivering, even? Or supple and smooth? Is your dog spinning around in circles or manically jumping? What about breathing: shallow and quick? anxious panting? Or smooth, even and slow? Eyes fixed and staring or wide and wild? Or softly and keenly taking in the environment? Is your dog eagerly and softly awaiting your next cue, or are nails digging into the ground in readiness to take off like a maniac?

Your goal is to read your dog in an instant and take action to calm and relax your dog BEFORE you do any training…in other words, prepare your dog to partner with you in a useful way.

Your partner should have the type of intensity that is eager, focused calm and confident. Not the kind of intensity that comes from being tensely over-stimulated and easily builds into a kind of frenzy.

Learn to objectively observe your dog in different situations and environments and if you don’t have a dog that is able to partner with you…STOP…and work on that first, before you proceed.


#3. Be a Zen Master: be able to BE a you that is calm, centered, confident and focused.

Because your dog is so keenly tapping into you…and what you are communicating…teaching yourself to objectively observe your own body, your focus and your level of calmness becomes a key step to your dog being his best…being able to do the job you are asking him to do.

So: what are YOUR muscles like? Scan your body, looking for tension…then relax those areas. What is your breathing like? Long, deep breaths can help to calm you as you let go of muscle tension and a closed posture. Check your emotions? Are you anxious or stressed? Take a few moments to allow your emotions to get back into balance…to calm and focused.

Listen to your voice (or your whistle). Are you speaking in a high pitch, rapid fire and over-animated? Is your own intensity raising to a fever pitch?

First, just notice…then breath as you observe yourself…then begin to relax and calm. Smile. Get a drink of water. Look around and find something that makes you happy and let that feeling fill your body. Hint: it’s probably your dog.


Kathy with 1 year old Luc, connecting during a work session#4. Use the Calming Power of Touch

Go ahead and touch your dog whenever either of you are feeling tense. Use long, smooth strokes under the chin and down the chest, or down the back, or along the sides.

Breathe in rhythm to your stroking…hum or tone if that helps you to breath more fluidly.

Walk a bit with your dog to release some of that tension. Maybe play a little.

Then touch some more. Long and smooth, solidy connecting with your dog. Feel your feet in touch with the ground…let your energy settle down into your feet then right out into the ground.  Maybe even sit there on the ground or floor with your dog, just breathing and enjoying one another’s company.

A little oxytocin will help you and your dog to calm and feel more deeply bonded. 🙂

There…now you and your dog are ready to try again. Isn’t that better?

 Part 2: Learn my 2 Favorite Games that are house friendly and fun!


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One Dog’s Transformation from Trash to Treasure

September 11, 2017


When I adopted Maya, she had been labeled as ‘untrainable’ by her 3 previous homes, and was ready to be put down because of it.

You may know my sweet and sassy Maya…or you may know of her story.

She is quite a gal, with a jaded history. 😉

She was kicked out of 3 homes, and stood on death’s door because of her impossible behavior. She was labeled ‘untrainable’, and I was her last chance.

She chased anything that moved including kids, bikes, cows, horses…anything and everything! There was not a fence or gate that could stop her.

That was before she was 6 months old. Yep. She is quite a character.

We got off to a very rough start … and I began to question my sanity for taking her in. So, I did the one thing I was sure would be our path to partnership:

I spent our first 6 months working with her, creating partnership, developing self control and life skills … you know … The Foundation Formula stuff.

THEN, and only then, I started her sheepdog training. It was so worth the wait.

I took a chance on her, and I’m so glad I did.

She went from other’s Trash to my Treasure … and it turned out that she was a world-class sheep herding trial champion! Who knew?

I was religious about following my ONE RULE…and it payed off!

Watch the video to learn how I set her up for success and transformation:



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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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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!

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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How to Easily Fix This Common (and Frustrating) Dog Training Challenge

April 13, 2015

How to Easily Fix 800px

Last year I surveyed dog lovers from all around the country…engaged in a cross section of ALL dog activities/dog sports/working dogs. Can you guess what was in the Top 3 Common Struggles?

“My Dog Gets Distracted, Looses Focus, Won’t Listen.”

I totally get it.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about how distracted my young dogs were at a North Dakota sheepdog trial where we were all inexperienced at handling yearling ewes fresh off the range, in 2 feet of tall noisy grass that kept the dogs from seeing me and the sheep, with a 25 mph wind blowing in our faces.

We were not prepared. My dogs could not listen. We were all distracted, to say the least.

I know now that if I had stayed focused when my dogs began to struggle with this unknown environment instead of freaking out because they weren’t listening to me, it would have been a better experience for all of us. Lesson learned.

Lots of dogs visit here at my farm for life skills training, behavior transformation, herding training and more. There is LOTS of distraction.

Oh, the smells and sights on a farm…the sheep poop…the horse poop…the chicken poop…it’s heavenly for the dogs and hellish for their person. (yes, there is lots of poop on a farm, and you know how much dogs love poop)

With all this personal experience with distraction from both sides of the counter, I have cracked the code on the Root Cause of  Distractions.

And, I have figured out how you can keep your dog focused in all circumstances.

Are you ready? Here’s my secret tip:

The main reason dogs get distracted is because their person is distracted.


It’s as Simple As: You stay focused, your dog stays focused.
Ha! I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.  😉  And, I assure you it is a fact.

Here’s what happens:
• When dogs aren’t getting a steady flow of information (from us) any time they are not familiar or experienced with a situation, they get distracted.
• When dogs are unsure about what to do (and they have no leadership – maybe because we are learning too), they get distracted.
• When dogs are unsure about what to do, and we freak out because they aren’t listening when we need them to the most, they get even more distracted.
• When dogs do not understand what we are trying to teach them and we don’t quickly make it more clear, they get distracted.
• When dogs don’t have the kick-ass awesome partner in competition that they have in practice or training (that’s you), they get distracted.
• When we are learning something new with our dog, they get distracted.
• When we are not having fun in the work or training, our dog gets distracted.


Why is this?, I hear you asking.

Because when we are learning, thinking, assessing, nervous, obsessing, freaking out…we are disconnected from our dog. We are ‘inside our head’, our dog is basically ‘out there’ alone.

Our dogs SEEM to be misbehaving. They are just lost and lonely.  😉

What can I do?, you ask.  Here ya go:

Your Action Steps:

1. Read the “5 Steps” guidebook, and this time notice how Mary handles distractions and lack of focus. Focus on the focus.
2. Anytime you hear yourself say out loud or in your head: “my dog is distracted by….” assess your own mental focus and connection to your dog.
3. Learn from your distractions. When you find you are disconnected from your dog, and discover why…brainstorm how you can reconnect. Sometimes, you need to do nothing but cut your dog some slack. Just feel better knowing your dog is distracted because you are immersed in something else, not because they are blowing you off.
4. Teach yourself NOT to get distracted by your dogs distraction. This is a hard one. When our dog starts to ‘do something else’ whatever it is, suddenly our focus returns to our dog and we see them being distracted.

Our nature is to look at and engage with what the dog is distracted by. I have NEVER had a person tell me that their dog is distracted without including a ‘by’ statement at the end. Think about it. (hint: if you have EVER told your dog to ‘leave it’, you were distracted)

Practice staying focused on the task at hand, whatever it is. Encourage your dog to engage with you, as you stay engaged with your dog.

In no time at all, with your commitment to focus, you will have the most attentive and engaged doggie partner ever. Fun!

Let me know how it goes. I love to hear success stories!   😉



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.