obedience | 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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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!

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!

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!

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


Dog Games That Teach™: Frisbee

March 9, 2013

Kathy Kawalec's Dogs play and wait for their turn

Teaching dogs can and should be FUN!

Most of us have dogs that don’t ‘work’ for a living, that means they have lots of free time and energy to burn. Especially when the outside conditions aren’t safe for playing long enough to burn that energy.

One of my favorite ways of burning off that energy is to play a good, long game of fetch. My dogs typically learn how to catch a disc (frisbee), but you can substitute a ball if your dog has a preference. We like to use the softer discs to avoid damage to doggie teeth.

Burning off excess energy is not the only reason for playing a good game of fetch. I strongly advocate using this play time to teach your dog some skills that will make your life so much easier…and your dog’s life so much happier. I wrote another article here about more fun games. And here about improving communication skills when there is little else to do.

Games that Teach™ incorporate these important life skills:

  • Impulse control in distracting situation.
  • Patience and taking turns.
  • Wait/Stay until released.
  • Come back to you.
  • Sit or Down.
  • Fetch/Retrieve and return object to you.
  • Bring you valuable things.
  • Eager and yet mindful attention on you.

Watch the Video to see how it’s done.

I’ve made a video for you to watch today. You’ll see me playing frisbee with two of my border collies, demonstrating how play can be a serious time for learning important skills. I hope you’ll be inspired to partner with YOUR dogs in this fun and skillful way!

Click to watch the video:



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 see how this ‘way of being’ would be useful in anything you do with your dog? 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?  🙂

How to Teach Multiple Dogs to Play

After I released this video, I had several people write me, asking: “exactly how do you do that?”.  It seems that these folks had no problem playing like this with ONE dog, but had no idea how to teach TWO or more dogs to play together this mindfully.

Here’s the quick version of how I teach two or more dogs to play like this:

Step 1. Teach each dog how to play fetch 1:1 with you. 

Step 2. You and your dog already have a partnership-based lifestyle

…or at least the beginning of one.  It’s challenging to isolate the teaching of a particular skill, because my approach is foundational, and holistic in nature.

So, my dogs already know:

  • how to be attentive to me
  • they look to me for positive leadership
  • they have learned self-control in stages…it’s a way of life
  • they trust me

Step 3. Teach each dog (separately) how to:

  • “go fetch” upon request.
  • “wait” until you cue them to go fetch…until just after you throw, until it’s halfway there, or until it lands.
  • “sit” or “down” while they wait for your cue.

You should use good body language to teach these skills, you can offer treats, you should definitely offer lots of praise. You may need to gently support your dog by the collar or harness to teach them to wait. Just your hand gently on their collar should be enough.

When your dogs are easily and eagerly listening for your cues separately, you are ready to move on to Step 4.

Step 4. Play together with 2 dogs.

OK, now the fun begins!  You have two or more dogs who understand the game, and who are eagerly attentive and responsive to your cues. Congratulations…you are well on your way!

Here’s the outline:

  • make the game very simple at first (short, quiet throws)
  • start with your ‘best’, most patient dog waiting first. So, you’ll throw the frisbee for the younger dog, while you repeat the process of gently placing your hand around your dogs collar…eagerly praising the waiting dog, making a bit of a fuss over them…while you softly throw the frisbee for the younger dog.
  • for the dogs, it’s nearly as much fun to wait with you, because you are happily praising the waiting dog.
  • give the young dog 3 or 4 turns. then switch places. you’ll only ask your younger dog to wait for maybe 2 turns, while you quietly throw for the older dog.
  • switch places again. after a few game sessions, you should be able to ‘even up’ the game with equal turns.
  • introduce the ‘control’ skills for both dogs, without you needing to support them by the collar. So, you’ll mix up the wait, sit, down etc…making it fun for all.
  • when those 2 dogs are playing the game well..you’re ready to add in a 3rd dog. Repeat the process.

Do you need the ‘how to’ for teaching your dog the basics of playing fetch?

Let me know in the comments below, and if there’s enough interest, I’ll map it out for you. And, I’d love to hear how your game teaching goes!

Happy playing!



Confession #2: How I Taught My Dog to Run Away When I Called

December 28, 2012

Confession- I taught my dog to run away sm
This is #2 in a series: “Dirty Secrets Revealed: Confessions of a Professional Dog Trainer”. You won’t want to miss Confession #1, “How I taught my dog to pee in the house”.

Haley enjoying a visit at a friends farm.Love at first sight.

I vividly remember the day I first met Haley. I was at the Quarter Horse Congress in Ohio and a woman had an expen full of fluffy bundles of sheltie love. The large female caught my attention right away as she stood on the backs of the other puppies to get to me first. A good fit with my male cattle dog, I thought. And so it was.

Haley and Blue got along great. Haley became my best friend, and I became her student. She was smart as can be, and learned everything I taught her in blazing fast time. Me, I wasn’t such a fast learner.

Our biggest challenge was Haley’s shyness with strangers. She never met a person who deserved her trust right off and only a handful of people earned the privilege of being in her inner circle of friends. In her first few months with me, she was terrorized by new people coming into our house. Blindly panicked, she would run as far away as she could, usually with instant shooting diarrhea as she ran. Buying a 16 week old puppy who had never been out of her kennel wasn’t the best idea, I guess. But it was meant to be. And, sometimes logical decisions just don’t cut it, right?

Off to puppy class we went. She was the star student. On to beginner obedience class, and again, she was the star, winning 1st place in the little class fun match we had graduation night. The ‘stand for exam’ was a problem, but she trusted me enough to hold her position, since I could stay really close at that baby level.

So, now you’re probably thinking: “so…where’s the running away thing?” I had the same thought too. Even back then. We were so close and such a good team, I can’t even imagine she would run away from me when I called. But she did.

It was a small issue of Trust in specific circumstances.

I was only trying to do my job of keeping her safe. And to properly socialize her. And to continue on with what I imagined would be a brilliant run in dog obedience trials. This would be my first try at dog performance, after many years of training and showing horses. I was an eager learner and jumped right in with both feet!

It started with me working at getting Haley comfortable with being close to strangers. I used lots of treats, play, praise, sweet talking and kind leadership. It’s hard to believe now, but the technique that I used was unheard of at the time. It was all about strict obedience back then. I was advised to put her on a leash, correct her when she did not do as I told her, and give her a ‘good girl’ and a cookie when she did. That I should ‘make her’ accept people and ‘force her’ to accept being petted because she was told to. Wow, right?

Using my love and kind respect for animals along with plain common sense, we blazed our own trail. As I worked on helping Haley to become comfortable with people, I would call her encouragingly towards me in order to get her closer to the people that were standing near me. The method I used allowed her to move in or not, and when she did, she was rewarded and praised. The one problem with this method was that I called her to move in towards me, instead of simply allowing her to move in at her own discretion.

Hmmm…did that enhance or diminish her trust in me?

Do you think that helped or hindered her willingness to always come when I called her? Yep, I was inadvertently teaching my dog NOT to come when I called her. I didn’t know!! Crazy, right? Details, details!!!

It had no effect on our “performance” recall. But a definite effect on our every day life. The really important part.

Haley photographed during play with her border collie friendsThen there was the horse chasing thing.

She was a herding breed dog. That means she was attracted to moving animals and had a desire to get them under control. Not such a good idea when the animals are horses, including mares protecting their foals and horses who don’t particularly care to be chased by a little dog and know how to use their hooves to express their opinion.

Our fencing at the time kept the horses in just fine, but did nothing to keep dogs out. At about 6 months old, Haley decided rounding up the horses was in her job description. As soon as any of the horses started to run, she took off like a shot, under the fence and into the pastures. Running, barking (she was a sheltie, what did you expect? they bark) and having a great time. And there I was, calling her back, yelling at her in my panic to keep her safe, all to no avail. She was busy and no way she could listen to me.

Besides, what kind of a choice was that: have fun chasing the horses or stop and go back to a crazy woman who is yelling and acting like a primate on a case of mountain dew?

Right, no real choice there at all. Again, I was ‘teaching’ her not to come when I called her every time I yelled out her name. <sigh>

Even though our obedience recall was awesome, our obedience training did have an undesired effect on our life. There’s that trust thing again. The stand for exam was an important element of getting a CD title at that time. Hard for a dog that doesn’t particularly like strangers getting that close, much less touching her.

At one point, we had a major setback.

I had worked so carefully to build up her trust in me, so that she could use that trust as her courage to stand strong while allowing a stranger to touch her. I remember the day so clearly. The obedience instructor said it was time to teach her not to lean away or step back from his approach on the touching part of the stand for exam. So he said I should support her under her flank to hold her steady, preventing her from leaning away. She had been standing in place, but leaned back, shrinking away from the touch while holding her feet in place. Apparently, not acceptable.

So, I held her in place with a second leash wrapped around her flank while he approached. When she leaned away as she always did, she felt me holding her in the back and then she panicked. That was the first time she felt trapped and she instantly tried to flee. Bucking and twisting against the pressure front and back. It was only for 2 seconds, but the expression on her face is one that I remember clearly to this day, 20+ years later.

I had resisted all of the other advice that was thrown at me up to that point. “Why didn’t I foresee how she would react to this?”, “Why did I decide to do this?”, I asked myself over and over. I cried for two weeks about the decision I made to take that advice. And, I cried for the loss of trust between me and my beautiful, sensitive dog.

Then, I pulled my head out of my ass, wiped the dirt off my face and got back to having fun with my dog.

It came back. The trust, I mean. We worked it out and went on to get our CD with beautiful mid to high 190’s … in spite of the small leaning back from the judge during the stand for exam. I accepted that as part of who she was. A very brave, very young dog who was courageous enough to stand there in spite of her discomfort. Take the points off. We are so happy to give up those points!

Oh, and let’s not forget another part of the ‘Run Away’ story: me being the fun spoiler. You know: those times when your dogs are happily running around, playing, chasing, wrestling and otherwise enjoying life…but you need them in the house because you have to go to work or something. So you stand at the back door and call them in, indicating urgency with your unpleasant tone of voice and demeanor. One quick glance in your direction, and any fun-loving puppy just spins off in the opposite direction, right?

Haley enjoying a walk in the woodsThank goodness Haley and I had a solid thing going on for the most part. Haley came to me when I called most of the time, because she really wanted to be with me. But some times, always when it was most important, I would catch that brief glance in my direction just before she turned and ran in the other direction to do her own thing. Chase horses. Play keep away. Run away from people I wanted her to meet. Stay out longer. That was my girl. Doing exactly what I taught her.


Eventually everything worked out.

At 8 or 9, Haley became the official greeter of visitors to our farm, eagerly running up to everyone and politely but insistently requesting a cookie or some petting. No more running away from strangers!

I could count on Haley to come when I called her over the years, but that was mostly because I learned not to call her unless I was sure she would come. No point in creating a sure-to-fail situation, right? Yep, I learned that setting up my dog and myself for success made life much easier for everyone!

Haley was my companion for 17 glorious years. I say that she stayed around so long because I was such a tough nut to crack. Sometimes it just takes longer for some people to learn, ya know? Of course, deep in my heart, I hope she stayed because she loved her life with me and was happy.

Her last couple of years she couldn’t hear, and her sight was diminished. She wore a bell on her collar so I would know if she was on the move and in which direction. I spent quite a bit of time running after her, arms outstretched, thankful she was slowing down in her old age so that I could reach her and guide her to go in a safer direction. It was so funny.

I would hear her bell: tink, tink, tink and see her softly trotting the wrong way down the trail on our morning walks because she didn’t know which way we went.

There I’d go, jogging towards her, arms reaching out, trying to touch her butt so she would know where I was.  I still chuckle when I picture myself hurrying to catch up with her several times each day. And I still miss her so!

Haley enjoying the day at nearly 17 years old.

Moral of this story:

We CAN recover from mistakes. Sometimes patience and allowing time to do it’s magic is the best training tool we have. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. “The Journey” is where our successes are found, and where our learning takes place.

With a trusting partnership, anything is possible!


Kathy and 16 year old Haley, with young Luc looking up.

After Haley and I earned that very special CD, we ended our ‘obedience’ career. There was no help available for someone who refused to use prong collars, ear pinches and corrections. The next step required dumbbell work. If you’ve never seen the (old school) methods to “properly” train the dumbbell and article work, count yourself lucky. It involved pinching your dog’s ear until they cried out, then shoving the dumbbell into their open mouth. Hold the mouth closed and praise. Repeat. Add the command to the process and there ya go. I hear that some folks still use these methods today. Hard to believe.

Haley and I went on to have a fun and successful agility career. We were amongst the first wave of agility pioneers in the U.S. It was a blast! Boxes of ribbons and trophies have gathered dust in the attic from those days.

I went on to learn from the sea animal trainer folks who did clicker training. Much better! I did find a woman who was breaking trail, teaching obedience work using R+ (positive reinforcement) and I worked with her for a bit, just to learn more about the training methods, even though I had lost my taste for obedience work.

We, as a community, still have lots of pavement ahead of us.

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!

There’s something liberating about being in the front line with the wind blowing through your hair, you know what I mean?

Your Turn.

Mistakes? Recovery? An interesting journey? Share your story. It’s OK. Mistakes mean learning is happening. Be brave!

Competition Failures Transformed

May 24, 2012

Young Karma enjoys agility!When Good Karma Won’t Stay

(This is a guest blog by Julie Bacon)

There’s a popular quote: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” That was us, me and my Bernese Mountain Dog, Karma, when it came to having a solid stay in obedience. We practiced, yet still couldn’t manage to successfully hold our stays in the ring. Clearly, something had to change.

A companion becomes a partner

Karma is my first “competition” dog, and when he came into my life as a puppy 5 years ago I couldn’t have foreseen that we would be trialing successfully in obedience, rally, drafting, agility and (a little) herding. Yet my “pet” evolved quickly into a “performance” dog and with that came expectations and goals.

Some of those goals included getting advanced obedience titles and we hit a wall when working towards our CDX title, specifically the portion having to do with out-of-sight stays. We practiced, we tried different methods and took in all the advice but Karma would not just move out of position, he would leave the ring to find me. Once he jumped out of the ring to meet me at the door. Once he nearly ran down a steward who later told me she thought better of blocking his path. Usually he just met me at the gate.

To say I was frustrated is an understatement.

At the time, just before Kathy and I began working on this issue, I would have said I could define those 5 “C” words and that Karma and I were connected. Looking back, I was wrong, of course.

Yes, Karma and I had a fabulous connection in terms of unconditional love and a desire to work with one another. But to put the 5 Cs to work meant looking hard into the mirror and asking myself: Did I really have clarity, communication, competence, commitment and coaching? Actually, I had pieces – so that was a start. But each competency had to be developed and practiced. And here’s where I would add a sixth C: Consistency! Being committed to creating a connected relationship is one thing, being consistent about it takes real self-awareness of each moment.

Yup, it’s work. I mean, the most rewarding kind, but work nonetheless.

Karma and Julie working at the draft test.

Training is NOT compartmentalized

While I applied this methodology to all of my training situations, the way it manifested in working on our stays was a long process. One of the best things someone told me was, “Whatever problem you’re having in the ring, is happening somewhere else, you’re just not seeing it.”

That was a big ah-ha moment for me as I had always compartmentalized the different aspects of our life together: daily walks were separate from working a front cross in agility; hikes in the woods were not the same as pulling a cart; swimming in the lake couldn’t have anything to do with getting a reliable stay.

I feel like we are truly partners and I now know that if he’s not “getting it” then I need to go check my C’s.

Karma and Julie share a hugSure, you can “sneak in” training moments when having fun, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about building that connection. We worked – and still work – the 5 Cs to develop a partnership, and for us, this huge aspect of mutual respect that now is a cornerstone of our relationship be it in the ring or in the woods. As a result, I feel like we are truly partners and I know if he’s not “getting it” then I need to go check my Cs – including my sixth one, consistency.

Julie Bacon lives in northern Virginia with her two Bernese Mountain Dogs, Karma and Indie, who compete in obedience, rally, agility, draft and herding.


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

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Scary and reactive transformed into canine good citizen and therapy dog

May 8, 2012


Dee and Phalen share a hugDee and Phalen: Dreams kept alive by love.

(This is a guest post by Dee Wilusz)

My name is Dee Wilusz and I am the very proud mom of 6 White Shepherds and or White shepherd mixes. They all came to me through rescue except for my youngest. Phalen is my first dog from a breeder. My husband I live in a fairly rural part of Indiana with sheep and cats to round out our family. I drive a school bus by day and train dogs by night and weekend. Any activity with my dogs is the best that it can be for me. Therapy work, agility, obedience, conformation, herding, swimming, walking or to be honest just breathing the same air as them thrills me beyond words.

I remember the day that I brought Phalen home, this tiny bundle of fur that was here “just on a trial basis”. It was love at first sight and if I close my eyes I can remember the exact feeling and moment that Jean, his breeder put him in my arms. I was determined that Phalen was going to be the dog of my dreams. A fresh slate that I could mold and make into everything I had always wanted. The universe had slightly different plans for us and a journey that I never expected.

I saw the first reactivity at 6 months.

I was proactive, worked with his breeder, took classes, and worked on confidence building. I was positive that I could change the course of the reactivity and “save him”. My passion had always been shy dogs; I am great at helping shy dogs and had specialized in it for our rescue and with my own dogs for years with wild success. Reactivity was foreign to me and frightened me. We continued on this course until the fateful day that Phalen attacked another dog in my home. I was crushed. I separated him from the boys and began living in a divided house. We sought the help of experts and people (solicited or not) were more than willing to tell me how to “fix” him and how it was all my fault. Thankfully, I kept searching.

I considered returning Phalen to his breeder, but I just couldn’t do it.

Phalen wearing his favorite pink glassesHe was a part of me and even living in a divided house couldn’t separate us. I found Kathy through Phalen’s breeder after a dreadful herding experience. She thought that Kathy’s gentle methods would speak to me and of course she was exactly right. The 5C’s were like water in the desert. Finally, a plan! Not only a plan, but one that recognized the relationship with my dog and honored that relationship. This I could understand and commit to.

A new journey began, and our relationship blossomed.

Phalen and I began working with Kathy and things were slow at first, but Kathy is clear about that. She says it takes time but it’s worth it, there are no quick fixes. Phalen and I buckled down and began really working on our relationship. Each taking equal responsibility for our parts, I had never asked him to take his share, I tried to carry it for both of us. I still struggle with this sometimes, but Phalen is good at reminding me that this is what he wants as well.

I am clearer about what I want and need. Phalen can now trust that I will be clear in my communication and that I will no longer leave him wondering what I want or expect that he will read my mind. I practice skills before I ask Phalen to do them. I use people as my dogs who can give me great feed back about what I am doing and how it affects them. Then when I get with Phalen, I am competent, confident and clear. He and I both deserve that.

Loving Phalen just the way he is has been a major shift for us and while it may seem small it is gigantic and changes everything for us.

We still live in a divided house and we may live that way until the boys are no longer with us. I am OK with that, for the first time ever I have accepted that. If it changes, that would be great, but it is no longer my driving force. My language has always been about changing Phalen. “Phalen is perfect, except for the reactivity. I wouldn’t change anything about Phalen except for his reactivity. If only he weren’t reactive we could do anything.” It has been through my work with Kathy that today I can say; “I love Phalen exactly as he is today and think he is perfect “. That has been a major shift for us and while it may seem small it is gigantic and changes everything for us.

Phalen I showed conformation this weekend. We have had a very successful show career, and we have always been grateful for the wins. This weekend was very different though. We were truly a team this weekend. Fluid, beautiful, connected in a way that we have never been before.

Phalen and Dee at the USCW Nationals

My husband kept saying: “I have never seen you guys show like this before.”

For Phalen and I this weekend it was about us, being a team, enjoying the moment and celebrating our relationship. They don’t give out ribbons for that, but that is what each of those ribbons said to me this weekend. The joy of stepping in the ring with an invisible lead, the look on Phalen’s face as he took his cues from me, and the moment when another dog came charging at Phalen and he looked at me and ignored the dog, that’s what our journey is about.

It turns out that Phalen really is the dog of my dreams.

It wasn’t until my journey with Phalen that I had clarity to define them and a determination to see them fulfilled. I’m not sure what our future goals are, for now I am working on enjoying living in this moment and appreciating every aspect of this particular moment in life. As Phalen and I continue on our journey, I know that a clear path will emerge, the one of least resistance and the one that is perfect, made just for us.

Dee Wilusz
Echo Dogs White Shepherd Rescue  www.echogdogs.org
Trainer – Joshica’s Planet Canine  www.planet-canine.com


PS: read the next chapter in Dee and Phalen’s story here.


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