Dancing Hearts Blog

A Painful Relationship Transformed

Nancy and Bruce: Personal Story of Transformation

Nancy and her border collie Bruce getting ready to run at a herding trial

Learning to Dance

(This is a guest blog by Nancy Flynn)

My dog Bruce is amazing. I know in my heart that he is a very talented dog. If you can’t see clearly that my dog is top notch, it’s because I may be obscuring the view.

He may not be an easy dog, but trust me, he’s a great one.

…And then there’s me.

Staying calm, focused and unemotional are states of being that I have to work on every time I take my dog to sheep. I get impatient and frustrated when things don’t go well. I love my dog, but I think dark thoughts about him in the heat of these moments – and I don’t like it.

This partnering, training, clarity thing — it does not come naturally to me.

The tricky thing about training sheepdogs is that it LOOKS like a combination of mechanical skills and natural ability, all brought under command by a talented trainer. What it really IS, as it turns out, is a combination of partnership, collaboration and commitment to the process. Even the person who won the National Finals last year has described his relationship with his top dog as “similar to a good marriage”.

So the good news, for me, is that I WANT to partner and collaborate and commit and be clear. I’m certain that my dog wants this too. I have seen abundant evidence of this every time we have been able to bring these qualities to our sessions on sheep. Enter my friend Kathy Kawalec and the 5Cs.

I have found that if my dog and I listen to each other, our partnership will be stronger and we’ll have more success.

Bruce working sheep, showing great style.

The 5Cs have given me a guide to focusing on the important aspects of work with my dog. I have changed my perspective from commanding my dog to focusing on communicating with my dog. I can see how being clear about what I want, with great timing and proper tone, can make all the difference to both of us. I have renewed my commitment (and enthusiasm) to a process that allows for learning on both our parts…and a vow to stop and take a breath when frustration shows it’s ugly face.

I have found that if we listen to each other, our partnership will be stronger and we’ll have more success. (now, when Bruce doesn’t take a cue, I am more inclined to reassess my sheep and situation rather than to demand blind obedience – not 100% on this but it’s a work in progress).

The 5Cs have given me a guide for how I want to be with my dog, whether it’s training in my field or competing at a trial. I must stay calm and focused in order to clearly communicate the objective of the work and execute the task with competence. The reviews are in: we are having a lot of fun in our work. And this great dog of mine is doing great work with me.

I was ready for a methodology that could take my mind off of the dog I didn’t have and put my heart into the dog I do have.

Kathy’s gift for communicating a great method has given me a wonderful road map for building a better partnership with my dog. Lest you think that the 5Cs are a cure for impatience and frustration – don’t go nominating Kathy for the Nobel Prize just yet. I am not cured, but I AM using the 5Cs to change my approach to my training, my dog and myself. With Kathy’s help, I was ready for a methodology that could take my mind off of the dog I didn’t have and put my heart into the dog I do have.

I used to think that training a sheepdog was about having a dog that would do what you said when you said it. Turns out it’s about creating a champion working partnership with a partner that trusts you to ‘lead the dance’. I now know that my dog and I can have a great partnership.

Nancy Flynn lives in northwest Indiana on a small farm, raising sheep, hay and dancing with her dogs. http://shepherdanalytics.shutterfly.com

Photos courtesy of HCookPhotos.com


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

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


Get Your Free Copy of the roadmap Nancy uses to create a better partnership with her dog: “5 Step Formula for Dog Training Success!”

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