Dancing Hearts Blog

How to Find a Common Purpose with Your Dog

The Summer Series on The Power of Partnership - Part 3 of 5

Transitioning into a new way of being with your dog isn’t always like going from A to B. Sometimes there are a few bumps in the road along the way. But what do you do when you make a mistake?

It’s normal to get knocked off-course when you’re moving towards something new. However, how you deal with those moments will determine how difficult it will be to get to where you want to go.

This is the third of five installments in my ongoing blog and podcast series, “The Summer Series on The Power of Partnership”. In it, I’m sharing some simple – yet effective – partnership principles that you can start using in yours and your dog’s daily life right away.

Once again, we’re returning to Mary, a dog mom and avatar client, who’s tackling some challenges with her dog, Max. In each part, we look at how Mary puts these principles into action and moves along in her partnership journey.

To find out what we’ve covered so far, check out parts one and two. You can listen to part one’s podcast episode here or read the blog post, and part two’s podcast episode here, or read the blog post.

Now, let’s dive into part three!


Understanding partnership competence

The third principle I want to discuss in this post is partnership competence. But what does this mean?

It means being patient, having awareness, and being present on your journey to partnership competence. Competence needs nurturing. It’s very much a journey and not a destination!

In parts one and two, I talked about clarity and communication. The thing is, once you’ve got clear on what you want, you can start to work towards it.

We all know that saying, “practice makes perfect”, right? But what if what you’re practicing isn’t getting you closer to a brilliant partnership? You may inadvertently or unconsciously be practicing things that cause stress and over-arousal, causing unwanted behavior.

That’s obviously not what you want! You want to develop habits and patterns that help you work towards the life you want to live and the partnership that works for you.

Now that sounds pretty straightforward, right? But, speaking from experience, transitioning into a new way of being can be incredibly hard. It can be a real challenge to figure out where you want to be and even more difficult to become fluent in the partnership skill you’re putting into practice.


Patience is key

That’s why it’s so important to remember to be patient. Patience is a vital partnership skill, and it’s not always easy to master!

As you and your dog are learning a new way of being with one another, maybe you’ll fall back into old habits and behavior patterns, and your dog might too. But, you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to give yourself and your dog permission to learn and make mistakes.


“Give yourself permission to learn, permission to make mistakes.”


So what does patience look like when you’re in the middle of a struggle? It’s being present and nurturing awareness. It’s being aware of the dialogue you’re having with your dog in that moment. This is what’s going to help you become so fluent in your new way of life. You won’t even remember what it used to be like!

Our dogs are masters at being present, and this is a great skill to learn from them. When you’re open to learning from your dog, they can teach you all manners of things.

Now, when your mindset is fixed on learning and being in a dialogue with your dog, you’re more able to trust in your abilities. You look for ways to explore possibilities and try new avenues when things don’t work. This learning, adjusting, and trying again is all part of the journey to partnership success.


“Give yourself permission to learn, permission to make mistakes.”


What Mary’s learned so far

Alright, so let’s get back to Mary and review what she’s taken from our sessions up until now.

Already, Mary and Max have come a long way to being more understanding partners. Even though it’s been just a few short weeks, they now listen more attentively, communicate more effectively, and pay attention to subtle body language, all backed by their new clarity and dialogue.

Mary has learned that dogs want to work with us. They love to cooperate and figure things out. She’s also noted that when humans are distracted, frustrated, or in a hurry, dogs pick up on that and mirror our behavior.

But she’s learned that mistakes are okay. We can’t always be our best selves! Partnerships are an ongoing learning experience, and the mistakes let us know where we need to make new choices or adjustments.


“Partnerships are an ongoing learning experience.”


Mary had one realization, which I really love and that’s “this new way of collaborating with dogs is so much easier and more fun than the old way!” She now knows that giving dogs responsibility for their part of the partnership helps everyone to relax. It stops us from feeling like we’re nagging them or they’re ignoring us.

Finally, Mary shared a really big lesson. She’s learned that bribing or being transactional with our dogs isn’t necessary. Dogs are naturally attentive and responsive to us because they want to cooperate – not just because they want a reward!


Becoming partners in the dance of life

A big change we can see in Mary and Max is that they’re really starting to become partners in this dance of life. Mary takes the lead role, but she’s always connected to Max. When he struggles, she’s right there to help him.

They also have clear boundaries and guidelines that have brought comfort and calmness to their lives, making them feel safe, calm and happy. Mary’s focus has been on being patient and aware of how she communicates with Max – especially when he starts to show signs of over-arousal.

Previously, Mary relied on cues for Max. Now, she’s committed to maintaining a dialogue so that he can have his own autonomy and make better choices. For example, when Mary wants to leash Max or let him out into the yard, she no longer commands him to sit and stay. Instead, she invites him to connect with her. Then they use calm, patient communication to cooperate and accomplish what’s needed.

One thing Mary desperately wanted to change at the start of their journey was their struggle walks. They’ve been rehearsing being in balance and practicing walking together as partners in safe spaces, such as the house and outdoors, in places where she’s certain of their success. Walking is now a fun activity they can both enjoy!

Enjoying a walk together was Mary’s prime goal, but since then, she’s realized they can achieve so much more. Max is now much calmer. He no longer jumps on her like a wild man and sits patiently.

Mary’s not completely sure how this happened as she didn’t train any of it. But she suspects it’s because of their newfound respect, attentiveness, and desire to cooperate, pulling all of these pieces into place. I think she’s got it right!


How to improve your partnership competence

Now I want you to think about that specific challenge you’re facing with your dog (the one you decided to work on in part one). I’m going to give you some journal prompts and questions to think about all to do with your own partnership competence.


“Partnership competence is a journey not a destination.”


Grab a pen and paper, here we go:

  • Where are you practicing the right stuff that will lead to partnership mastery?
  • Where are you practicing the wrong stuff?
  • What’s standing in the way of your partnership success?
  • How is your dog affected when you get impatient, tired, annoyed, or frustrated with yourself (or your dog)?
  • Where can your dog learn to be more responsible for their part of the partnership without being on command?
  • Can you identify times when you can be more present and more attentive?
  • How can you collaborate with your dog to work through this partnership lifestyle challenge?
  • Where are you responding to mistakes inappropriately?
  • How can you shift your response?


Alright my friends, that’s all for part three. I hope you’ve taken something away from this part and can have some fun with it. Leave a comment or send me a message to let me know how you’re getting on – I always love hearing from you!

If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrollment!

You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 169, which you can listen to here.

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