Enlightened by Dogs Podcast

EBD285 Building Bridges: From ‘Untrainable’ to Unstoppable Partnership

Kathy Kawalec shares an intimate story about her border collie Maya, who had been rejected by three homes by the time she was six months old. Maya was labeled “untrainable” due to her uncontrollable and dangerous chasing habits. Experienced trainers struggled with her, but Kathy approached the situation differently.

Instead of focusing on training specific behaviors, Kathy prioritized establishing a strong foundation with Maya, emphasizing these key partnership principles:

  1. Role modeling: Showing Maya the norms of living as a family and helping her adapt through classical conditioning.
  2. Meeting Maya’s needs: Ensuring she felt heard, had a sense of belonging, and felt she was contributing to the family.
  3. Building trust: Not setting timelines for Maya’s progress, but taking things day by day.
  4. Decision-making: Using the clarity framework to guide choices, based on trust and desired outcomes.
  5. The Partnership Dance Steps: Incorporating dance steps into their daily activities to foster connection and communication.

Once their foundation was strong, Kathy began Maya’s sheepdog training. This once “untrainable” dog went on to become a finalist in national competitions and was ranked among the top 30 in North American border collie sheepdog standings.

The essence of their journey is a testament to the power of patience, understanding, and partnership. Kathy encourages others to adopt a similar approach, emphasizing the “95% Rule” (only asking your dog to do something if you’re 95% certain they can do what you’re about to ask) and prioritizing deep listening and building a sense of belonging.

Kathy’s story with Maya serves as an inspiration to believe in the potential of every dog, regardless of their past.


“People often give up on dogs like Maya, labeling them ‘too difficult’ or ‘untrainable’. But I’ve always believed that every dog has potential. It’s just a matter of building trust. Once you gain that trust, even the wildest spirit can become your brilliant partner.”

“Training hadn’t worked to reform her dangerous behavior, and I knew something different was needed. Looking into her eyes, I saw a sweet, eager-to-please dog, yearning for understanding and belonging.”

“Maya had this incredible spirit – fierce, independent, and curious. Instead of trying to suppress that, I celebrated it. My approach was not about shaping behaviors through training, but showcasing Maya’s unique personality. In embracing who she truly was, we found our winning formula.”

“Working with Maya wasn’t just about transforming her; it was about our mutual growth. She taught me as much as I taught her. Through our partnership dance, we found a rhythm, a connection. We weren’t just ‘trainer and subject’ – we became true partners.”


Become a calm and confident Dog Mom with a cooperative, happy dog … without obedience training, relying on treats or arousing games, or corrections of any type.

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