Dancing Hearts Blog

Scary and reactive transformed into canine good citizen and therapy dog


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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