Joy and Struggle

There’s the joy, the fun, the adventure…the stuff we love, and the very reasons we are so devoted to our dogs in the first place!

And then there is the struggle. The challenges:

  • Our dog seems to be defiant, and we feel frustrated.
  • Our dog is a ‘problem child’ and we are exhausted, trying to ‘fix’ our dog.
  • Maybe our dog is anxious, stressed, reactive, fearful…and we feel overwhelmed with worry and concern.
  • Sometimes we are embarrassed with the way our dog behaves.
  • Or we don’t understand why our dog who does great in practice is distracted or won’t listen at competitions.

You can you relate, right?

I’ve certainly had all of these experiences at one time or another with my dogs over the years. It’s made me a better person, that’s for sure.

More than once, I have said to myself as I look up into the sky in a moment of impatience, “do I Really need to work on growing my character Again? Really?”

Ah, yes, such is life.

Well, if you are anything like me, (and I know you are) you’d like to minimize those big challenges that force us into a new and better version of ourselves…and instead, plan for the growth, so the ‘new and more brilliant us’ blossoms in a less painful way.

That’s where the whole Partnership thing comes in…and where Cognitive Dog Training started, and the Foundation Formula too.

I wrote this on a page on my website:

At the heart of it is … the process of acquiring profound understanding and knowledge about our dogs, about ourselves and how we interact and respond to one another.

I just read it again, and I still love it…the significance of it. I love the ‘profound understanding’ part. It’s part of the foundation that is so important for building a trusting partnership with our dogs. Seeking this deep understanding has influenced how I train and compete with my dogs over the years.

Luc at the WWSDA 2012 Labor Day Trial

I’m thinking of Luc as one good example.

When I started his sheepdog (herding) training, he presented me with a challenge that I had not come across. He was clearly talented, and we had a solid foundation, a budding partnership. At a year old, I enjoyed working and training with my little man.

He was willing to take my direction, to listen, to please me. The challenge came with finding balance when he got closer to two.

When his instinct (which had perfect pitch) argued with my instruction, he believed he had to choose. He had to disregard his instinct and do what I said. Or, he had to disregard what I said and follow his instinct.

Wow, that was quite a difficult place for such a young dog to be in, right?

So, my challenge was to figure out a way to keep the communication flowing between us. I had to figure out how to allow my instructions to be taken as ‘clear guidelines’ but not as ‘must do commands’. I had to develop our partnership and communication, without taking away his initiative to follow his good instincts.

It was hit and miss for a while as we worked it out. Sometimes we nailed it. Other times, he was looking at me instead of the sheep … sometimes he was ignoring me, focusing only on the sheep.

Sometimes I was filled with joy with our progress. Sometimes I was frustrated at our imbalanced partnership.

The thing that got us through this new and challenging period was our foundation. Our trust for one another. Our partnership. It just kept growing, getting better and better.

Ultimately, our partnership became brilliant! One exciting example of that: We were Finalists at the USBCHA Nationals.  Luc and I worked our way to the championship final round, the famous double lift. It was quite an experience and I am both humbled and proud of our accomplishment as partners.

Take my little story about Luc, and imagine yourself and your dog in our place, in any context at all. The same struggle story applies to life skills, agility, rally, anything that you do with your dog:

Just imagine this struggle between your dog’s natural instincts and desire to please you and do what’s right.

Now imagine the successful outcome you dream of…

Here’s what I imagine you want to ask me:

Q: OK, I want that too! How can I get this kind of partnership with my dog?

A: Through the 5 step foundation formula that I have been teaching. Step-by-step. You’ve heard me talk about baby steps a lot. It’s the only way to go.

Partnership is really all about ever-increasing levels of good communication. Getting deeper into understanding. Deeper into what I call the ‘dialog loop’…an active exchange of thoughts, feelings, words, expressions, actions between me and my dog that informs my next move, my next choice of how to go on with the lesson my dog and I are learning together.

This is the “Partnership” that I tell you about. An interactive, collaborative relationship with our dogs that transforms struggles into joyful possibilities.

Follow these 5 Steps to work your way toward partnership with your dog:

  1. Start with an intention to actively communicate with your dog. To dialog. To truly listen with all of your senses, all of your being, to what your dog is telling you.
  2. Strive for clarity as you interact with your dog. Get really clear about what you want, and about how your dog needs you to teach this skill.
  3. Be a loving leader in the dance of your life together. The dance requires you and your dog to be competent at being attentive and responsive to one another.
  4. Foster a deeper, heart-to-heart holistic connection with your dog. This means that you become as balanced mentally, emotionally and physically as your dog.
  5. Develop a foundation of collaboration with your dog that becomes your cornerstone for easily transforming any struggle that crops up into brilliant possibility for success.

 

 
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4 responses to “The Joy and Struggle of Life with Dogs”

  1. Diane Ulrick says:

    Wonderful!

  2. Tina Reeder says:

    Hi Kathy,

    We have had 5 border collies in our life but Nick our youngest one has been the most challenging for me and my husband to work with. Your articles have been helpful and we are seeing progress in him but I am still struggling with him when we are outside playing ball or throwing the frisbee. He will not bring the toy to us. He will come so far and drop it but not right to us. I have used treats, clicker training, exchanging one toy for another and he still is not understanding or wanting to bring the toy. I have used visual with him showing him with my hands are marking the spot with here trying to help to understand what we want. I feel like he and I are struggling to with each other. I feel like he thinks if he brings it to us the game will stop. He has a very strong drive in him. I feel that I am not communicating maybe in the right way to him. I would appreciate any suggestions you can give me.

    Have a very Merry Christmas and a Great New Year Kathy.

    Tina

    • Kathy Kawalec says:

      Hi Tina! I’m happy to hear you’re finding the articles helpful for you and your border collies!

      I have found that if I keep quickly backing away from the dog with animation as they turn to come back with the toy…loving their choice to keep coming toward me with the toy…the dog is naturally driving into me without me specifically asking for that. Over time, I can begin to lesson my backward momentum, and eventually stand relatively still.

      Some dogs need the backward movement to keep coming in close with the toy always. Others quickly bring it close or right into my hand. I just adjust to what each dog needs.

      Be sure you’re not looking at the dog as they come back. No eye contact. Look more diffusely in the direction of the dog, or at the ground in between.

      When Nick does being it closer, be sure to give him another toss right away. That will communicate clearly that you are not taking his toy ‘away’…and it will reward his choice to come closer with it.

      Hope that helps!

      Merry Christmas to you too!

  3. Norma Tirnr says:

    Hi, I’m enjoying your blogs and I really think that me and my dog have a very special simbiosis.
    There are two issues that are problematic for me.
    1.When I have visitors she barks and gets very over excited when they are at the door. If I put her in another room she scratches at the door and sometimes wees.
    2.nail cutting is traumatic, hard work and almost impossible to do on my ow. Despite months of gentle conditioning with treats I can only do her dew claws.

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