Dancing Hearts Blog

The Long, Hard Road to Dog Training Success.

Dreams and Transformations. Love Stories, really.

Sometimes things aren’t what they seem, you know? Sometimes it feels like there’s not much happening, like time is standing still and we’re in the same place we’ve always been. Then, one day our life is completely changed. The thing we thought we might never get to is right there. We are astounded and filled with a sense of disbelief at first.

Am I dreaming, we ask ourselves, blinking our eyes and looking around more carefully, holding our breath. Then it sinks in. We did it! We really did it. Holy crap!

It’s been a long, hot and dry summer this year. So hot and dry that the grass stopped growing and turned a deep golden brown. It crackled under my feet. Dogs feet payed a high price, turning to raw and red when they made the mistake of running too hard, turning too fast.

Mostly I remember looking for shade. A tree. An umbrella. A big hat. The shade was holding a space for me, ready when I needed it. I needed it a lot this summer.

Holding space for someone is sacred work.

Being someone’s believing eyes is sometimes challenging but always fruitful. It’s what we are meant to do for each other. I’m sure of it.

I do that often, holding space and believing in dreams. It’s life affirming and makes me whole. It’s also a chance for me to pay it forward, because I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of that incredible act of kindness. More than once.

This summer, while standing in the shade and believing in the dreams of my clients and friends, my fellow earth walkers…magic was happening. Hard, slow, meticulous work was being lovingly carried out, one thin slice at a time. And then the rains came. Beautiful, beautiful rain that softened the hard ground and softened the heart-callouses of long, hard work.

This is a story of success. A story of the joy that comes from sticking with the hard, waiting for the rain, then finding yourself in the middle of the most beautiful field of flowers ever. It’s also a story of celebration. Not only for those in the story, but for all of us. Indeed.


Remember the transformation story of Dee and Phalen?

Dee and Phalen share a hug

Phalen is Dee’s dream dog. A stunningly beautiful White Shepherd. Along with his handsome looks, he came with some ‘stuff’. Reactivity being the one thing that scared Dee to her core. Dee was crushed and their relationship suffered severe damage the day Phalen attacked another of their dogs. As serendipity happens, Dee found her way to me and we worked out a plan. One that honored the love between Dee and Phalen, and built trust between them.

Dee wrote in her story: “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.”

Their long, hard work payed off.

It is with great honor and respect and awe that I share this wonderful news:

Last week, Phalen earned his CGC. And…wait for it. His TDI. Phalen is now a certified Therapy Dog. Dee is happy beyond words. I am so happy for them both!

Phalen earns his TDI certificate

You may now stand and applaud. And cry. This is a time for congratulations and celebration!

Dee and Phalen, you ROCK. And, I wish you a long, happy and joy-filled life, together.


Now, remember the story of Tresa and Fleck?

Fleck, a close up

Fleck is an intense border collie that would get so ‘busy’ while he worked that he couldn’t listen to Tresa. At all. They sought the help of many trainers. Went to many clinics. Tresa told us in her story that because the trainers all felt that Fleck was ‘blowing her off’ he needed to be handled rather harshly, and being a ‘ruler with a harsh hand’ just wasn’t her. Nope, she wasn’t gonna do that to her dog.

Tresa was ready to give up herding completely, even though she knew Fleck loved it so much, and so did she. She was brave enough to try one more time. This time with me.

Tresa wrote in her story: “Kathy quickly helped me realize that the breakdown in our relationship was that I didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what I really wanted Fleck to do. All these years I went to trainer after trainer and clinic after clinic trying to “fix my dog” and all the while I just needed to fix me.”

We worked out a plan that would help Tresa to communicate with Fleck with clarity and consistency. To stay calm and focused and to chunk things down into thin slices. This was long, hard work. They both had habits that needed transformation. They stuck with it.

In July, Tresa and her husband Don hosted a herding trial at their lovely farm. It was a big undertaking and an act of love for sheepdogs and herding. As I sat in the shade of a canopy, judging the runs that day, what I was witnessed was heart-warming: a competent dog and handler, working in the pens and pushing sheep out to the setout…calmly and with the finesse of a team that belied their novice status. I was blown away.

But that didn’t top the day. Coming down to the post, and running the course as non-compete, Tresa and Fleck laid down a nearly perfect run. The best run of the day, by far. Again, I was blown away, as I thought about how far they had come together. About the long, hard work they had put in to get to this amazing place.

While Tresa and Fleck are learning to drive, working with whistles and looking forward to soon moving up a class to Ranch…they made a trek down to a sheepdog trial in Indiana, competing in Novice.

I am pleased as punch to report this:

Tresa and Fleck earned a 2nd Place at the Columbus Scottish Festival Sheepdog Trial!!  

Tresa and Fleck earn a 2nd Place

Standing O, everyone! They have earned big congratulations and a reason to celebrate!

Tresa and Fleck…you ROCK! And, I wish you many more years of learning, partnership and having fun together.


‘Nancy and Bruce Learning to Dance’ was a wonderful story to read. Remember?

Bruce working sheep, showing great style.

Bruce is a keen border collie with lots of drive, power and style. He’s a lot of dog for Nancy, who has been lucky to be trained by easier, softer dogs earlier in her sheepdog career.

I know this dog well. I brought him into the world…and he is much like his sire, Russell and siblings, my Sue and Luc. Good dogs all.

Nancy told us in her story that staying calm, focused and unemotional are not natural for her. She explained that she gets impatient and frustrated when things don’t go well. Which happens a lot with a young, keen dog. That starts a crazy vortex that spins everyone to place where partnership and collaboration are pipe dreams that don’t apply to this context. Not good.

Even when training and practice was OK, the extreme pressure of competing in pro-novice and open ranch tested their working partnership to the max, and they traveled home from most trials wanting better for each other and from each other.

A road map to a better place is what Nancy and I planned out. Changing Nancy’s focus to clear communication and away from blind commanding. Thin slicing everything so that supreme clarity could be revealed. Good timing, supportive intonation, competent execution, and enthusiasm for the process became her mantra.

The long, hard road to transformation was initiated. Now, they had a reliable map to follow. Nancy wrote in her story: “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’.”

This long, hot summer provided the space for Nancy and Bruce to work together in the way they longed for. I was privileged to witness some wonderful partnership and work from this budding team: setting out sheep at the Laughing Frog Farm trial – a pleasure to watch from the shaded judging tent. Pushing out sheep at the LOLBCA trial with the finesse of an advanced team. I have to say that brought a brief tear to my eye.

Here’s the big news, folks:

Nancy and Bruce made their “OPEN” debut last week down at the Columbus Scottish Festival Trial.

(FYI: Open is the top level of border collie trialing) Two runs that were well completed, including the sheds. AND: first time Open scores in the mid 70’s. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

Nancy and Bruce setting out sheep at a trial

Let’s hear it everyone: cheering and clapping. Loud enthusiastic celebratory whistling.

Nancy and Bruce: you ROCK! I see many fantastic runs in your future! And I wish you much excellence, partnership and joy in all you do together.


The Moral of the Story

Follow your dreams. Seek believing eyes…someone who has been there and can light the way for you, holding space in that beautiful place of success. Stay your course. Work hard and long. You’ll get there. Your dog is counting on you. And your dog is teaching you, each step of the journey. Enjoy it.


Ready for YOUR transformation? I’m ready to be YOUR believing eyes! Click the banner below to learn how.

Kathy Kawalec's True Potential

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *