And the Winner Is:

Posted on 01/14/09 6 Comments

Thank you all for the wonderful posts you have written in response to my question from two weeks ago. I can tell many of you put a great deal of thought into your answer, I have enjoyed reading them all.  The last night of camp here in Florida I sat down and read aloud each of the 100+ responses. Greg Derrett, Laura Derrett, Lynda Orton-Hill all weighed in on which was the best answer. The three of them came up with criteria to narrow down the field of responses. First to be rejected were any responses that contained an excuse such as lack of time, money, equipment, athleticism etc. To quote football great Lou Holtz “Don’t let what you don’t have, prevent you from using what you do have.” Yes I am blessed to have 28 acres of property with 3 full sets of agility equipment and an indoor training facility. However,  John and I only moved to our current location in 1998. By 1998 I had already won 5 National Championships (including 3 USDAA Grand Prix Championships) and, at the time, I lived in the city with a tiny backyard. The only equipment I owned back then was 12 stick-in-the-ground weave poles, seven jumps and one tunnel. That is it. I did not own any other agility equipment until 1999. I have stuck to my roots and still today most of my agility foundation is done without any ‘true’ equipment. Those that labeled a lack of time as a reason for not being amoungst the best were also eliminated. The truth is I had far more time to train my dogs when I was a pharmaceutical sales rep then I ever have now. Greg (Derrett) has been out of the country away from his dogs for 4 months of a year for every year of GT’s life. I remember him once being on the road for 12 straight weeks, getting home, picking up his dog and one day later winning Crufts, so clearly a lack of time can not be considered a reason to not be the best. Several of you stated desire as a key difference, and I think that may be a critical point. Many years ago I made a decision not to have children. It has nothing to do with my love for kids, as I am crazy about them. I think I would have made a great mom (especially since I had such an awesome role model) but I made that decision because I felt my life’s journey was meant to go in a different direction. Some people can balance being at the top in their field with being a great parent, but I know I am way too obsessive and would have to choose. So those of you that have made your choice and have no desire to be the best at agility because you would rather be a better parent and an average dog trainer, I respect that decision. However I would like to caution you all, do not allow your choice of priorities to become a vessel to facilitate your failure.  Be the best dog trainer you can be while being the best parent you can be–but let go of excuses and crutches of one impeding the other. Make your choices and don’t look back, regrets can never fuel a progressive fire in anyone’s life.

Many of you wrote inspiring comments comparing brilliance in others sports, the importance of mental preparation, watching greatness in people you admire in agility or being inspired by your own family. I think what we have is an amazing collection of thoughts that should be put into a booklet of some sort. Not just the ‘winners’ because you all have contributed to those that read this blog and I thank you for that.  We now have a resource that people can refer back to when they need inspiration for pushing forward or balancing their family life or for just appreciating why we all have a dog in the first place!

So in the end, we narrowed our choice down to 12 finalists and couldn’t come up with only one winner so we have three winners within two “categories”.  The first category is: “The post that entertained while answering the question well”– we have runners up Marianne Montague and Lynne Fitzpatrick with the winner being Laughing Boy who wrote that what separates him from the best in agility is “a strong craving for Stella (thinking about it , any larger will do), an absolute addiction to 60 roll up cigarettes a day and my wife not training my dogs enough!!!!!”  Yes, I have to admit, there are few at the top of any sport that can match that list of vices!  So Laughing Boy earns a Crunch’N Tug bungee toy.  Next the more serious entries were considered and honarble mention has to go to (about 35 of them in my opinion) but we narrowed it down to:  MitchMike, Gabreille Blackburn, Myrna, Deb, Patricio Calderon, Barb and Paige (sorry I don’t have everyone’s last name, just what you wrote on your posts).  And we have 2 winners who will be sent an autographed hard-cover copy of Shaping Success, they are JoAnna (& Nemo) from New York and  Sally (who wrote on January 6th.)  Sally acknowledged all of the potential challenges such as a lack or resources or time but went on to point out that they are but excuses because if you really want something you will find ways around your stumbling blocks. Sure some people have more access to ‘great instructors’ then others (due to finances) but everyone can purchase DVDs and books and from them will come brilliance (provided you are selective with what DVDs you invest your money). But as Sally points out, PASSION is often what divides the good from great in anything in life.  I also loved JoAnna post where she spoke about reinforcement and record keeping. I believe most of your dog training challenges can be turned around with more focus on those two keys and, not surprisingly, I often observe that these are two of the most neglected areas in people that are currently struggling with their own dog training. 

So to the three winners, please contact me at [email protected] with you mailing address so we can send you your prize.

Today I am grateful to the 109 of you that took the time to write such thoughtful, inspiring comments on my blog while I have been away.  I think I have visited my quota of Starbucks for the next little while, but am also grateful to have  an opportunity to get caught up on my email!


  1. Shannon Kelly says:
    Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 6:40pm

    Hi Susan

    Since you mentioned the conscious choice to forgo having children, it has made me wonder why it is that so many top handlers don’t have children. I am not familiar with the personal lives of most handlers, but it seems there are a few notables who don’t have children. Maybe some people made a conscious choice, and others were forced by circumstances. I wonder if there are any correlations with being a “dog person?”

    While I’m not a top handler — yet :), I don’t have children. I remember deciding when I was around 12. I just knew that kids weren’t for me. A few years later I discovered I had serious congenital heart disease that would likely be passed on to children. I never consciously thought, “I’m going to have dogs instead,” but I always loved dogs, and that is how it worked out. (Let me say that had I wanted kids, I would not hesitate to adopt. But now I only think about adopting canines!)

    Of course I’m not implying that childlessness is necessary for being a brilliant dog trainer, but I’m curious about others’ thoughts, if they are interested.


  2. Gail Maidens says:
    Friday, January 23, 2009 at 12:18pm

    I really enjoyed reading all the answers & perspectives about what separates the “top handlers” from myself. I probably should have clarified that my own perspective of who “top handlers” are in the 1st place may be quite different than someone else. But to those unique & inspiring people, yourself included, clearly desire is the obvious element, so much so I thought it too obvious to state. I still stick to the deep, inward knowledge of “knowing one can” as a tremendous resource in and of itself to keep on doing it again and again, as a few of you who really inspire me actually do. That said, while other elements have separated us, I hope what unites us is our respect & acknowledgment of what our dogs give to us with each stride, each minute of training, each plane-riding moment. I know for sure that with you it certainly is so. I hope your journey in greatness continues to be a long one.


  3. Trudie says:
    Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 3:39am

    Gabrielle, that is so awesome! I just watched your stuff – – – your brilliant Quiz, you are so inspiring!!


  4. Gabrielle Blackburn says:
    Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 7:48pm

    I had so much fun answering your question and I really enjoyed reading all the replies. I am immensely impressed with your 2×2 method. After teaching Quiz to weave in 4 days, I am now completely sold and I will teach my next dog using 2x2s. 🙂 Here is a video of Quiz’s weaves after four days:
    Thank you! 🙂


  5. Sally says:
    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 9:48pm

    Thanks Susan (and the others) for selecting me as a joint winner. Well done to the other two winners :).

    There were a number of extremely worthy posts and I am quite surprised that I won. I certainly really enjoyed reading all the posts and also agree with JoAnna’s sentiments on the importance of record keeping. I admit to being a bit of a slacker when it comes to agility related records however have always been slightly better on the obedience side of things.

    My goal with my new baby when I commence her agility training formally (she is already mucking around with flatwork stuff but obviously isn’t doing much equipment yet as she is only 9 months) is to make sure that I keep much better training records for both her agility and her obedience training.

    Any way interesting question and interesting responses and thanks again for having selected me as a winner :).

    Definitely a huge fan of not only Susan but also of Greg Derrett.


  6. Michelle Armitage says:
    Friday, January 16, 2009 at 12:04pm

    How exciting, congrats to the winners. I have been really enjoying the thread on this blog. Its been very positive for the most part. Other than adjustments one can make, the passion is clear out there that we are all enjoying training our dogs and love the sport of agility. I will miss checking the comments and waiting to hear about the winner. I guess you will have to inspire us further Susan. I look at my Trudy everyday now and ask her, are you my winner? I thank Lynda Orton-Hill for pushing me to do more shaping and getting more creative. I thank Christine Boisvert for having the faith in me and guiding me along regularly and seeing that there is a little diva in there. I guess the only thing that would prevent me from going to worlds now is her docked tail. However, that wont affect us in Regionals or Nationals. So watch for a little stubby tail wagging away, that will be Trudy!!


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