Exactly Where You Should Be

Posted on 04/12/10 15 Comments

Reinforcement based training takes a hit when people on the outside see it fail. That is the truth with any systematic way of training. Critics use those that have little success as a warning sign of impeding doom to any that would attempt to train using similar methodology.  There are so many people wanting to train their dog without physical or verbal corrections yet they lack the expertise to do so. What results is a run-a-muck dog with no rules, little manners and sloppy skills. Nay sayers are quick to point a finger and say “that is why you shouldn’t clicker train your dog!” That has got to be ok. You may not be where you want to be, but you are being true to your core beliefs and working towards the kind of relationship you want with your dog.

We are all on our own journey and at any given times there will be various levels of success and failure. People who would point a critical finger are doing so because they feel the need to justify the choices they have made for their dogs. It may appear they find joy in your misfortune but that joy is only a veil masking the uncertainty they have in their own path. Earlier in my career I received massive amounts of criticism because of Buzz’s wild barking in agility. My detractors would say “if this clicker-crap works wo well, why can’t she get that dog shut up?” Rather than seeing the brilliance of all of the rest of Buzzy’s skills they only saw what was not perfect. That was okay. They were on their journey, I was on mine. If you haven’t done so, it may give you comfort to reading about the struggles and joys of my journey by reading “Shaping Success, The Education of an Unlikely Champion.”

Buzzy in his prime taking 2nd place at the USDAA Nationals.

Through it all, I never let anyone’s expectations or criticisms put pressure on me . I didn’t allow someone else’s definition of success define mine, and neither should you.  We are all exactly where we are supposed to be.  Anyone finding their way in a reinforcement based training system will discover that the success comes easier once you improve your knowledge on how to better  manipulate your dog’s environment and reinforcement.

Rather than looking at what is lacking, take pride on what is there, even if it is only a happy dog living a happy life. The rest will come when you search for more answers. That is where I am. I certainly don’t feel I have all of the answers, personally I feel we are all just scratching the surface as far as dog training understanding goes. That is what keeps me hungry to continue to learn more both for my dogs and for my students.

Today I am grateful for the awesome group of “hungry” students I had in for camp over the last four days. There were some students brand new to the methodology others showing awesome skill and success. I take a great deal of pride in being part of each journey.


  1. Ines Gaschot says:
    Monday, April 9, 2012 at 8:17pm

    Great article! I am a recent crossover trainer and am sharing my expereinces on my new blog http://www.thecrossovertrainer.com Comments are welcome so come check out how I am doing! 🙂


  2. LINDA BLACK says:
    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 2:17pm

    “A successful life is one that is lived through understanding and pursuing one’s own path, not chasing after the dreams of others. It’s the life in your years.”
    – Chin-Ning Chu


  3. Bethany Crawford says:
    Monday, April 26, 2010 at 3:22pm

    So true. I assist Clicker classes and so many students “check-out” because this stuff is bizarre, if clicker is valid the trainers dog will behave perfectly (yes, I own a jumper), my dog won’t respect me, or “what is this, voodoo?”. Very few bother to give it a shot and actually try before they give up. Those that give it their all end up coming back for more classes and borrowing all my books. I guess its a personal decision but I wish we all could be more open. Me included!


  4. Bobbie Bhambree says:
    Friday, April 16, 2010 at 11:45am

    The journey is the key part of the whole thing, something I didn’t “get” until very recently. The light bulb suddenly goes off and you look around and recognize how far you’ve come. It’s an amazing thing.


  5. Richard says:
    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 11:45pm

    Hi Susan, I could not agree more with this philosophy. We currently have 3 puppies in our house and our priorities in the behavior we expect of them go far beyond agility (despite my competitive nature). I see so many comments from people who train agility as their first priority and it always seems there is pressure to be thinking the same way. I have always said that it is their priority, but I have priorities with our dogs that come first, including the development of a great relationship. I want our dogs to do things because they want to and our relationship is essential to that.

    I also want all of our dogs to be confident, which means they have to be successful all along the way and that requires a path and a schedule which suits each of them individually. I want them all to be driven and have the control they need to be successful and again that requires an individual path and schedule. The goals are the same, or at least similar for each of them, but each of them will get there when they get there. If I succumb to the expectations of others, or even perceived expectations, I will lose out in the development of confidence and skill, both in our dogs and myself.

    I am happy to let others take their own path and determine their own priorities and I don’t think much about it when it comes to training our own dogs. I am also fortunate to have grown up with confidence in my own abilities so the opinions and schedule of others don’t impact me much. Unfortunately, I do see it have a negative impact some of my friends when they don’t get “there” at the same time as those around them and I see them change their behavior to suit those who are critical, or on a different path, so I really appreciate your comments on this subject.

    I also prefer to look at training (and performance) in a positive frame of mind, looking at the good things that have been accomplished. I look at things that are missing, or lacking in my dogs training only to see what I need to work on and not to be critical of my dogs, my abilities, or my schedule. I am grateful for having (and having had) such great dogs, regardless of where they ended up in the agility ring and that is what is most important to me.


  6. Lisa says:
    Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 12:46pm

    Susan Thanks for the line in your blog ” Rather than seeing the brilliance of all of the rest of Buzzy’s skills they only saw what was not perfect.”

    It is a reminder to myself when training my young dog at a skill that he does not seem to be understanding at the moment to remember his brilliance on the skills he does know and that with out of the box thinking and persistence, he will learn the skill we are trying to prefect.

    Love all you recent positive training posts. It is a reminder to all of us that train this way to stay the course.


  7. Laurie says:
    Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 7:19pm

    I have spent the last day thinking about your statement, “Rather than looking at what is lacking, take pride on what is there…” and thinking about, “Exactly Where You Should Be.” Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a type A++++ personality, I’m probably harder on myself than anyone else in the world, and that certainly includes my dog training. Your quotes have been copied down and posted, as a daily reminder to take pride in what we HAVE accomplished, relax in knowing that at the right time we WILL find the answers to get to where we need to be. Thanks for such an excellent post.


  8. Mary M says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 8:17pm

    Great post….to add: we are exactly where we need to be….and we have the dogs we are meant to have at the time, is my belief. I have found myself with my current two dogs (of the four I have) both in tears, smiles and belly laughs while working through obstacles they present in our daily lives/training.

    And while aversive methods seem to be something that we go for when frustrated, I have instead decided if I get to a point of not knowing what to do next and think about a positive punishment reaction, out of frustration, I instead put my dog up, go back to the drawing board and figure out a new plan for our interactions ahead, that instead uses positive reinforcement methods. Not always the easiest thing to do, but definitely the right thing!

    I can’t wait to head your way this weekend, I am excited for you to see where I have gotten with my two BC’s who met you in Ohio….been working your stuff and have worked with a couple other professionals as well (specifically with Tala – my puppy with dog reactive behaviors). I am happy with where we are, and looking so forward to where we are headed! Tala is beginning to be more thoughtful about her work, less reactive struggles for us with other dogs around (still there mind you but much better attention to the mama when she is a bit nervous) and Oliver, my other boy, is showing more drive for his work….now too put the drive together with the consistency which we had previously…..all in time and all on a continuum I am beginning to see.

    Again, can’t share how excited I am to head over for critical elements. Would love to be staying through for the numerous other seminars following, but a budget and a thing called work have left me in wanting 🙂

    See you soon, can’t wait!


  9. Kathy Smith says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 4:11pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. This message was so timely for me Susan! Having a barking dog who is young and high-drive I too have had to ignore a lot of criticism, right down to “why should we turn up the volume on the gamble buzzer?”
    But more than that, the path I chose after seeing Kim Collins and you and reading all your book and DVDs, I could certainly have joined the flow and found a less controversial path. It would have been a lot easier mentally. But boy am I passionate about the way you train and the results I get with many of your methods and wisdom in your seminars, etc..
    My dogs are happy! I think maybe the bond with my dogs might be too strong if that is possible!! I can sleep at night absolutely knowing that I am on the right path and enjoy every second of training.
    And your dogs are the happiest dogs I have ever seen and much better trained than mine but I will get there!
    Kathy Smith, Vancouver Island (apparently there are two of us, LOL)


  10. Trudie says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 2:14pm

    Thanks for the great words of encouragement and confidence-building.
    You have always stressed the importance of taking time to teach the smallest details.
    This enables us to achieve success.
    Because I have to say, sometimes all the myriad of information on training seems incredibly overwhelming, when you as an experienced teacher talk about “scratching the surface” it is fairly mind-boggling


  11. Deanna says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 11:48am

    Susan – I’m 25 and am getting ready for my first title ever with my 2 year old lab thanks to your words, books, crate games etc =) Yes the title sounds exciting, but this journey is the one that keeps me on my toes and i enjoy every single moment of it…

    I want to thank you for every one of your posts including today’s… your words truly help me on a personal level… these post are life lessons and does get me through a lot of the ‘poopoos’ that you gotta walk through in life… thank you thank you thank you …


  12. Cindy says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 11:00am

    As usual, your posts are inspirational to me. It’s this information that you provide to us that keeps people like me going. Today I am grateful that I have found my better way of training thru positive reinforcement.


  13. Nat says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 10:44am

    Yes, agreed! Everyone can find something bad in a method, but you really need to just have an open mind. Great post of course.


  14. Luiza says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 9:43am

    Great post, as usual. You’re a great inspiration, shaping success is on my top favourite 5 books. It’s so amazing to see all you accomplished with Buzz because you took a different perspective in dog training, confronting all the things that were done because of the “That’s how’s it’s done” philosophy.Truly inspiring, that’s all I have to say 🙂


  15. Sally says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 at 9:01am

    You have to stop with the mind reading – its starting to freak me out!!!!! Especially the bit about never letting anybody’s criticisms or expectations put pressure on you. I have been battling with this very thing at the moment – 6 sleeps out from my youngsters agility debut thinking oh shit what have I done and how much pressure have I put upon myself and that pressure is based on expectations and criticisms of others and wanting to prove a few people wrong.

    Another great blog post and your so very very right. Will have to make an effort to get to your workshops when you get to Australia – just hope I can find a bank to rob in the meantime.


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