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Is There a Difference?

Posted on 04/20/10 46 Comments

Any of you that have been following this blog for a while know that I am all for positive thinking. Tony Robbins referrs to it as not creating self limited beliefs for yourself. In Shaping Success I wrote about how I learned from my mistakes of doing just that. When Buzzy was young (and a handful for me) I kept telling people “he is going to be a great five year old.” Now that is at least one step better than many people who limit their dog’s long term possibility by repeating things like “he is just a bar knocker” or “one bar is just the story of our life”.

Guess what, Buzz was a freaking brilliant five year old. That year he won the AAC Nationals, he came 2nd by only a few hundreds of a second in the USDAA Nationals Grand Prix and he and his team won the USDAA National Team Championship. He was a great 5 year old. But what if he could have been a great 3 year old but my cloudy vision didn’t allow for that to happen?

When you call your dog a “shut down dog” or a “softy sucky dog” or a “bar knocker” or a “wide turner” is that being realistic and just living with “what you’ve got?” Or is it possible that your dog knocking the one bar a run or being afraid when other dogs are not is just an isolated “event”? An event that is meant to send you a wake up call to make a change. If you don’t make a change  this event becomes a pattern and if you accept this pattern as your reality it becomes part of your journey.

Often when people label their dog’s by their perceived limitations they are doing so to overcome some embarrassment or frustration they are feeling about owning a dog that may knock bars or sniff in the ring so frequently. They make a joke and laugh off their “bar knocker up to their old tricks” possibly to try and  cover up this disappointment. I would like to suggest every time you make this joke or repeat your limited belief that your dog is _________ (you fill in the blank) you are creating a new reality that does not have to be yours or your dog’s reality.

My now retired JRT mix DeCaff had her difficulties as a younger dog. Her lack of confidence early on expressed itself with many fears such as; aggression towards other puppies and dogs, shut down behaviour in the presence of strong wind, an uncomfortableness with any different texture of footing under her paws, worry about being touched anywhere from her shoulders forward . . . I could go on but I won’t:). My point is that early on many other people (not me)  labeled her “Deak the freak” because of her lack of confidence about life.

My-Dee-Dog (or Mighty dog if you say it fast enough).

When I won my first big championship with her one of my instructors send me an email, congratulating me but at the same time making the admission she was one of the many that thought it was unlikely DeCaff would ever enjoy agility let alone do well in it.  I wrote her back this one line

. . . “when I look at my dogs I can only see greatness.”

I don’t focus on what isn’t there with my dogs, I focus on what is. I take up ownership of anything that can be made better and I spend that dog’s career trying to make it better.  Lets face it, if these dogs where just family pets, with no responsibilities other than keeping us company when we go to the bathroom at night, there would be no disappointing, no negative nick names or phrases attached to them. Why, because we want to do agility, must these dogs suffer us acting, talking or joking about them as if they have failed us some how?

DeCaff didn’t run as fast in the ring as she did at home until she was five years old. But yet she won and placed at more National and World Championships throughout her career then any other dog that I have ever owned. Had I joined in and called her Deak the Freak when she first showed this lack of confidence I know we never would have enjoyed the journey we are still enjoying (now out of the ring).

So here is a new question for you. What if  you are right and I am wrong?  What if your dog really is just a bar knocker or a shut down dog or not as good as his litter brothers or your past dogs. What if some dogs are just born with talent while others are not? What would be the harm of you taking up my suggestion and look at these events as passing stages that are meant to send you messages to make alterations to your training rather than looking at them as terminal realities? What if you did what I am suggesting and in the end your dog didn’t alter his behaviour and he did spend the rest of his life with these limitations? Would your dog training knowledge be better or worse because you looked at these challenges as messages meant to find dog training solutions? Would your relationship with this dog be better or worse because you decided to stop rehearsing your disappointment or frustration due to these limitiations?

Hmmmm . . . . just puttin’ it out there.

Is there a difference between being realistic and describing what you see and creating this reality with your thoughts, physiology and actions? I think so and their are tons of phycology studies to prove I am  right to do so. Here is an experiment, lets all take a 24 hour period and become more aware of every joke, nick name or loud disappointing sigh we have  about or towards our dogs. It may be very revealing.

Today I am grateful for DeCaff, I really need to write a book about our journey together and the miles of lessons she has taught me.


  1. Annie Warner says:
    Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 11:08pm

    Great post! I have been committed to mindfulness living for a while now and one of the first things I do each morning is say Thank you to the Universe for my motorhome (in which I live full time) and my 2 lovely Whippets, as well as my health and all the great things coming our way on each day!
    Having started the day that way I have put it firmly in my mind that the ‘boys’ and I are going to have a great day, no matter what…it is then hard to be less than thoughtful when talking to or about Connor and Ciaran! Works for me!


    • Sharon says:
      Monday, September 14, 2015 at 5:26pm

      No negative!
      I have found it best to thank my dogs for what they do – it may not be perfect – it will get better – they will learn what gets rewarded! They get a thank you for their polite behavior. Some people look at me “funny” but when I tell them they deserve it – the humans kinda get it.
      It is just words to the dogs but they are kind and I am there with them being nice – well training them so pretty nice but the ‘boss’.
      Thanks Susan it was right on and yes another book would be helpful! ;-D


  2. Pat says:
    Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 1:11pm

    Thanks for the post. I needed that. Sometimes I forget what a wonderful dog I have. Having a non traditional agility dog has its challenges, but success is that much sweeter.


  3. Christine says:
    Friday, September 11, 2015 at 12:51pm

    A new book would be wonderful as well as translations of Shaping Success in German.

    They are all wonderful and great teachers.


    • Jan says:
      Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 8:27pm

      The Gratitude book is wonderful. I would love to share it with everyone in my life.

      What surprised me is that just yesterday on a different blog about reaching financial independence and retiring early, someone wrote a post on basically the same thing.

      “Getting past scarcity to abundance.” and he wasn’t talking about having all of his debts paid. He was talking about recognizing what you have and being grateful for it. It is an attitude that serves us in all areas of our lives.



  4. Debbie says:
    Friday, September 11, 2015 at 2:05am

    This is the best blog I have read in ages. My dogs are all amazing. If things go wrong out there I look to myself first before I blame my dogs. That wasn’t always the way. Some one once told me “You may not always get the dog you want, but you will get the dog you need” This has taught me to to look differently at my dogs and be amazed at what they can teach me. Thanks Susan


  5. Beverley says:
    Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 3:57pm

    I think there is a difference between using a description as an excuse and saying my dog is great but our current weakness is dropping bars. Then looking at when and why the bars are being dropped- is he sore, does he not understand what he is doing, is my timing wrong do I need to alter my handling


  6. Susan Horak says:
    Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 3:49pm

    I know for a fact that you are 100% correct on this Susan. We are retired from the agility and rally ring as of April this year but I still keep up had have heard for years the negative comment/excuses people make regarding their dogs and the labels used. Even though my wonderful boy is retired from show rings I tell him every day while playing ball that he is a Super Star best dog ever lived awesome sauce boy:) He knows it’s true and so do I. What we say, or more importantly what we think about our dogs is a self fulfilling prophecy.


  7. Christine says:
    Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 2:56pm


    it made my day to read this poast and also find your youtube video “The Journey”. I would not have learned as much about dog training as well as about myselve without the four dogs that are and have accompanied my life and I often suffer a bit when I see working people take one dog after an other as non is perfect and they seem to forget to enjoy living with their dogs.
    Thanks for being so successful and still staying this way


  8. Marcella Ward says:
    Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 11:04pm

    I love DeCaff. So glad she’s here to teach you and us so many things. This post really opened my eyes and hopefully next time I do something with Shimmer I won’t be disappointed if something doesn’t go as I want it to. I have often said she’s my everything and I’m so thankful for her, and I should act that way if I mean it. Thanks for the always thoughtful posts, Susan!


  9. Michelle says:
    Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 10:30pm

    Write the book, please!


  10. Lynnda L in Minneapolis says:
    Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 9:06pm

    Great post! Consider yourself clicked!


  11. Ivette says:
    Friday, April 23, 2010 at 9:37pm

    Thanks for a wonderful post!! I always love reading your blog but don’t always get the chance, a friend told me about this particular post and that I should read it. I am guilty of labeling my amazing dog as a “first bar knocker” at my most frustrating times (like when I need that final GP Q for Nationals!). I agree with your statement that when I look at my dogs all I see is greatness, but I tend to let the waters get cloudy with my own frustrations at times. Thanks so much for reminding me how amazing my dog is and how unfair it is for me to label him out of my frustrations. Thank you for reminding me what’s it all about…the journey.


  12. Stacey says:
    Friday, April 23, 2010 at 6:50pm

    This article is so on target! My dog got so tired of the negative comments that he wouldn’t go in the ring with me.

    Luckily I received some excellent advice along the same lines you just wrote about. We repaired our relationship but there is always that hint in his eyes when he runs in competition that reminds me that he doesn’t quite trust me the way he could have.

    Lesson learned! With my younger dog, I’m more than grateful everytime we train and run, for his positive attitude and his willingness to come back to me and have another go at it. I tell him he’s a smart dog not just a good dog. What a difference!

    And Debra’s got the right idea too! No more bad handler comments either!


  13. Wanda says:
    Friday, April 23, 2010 at 6:20pm

    The journey is the destination. Otter and Toque are two of the most amazing partner’s I could have in this life’s journey They never fail to teach me and it is so much fun trying to figure out the dance steps to this game we call agility.


  14. Katie says:
    Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 1:07pm

    Susan – what a great post! I am proud to say that the mantra I live by and tell all my friends and students is: FIND THE POSITIVE IN EVERY RUN !! It is plastered all over my indoor arena. Even if it is just the fact that the dog stayed in the ring, or just took ONE jump, there is always something POSITIVE that you can concentrate on, always. If you do concentrate on the POSITIVE, then that grows, divides and multiplies until every single move is a POSITIVE. I truly believe that. And also, I believe that when you do think positively, the Q’s, ribbons, titles, just happen. Having lost 3 dogs tragically, I can tell you that the only thing that matters to me is that I HAVE my dogs to hold, hug, and kiss….if they want to do agility, great, but if NOT, no problem, just give me their love!! YEEHAW…


  15. LISA says:
    Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 12:13pm

    thanks again for reminding us of the journey, most people laugh at me because I run a different breed in both obedience and agility ( that reminds me whens the next obedience workshop ) both sports trained through shaping, yes competitive obedience can be positive!!! and I also say at the end of the day ” we’re the highest scoring bouvier ” ( usually the only one entered) or ” we’re the fastest running bouvier” ( usually the only one entered) I don’t need to compare, because we’re on our journey together either that or I’m the only crazy person that will take on a bouvier!!!!


  16. Deb D says:
    Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 7:09am

    This post came right when it was needed for me in my journey. I’ve been discouraged lately (with myself not my dog actually) and he is so sensitive that he picks up on it and starts to be less willing to do the things I ask. Luckily I have others that encourage me not to accept limitations in my training or in my dog so I came up with something that seemed to work (at least yesterday) and get him excited again.


  17. denise says:
    Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 3:29am

    A book on your journey with DeCaff would be brilliant. It sounds like she has even more to teach us then Buzz did.


  18. Scott says:
    Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 3:01am

    Why do people set the limitations on themselves or their dogs?
    I wonder when some trainers place these limits for their students dogs but ignore them for their own. Things like “it’s too young to be jumping full height”, “it shouldn’t do weaves until…”, “it’s not ready to sequence, run contacts…” , “to trial” or whatever. At the same time most often these trainers “secretly” break all their own rules & then brag how their dog is already doing this or that or competing at whatever level because their dog is an exception.
    In my experience with various dogs of my own & other students these limits are being programmed into them for their dogs that sometimes instead of being inspired they being impeded.
    Perhaps if this mindset wasn’t so prevalent we would have many more exceptional teams.


  19. Anne says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 7:31pm

    The posts came at the best possible time. I am having sniffing issues with my young mini Aussie. My copy of ” Ruff Love” will arrive any day now and I hope with that to work on getting my pup back on track. She is a bright eager girl but easily distracted. I get discouraged but the blog has helped me see I must appreciate what a wonderful gift this dog is and I am being challenged to learn some new handling skills. Watching her play with other dogs today reminded me she is after all my sweet pet.


  20. Kathy Smith says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 4:44pm

    Inspiring as always Susan! If I had let everyone get under my skin I would not even be running Morgan right now and at 7 1/2 she is a driven, happy girl! She was much like Decaff! Just goes to show you, everything falls into place if you just keep the end results in mind! Thank you for all your DVDs and books as they have jsut made her better and better!


  21. Maggie says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 1:34pm

    I will print it and hang it on the fridge door, reminding me what wonderful dogs I have and that I should stop being frustrated and a nag when things are not going as well as I (!!) want them to go 🙂 I love my dogs – so I should show it even when a bar goes down or we have ‘flying’ contacts in agility. Thank you Susan !!


  22. Marcy says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 10:13am

    Once again, you hit the nail on the head!!!! When I got my second competition dog, Cash, I had great expectations because she was so closely related to the dog I had such great success with. Cash was so different from my other girl and I spent years doing what I now call Cash-bashing. It took me a while, but I finally realized that God gave me this dog for a reason – to teach me to not only think outside the box, but to throw it away. Since then, with a totally new perspective, we have taken a journey together that has not only made me a better trainer, but a better person.

    I hope you do find the time to write a book about DeCaff!


  23. Julie Kitelinger says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 10:02am

    Absolutely there is a difference. About 50 years ago a study was done about the effect of teacher’s expectations of their students. The findings were published and created the term the “Pygmalion Effect”. In brief, the effect is that the greater the expectation someone places upon people (often children or students and employees), the better they perform, or vice versa. For example, when given the information that certain students were smarter than others, teachers unconsciously behaved in ways that facilitated and encouraged the students’ success. While other teachers, given information that students were not as smart as others, teachers unconsciously behaved in ways that did not encourage the student to be successful. There was a prior study done at the turn of the century involving a horse (Clever Hans), who supposedly could read and write, but in fact was reading unconscious cues given by the person asking Hans a question. So by saying Buzz would be great at age 5, you are correct…..that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Interesting stuff. I learned about it mostly in the workplace and dealing with employees, but it really does apply to how we interact with our animals as well.


  24. Sara Reusche says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 12:21am

    Yes, please write a book about DeCaff!

    I absolutely agree with looking at your dog’s potential. I have had a frustrating journey with a little dog I rescued. I initially described her as anxious, fearful, aggressive, over-the-top, and her nickname was the “spaz monkey”. Now I tell her every time I’m with her what a great dog she is: a good worker, a good listener, a wonderful girl, and I take time to live in the moment and see how great she’s doing. Since I started taking time to tell her how brilliant she is, she’s gone from being enrolled in the reactive dog class to being the neutral dog that all the reactive dog students begin parallel walking with. The journey with her has been amazing, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of it.


  25. Debra Cowden says:
    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 12:05am

    So very true. And the same could be said about comments of yourself as a handler-no more emphasizing “old and fat” for me.


  26. Joy says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 10:49pm

    Thanks so much for this post Susan. It is a reminder to me to treat each of my dogs as individuals. I have a 3rd generation dog I am working with right now and I keep comparing him to his father and his grandmother. I needed this reminder that he is his own dog with his own strengths.


  27. Elizabeth Dott says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 10:01pm

    What a wonderfully insightful post. It is great advice because honestly I think we are all guilty of this at one time or another. It is nice to be reminded what this is really all about. Our parnership with our wonderful dogs.


  28. Donna says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 3:53pm

    Great post!! People need reminding of this. For my Aussie Inc, I have the expression Inc can do!!! And because of you and your teachings I believe this with all my heart. He can do!! Everyone needs to believe in there dog(s) it brings on a whole new relationship.


  29. Trudie says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 2:28pm

    The day I was eliminated at a trial and got some frank personal criticism about how bad I look when I run, humiliated me into working on learning how to run, getting into shape… This has been pivotal, a turning point, being faced with the task of investing myself as much as I want my dog to.

    I’m so proud of my dog! Every little fundamental thing I do, and I’m way far from being experienced expert, (with just DVDs from cleanrun as teaching material) is paying off.


  30. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:59pm

    Thanks for this post. I really needed the mental pick me up after last nights training session (though Kathryn you helped alot if you’re ready this 🙂 ). It takes vigilance for me not to slip back into old thought patterns. I guess it’s practice, practice, practice until it just becomes the way I think.


  31. Laurie Dana says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:37pm

    I LOVE this and only wish that every single person who owned an “agility dog” would read this!!!!!



  32. Crystal says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:27pm

    Wonderful post!

    Not long ago, I realized that the way I define my dog- as fearful and reactive- was no longer accurate. In fact, it probably hadn’t been accurate for awhile, but because I’d defined reality in a certain way, I couldn’t see the truth about who my dog is becoming. I blogged about it here: http://reactivechampion.blogspot.com/2010/03/suzanne-clothier-seminar-answering.html

    I do have to wonder how much more Maisy is capable of… and how much I unfairly limit her by defining her world with criticism.


    • Chris from Boise says:
      Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 5:08pm

      Crystal – you and Maisy were the ones who taught me to redefine Habi as who she was becoming, rather than who she had been. It was a HUGE turning point in our relationship when I could honestly say “I am SO proud of you, sweet girl!”, because I was no longer looking at what she couldn’t do, but rather what she could do. And now we can do practically anything! And Maisy’s progress has been wonderful to watch!

      Susan – thank you so much for a great post. It’s true for agility and all others who are on a learning journey (which should be all of us). And yes – more DeCaff!


  33. Ann Lyons says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:22pm

    Let me just say how much I enjoy your blog. I have found your book “Shaping Success” to be very helpful and it would be really nice if you did write a book about DeCaff. Please do it!


  34. Cindy Briggs says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:16pm

    “Thoughts become things. Choose them wisely” Mike Dooley
    Notes from the Universe

    My hero when it comes to my thoughts.


  35. Barb Deg says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:08pm

    When I arrived even at puppy classes with my Irish Setter-the instructor was quick to say “here comes the stupid setter”. I then heard that I would never be able to get him near the agility ring until he was at least 4. He loves his “playground” and I started him out early. Our first few trials provided more entertainment than success. But at each trial, I obtained small successes. Well my 2 1/2 yr old “stupid setter” is now turning heads on the agility turf. A good friend told me-Irish setters are smart-it’s just that most people don’t know how to talk to them. From this experience, I have learned to believe in myself and believe in my dog even if others don’t.


  36. Lisa Kronz says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:03pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more Susan. People ask me how my first dog was “so fast”. I always say “because I believed in her when no one else did!” That is why her full name is “No Speed Limit” cause I put no limitations on her and she never put any one me. To this day I think she is an amazing gift that gave ME the world…never the other way around 🙂 Great blog and words to take to heart and live by!!!


  37. MJ says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 12:00pm

    Great post. I am also working on confidence and speed in trial situation as opposed to training in my back yard. I took my stuff on the road and trained with other dogs/people this winter and it is starting to pay off. I changed my attitude in the ring. I know she can be fast and confident, it is just a matter of time and being patient.


  38. Heather says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 11:07am

    I really appreciated your post today. I have two very special dogs and I know I’m guilty of what you wrote about. Lately with my older dog as she has become hard of hearing, I find that in classes I make light of her lack of response to my cues by calling her “old ting”. It is a nickname of course and at 13.5 she is aging, but I think that it stems from embarassment in front of my own students that this dog is not responding to me. It has always felt uncomfortable “calling her out” in class, and now after reading your post I know why. I once read a social psych. article called “Why we hurt the ones we love.” A great read for anyone with kids or who is married. Anyway, this dog is a fantastic dog and has taught me so much it is absolutely disrespectful of all that we have to treat her badly, even if she can’t hear or understand the words, the emotion is likely clear and that is unacceptable. Sorry Tilley, it won’t happen again.


  39. Jan DeMello says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 10:48am

    Susan, this is your best blog post yet! Something I have always tried to convey in my days of doing seminars. We should all be thankful for this reminder!


  40. Olga says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 10:35am

    Thanks for this post.
    We learn most from difficulties and problems, if only we believe we can do something about them.


  41. Taryn says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 10:18am

    Thanks for a great post, Susan! It is your wonderful positive attitude that keeps me reading your blog. I know I am guilty of exactly what you wrote about! I have a fantastic little Cardigan Corgi, high drive, lightening fast and loves agility, who on occasion, takes out a bar. I definitely come out of the ring grumbling. Shame on me! And I love how you pointed out that if we didn’t ask our dogs to do agility, we would not be (unfairly) criticizing them.

    I really need to take your message to heart!


  42. Renee Jonkers says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 9:58am

    This post arrives just at the right time for me. My Parson Russell Terrier Bryher has hughe shoes to fill, and it is so easy to get disappointed that he is not the same as my older PRT, who did compete at 6 national championships in the Netherlands.

    But looking at him, I see a smart littel dog, that loves to work. Somehow we have to work on making agility training more fun (stop the sniffing) but I am sure that when we find the answer, he will be a great agility dog.


  43. Judith Batchelor says:
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 9:22am

    Great post Susan—
    Just yesterday I felt to past this post on facebook
    “I don’t say it enough- but I am so very proud of my Crazy Little Aussie “Digit”!” Someone asked me why and I responded “Being so willing- teaching me to be a better handler and for being so damn funny….
    OK- I could have omitted the “Crazy”- and said sweet or something. I truly feel if we say negitive things about our pets we are speaking into their lives and limiting their future. (this can also apply to our family too).


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