Learning From the Dog, While The Dog is Learning From You

Posted on 04/22/15 37 Comments

DogwalkRecently while preparing for a video shoot, I put together a list of some of my most pivotal lessons I have learned from each puppy I have raised and trained over my 27 years as a dog trainer. The video will be available tomorrow but the experience of putting this list was enlightening; I strongly encourage you to do the same. The lessons you learn are sometimes not realized until long after the dog has passed on. Sometimes it takes a moment of reflection to see them.

Looking at my list reminded me of this video I put together back in 2008. I know I have shared it on my blog in the past, but I think it is worth re-visiting on a regular basis.

“Experience teaches only the teachable.”

This is a great quote from Aldous Huxley and I don’t even know if the man ever tried to train a dog. Sometimes it is difficult to see what is right in front of us. It may be more difficult to see it when talking about our dog training so I am going to put it into the perspective of being a teacher.

Some may view the job as a teacher to just share knowledge with their students.  I refer to this style of teacher as an “information dumper.” It is as if they are standing in front of people expounding “I know lots about this stuff…let me show you how brilliant I am.” Some students will learn but others will struggle.  I know, because I used to be this kind of teacher.

It was my students who taught me how to be a better teacher. I learned my job wasn’t just to share what I know but rather to help people get the results they desired. There is a big difference. My students results are a reflection of my abilities as a teacher. I learned to change my focus, to pay attention to ways to motivate, engage yet still challenge while I was sharing.

By learning while I was teaching I became a far more effective teacher.

Do you see the parallel to training our dogs?

girls plank stay 7 we Here are the girls; Genie, JJ, Sinclair & Wicken.
boys plank stay 7 w The boys: Wiggins, Elvis & Bobby.

Each time you interact with your dogs is an opportunity to learn.  This is particularly true with puppies, regardless of their age.  Just look at the pictures of my seven week old puppies holding a lovely control position while their pictures are taken. It is amazing how much more effective your training gets when you learn as you train.

While we are “training” the dog, the dog is there to help us learn what is the most effective way to share our lessons. Our dogs are a reflection of our abilities to share those lessons.

Some trainers may still try the “information dump” approach with their dogs. They have a book that tells them XYZ and regardless of what the dog does, how the dog responds, how fast or happy the dog appears, this trainer will continue to do just XYZ.

If we don’t learn from our experiences it is very likely we will find ourselves in a similar situation in the future. I hope you enjoyed watching or re-watching “The Journey.”

If you want to be notified about tomorrow’s video where I share those 10 lessons I have learned while training (and announce which of these 7 puppies I will be keeping)  leave your email address on my Puppy Peaks page…oh yeah there is another cool video there right now as well as a downloadable ebook on how I teach my puppies a retrieve. Would love to read about the lessons your own puppies or dogs have taught you along your “journey”… leave me a comment below.

Today I am grateful for the blessing of all of those amazing puppies that shared so many great lessons with me.


  1. Drew says:
    Friday, June 5, 2015 at 11:11am

    This is exactly how it feels to have a new puppy. I can really relate to this, thanks so much for sharing.


  2. Pat MacGillivary says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 1:37pm

    I am looking forward to both journeys, yours and Momentum’s intertwined with a “joie de vivre”!


  3. Dana Elmore says:
    Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 5:11pm

    The Perfect Puppy picked you! 😉 A lot of pressure to pick the perfect one…I have no doubt that you will continue to inspire all of us with the challenges you are facing with this pup. How perfect! We are not given challenges we are not capable of handling, Especially when you are helping so many others. Love it! Looking forward to more adventures 🙂 She is Brilliant!! That is why she is so full of life and into all it has to offer. You are the Perfect Mom/Trainer for her. It will be a joy to watch. All The Best! Xo :Dana


  4. Laura Arlov says:
    Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 1:52am

    Lots of love and growth on this page, what great seeds you sow, Susan.

    In response to your question, my reserved, non-competing Airedale Terrier named Angel died three years ago age 13 1/2. Angel taught me to respect her personal boundaries and her sense of dignity. I swear that dog could lift an eyebrow if I crossed her lines! She treated me with great respect, and asked for the same in return. She also taught me the joy of sharing life with a senior dog in her last year of life. Mostly relaxing in the softest, sunniest place she could find, she radiated contentment and stability. Losing this quiet, unassuming family member was my final lesson about the huge size of her contribution to the emotional climate of our home.


  5. Ruth says:
    Friday, April 24, 2015 at 4:22am

    Oh that wonderful video “The Journey”… I have a conditioned response to well up just hearing that music, seeing the title slide, or reading that title… I need to prepare and gather tissues… It is a lovely testament to the relationship between dogs and owners and all they teach us, especially your puppies over the years Susan. Thank you for sharing!


  6. Loren Dribinsky says:
    Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 6:03pm

    Thank you for sharing The Journey again. I was in tears, because my dogs have given me so much on this journey through life, and you expressed it so well through photos and words.


  7. Liz Devonport says:
    Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 4:37am

    Wow what a powerful video Susan it really reached some deep places in me. And your thoughts on being a trainer are very timely almost as if you have been sitting on my shoulder watching the show! Thank you!


  8. Bonnie Disney says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 7:51pm

    Thought- provoking, moving, and inspiring.


  9. Carol says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 4:08pm

    I have watched the Journey video many times and darn it, every time it brings me to tears! Not because it is sad, but because it is so profound in the wisdom that each dog teaches us new lessons. Currently struggling with a Start Line Stay issue but when my guy’s last days come, it won’t be whether or not he stayed at the Start LIne that will matter to me. It will be whether or not I earned and deserved his love and devotion. I strive to do just that.

    Thanks Susan for sharing your wisdom and keeping us all grounded in what is important.


  10. pat mcnamara says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 3:04pm

    Thank you


  11. Kirsty Macfarlane says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 2:32pm

    Loved this post watched the first video last night amazing stuff. I have 2 gsds who I’m going through a rehab period with to get them more accepting of strangers. I’m working with a wonderful trainer and I am pursuing my dreams of becoming a trainer myself. Had a super successful morning with them the hilight was walking past my neighbours with their lab lying in the runway and Ann watering the plants not even a woof from him. Love the things I’ve learned from my dogs over the years haven’t always gotten it right but that’s why we’re all here for each other. On another note I live in Scotland and I would just like to thank all the American dog trainers who have been so supportive of me xx


  12. Diane says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 2:14pm

    Great video! And so very true! Regardless of ribbons and competitions, I have learnd SO many lessons from each of my dogs and I am very grateful to them for helping me learn. I have also apologized to my dogs from many years ago for being one of those “XYZ” trainers early on and not recognizing what they were telling me. Every dog is different and having camaraderie in training is a wonderful experience! 🙂


  13. Dana Elmore says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 2:14pm

    That Video is Timeless and Outstanding! You, your pups and friends put together a beautiful expression of a similar journey we are all on. It is such a Positive reminder for us to be Grateful, AND Thankful for All the Gifts we have been given. This video rings so True..It made me emotional. Thank You for putting it together. You are truly a Gift, a gifted teacher, and a constant source of inspiration. 🙂 Thank You for All that you do… Xo :Dana


  14. Wendy says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 2:04pm

    The Journey video brought me to tears when you presented it at the 2008 Nationals. It was the last Nationals for my old dog. Last year, at Nationals, it brought me to tears again, having just lost that dog a couple of months prior at the age of 17. It is inspiring.

    I am a real believer in the concept of getting the dog you need. Each of our dogs has taught us tremendously important lessons. Your video reminds us all of that.

    Thank you.


  15. yvonne says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 1:35pm

    What a powerful video. Thanks for reminding me what is really important. YV


  16. Joyce says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 12:31pm

    Absolutely beautiful!


  17. Debbi says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:58am

    Not too long ago I had a wonderful Berner who sadly lived a stress filled life because I listened to well meaning old school trainers who told me she was dominant, hyperactive and I needed to “keep on top of it”. I was upset, she was upset…it was awful. Then I educated myself, determined she was in fact anxious and confused. I reconnected with Susan thru PuppyPeaks and Recallers and we both thrived with positive reinforcement! She “performed” amazingly in the ring and shone like no other. I have never looked back and will never do anything but positive training. Thanks to my loyal girl all the other dogs that followed are happy well adjusted partners every single day. I listened…..thanks Susan.


  18. Di Henry says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:46am

    If anyone ever doubts these sage words above, just read the comments below. We all receive lessons from each other, whether we choose to learn or not. Keep teaching us Susan xo


  19. Kathleen says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:35am

    What a wonderful video!! Thank you so much!!!


  20. Terry Goodwin says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:29am

    This brought me to tears. I have had the honor of sharing my agility adventure with some awesome canine family members. Even though some have crossed the rainbow bridge, they live on in my heart forever. It is funny, I don’t really remember all the ribbons and titles, I remember the fun and cherished moments shared with them. The dog I am sharing the journey with currently had two lumps removed last week. I received the results of the pathology report last night. BENIGN!!! So very grateful for the positive report!
    I am such a fan of yours Susan. I have learn so much and look forward to the lessons ahead. Thank you!


  21. Cheryl Black says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:26am

    This brought tears to my eyes. I read the words aloud to my 5-year-old daycare charge and my voice kept cracking. My husband was listening from another room. Negative soul that he is he stated that Nikko was brought into our lives (we rescued her from a field in our neighborhood where she had been living for 3+ days and I was to take her to a rescue facility the next day…that was in 2010!) because of bad karma and as a punishment! Naturally, I have a different outlook but had about given up on her even though I have quite the library of training books.:( A friend I met through a home organization program introduced me to your site. I’ve been trying to embrace positive training for a long time but the training I did in the mid 1970’s with the Koehler Method sometimes tries to take over…especially with a dog as difficult and frustrating as Nikko. But I keep being encouraged by success videos. I’m not very organized and do have a lot of activities going on in my life but since joining Handling 360 (still not sure this is where I needed to start but it was all that was available and I NEEDED IMMEDIATE HELP) I have seen small sparks of progression. Last night she sat by my side, even though fairly aroused, and waited for the release to get her thrown tug about 6 feet away and she actually turned toward me Instead of high-tailing away for a game of keep away. She still isn’t perfect with IYC if we aren’t in the middle of a training session but if I throw cookies and then we train around them she acts like she is afraid her foot might touch one! And she finally has some drive from a short distance into her crate. Amazing! She is such a happy dog and bonded with us the first few minutes in our van but she still worries me around unfamiliar people (afraid of fear biting since she was SO afraid when we took her in). I want to preserve her joy but I know it is a long journey to the point of even ever being able to allow her freedom off leash…even in the house as I NEVER want her to experience the unexpected, exhilarating dash out the door to “freedom” again. I often wonder how long it will take to negate all the self-reinforcement. Will she ever think I am more fun than the great outdoors? Can I really do this without being part of a local, physical group? Will I end up still with a dog who only listens in my living room?
    I look at your precious puppies and long for a puppy with only the best “coincidences” imprinted on its brain. But I have Nikko…a girl who is like a refugee from a war-torn, third-world country. Yet she still has joy. Guess that is my first lesson. And I will try to erase from my mind the feeling of despair of having accomplished so little with her in these last 4-1/2 years and look forward to what I CAN accomplish from this day forward. At 61 with bad knees and a not very quick mind my journey will never be your journey. Just like I will never be a Grand Prix dressage rider (maybe Trainng Level? HaHa) I won’t have a world championship agility dog. But I dream of joy and freedom for Nikko and, in turn, I will have joy, too, along with patience, steadfastness, perserverance…..well, the list of lessons I can learn is endless. Sorry for such a long post. I need to figure out where to post on Handling 360 for advice…but I just often feel like my issues aren’t in the scope of that training so answers would be unprofitable to the majority of the members. If anyone has read this far…thanks for listening. And, Susan, thanks for the possibilities. If I had a fairy godmother I would wish for a month of one-on-one training for me and Nikko from you or one of your staff trainers.:)


  22. Norma Nelson and Brogan says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 10:41am

    I remember being at the 2008 nationals when you first showed that video. It has as much meaning today as it did those many years ago. Thank you Susan for stirring up in me some great memories of the dogs I have shared and am sharing my life with now.


  23. Kelly Viscosi says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 10:04am

    Loved The Journey video, and agreed with everything except Faith and love will overcome every obstacle. I own a very intelligent and athletic fearful rescue dog. Not just your basic shy dog, needs a little TLC to warm up to things. This dog has taught me more about dog training, dog behavior, patience, and the ability to train and be in the moment that HE defines, not necessarily the one I think we should be having. In fact one of the most important lessons he has taught me, is to accept him for who he is right now. Not who I want him to be, He has a multitude of diagnoses: PTSD, generalized anxiety, noise phobia, fear of unknown dogs, fear of unknown people, and even neophobia (fear of anything new in his environment. Love and faith are not enough to overcome these obstacles, and it took me quite a few years to accept that although he is uber talented and my “training junkie”, he will always have his fear, and no amount of love and faith will overcome his genetics and likely total lack of socialization as a puppy and young adult. There’s much I’ve done to make it better, but I’ve had to drop him from agility classes because even though he’s an awesome partner, he could no longer handle the environment. If love and faith could overcome every obstacle, he’d be a national champion by now. But I love him still the same, and I have faith that he’s teaching me the lessons I need to learn.


    • Cheryl Black says:
      Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:46am

      Kelly, I just finished my very long comment below and then saw yours. How inspiring that you can appreciate what the dog who is in your care needs and is capable of even though it isn’t what you might wish. From the moment we took Nikko into our house I commented that she would make a great agility dog. She is the fastest dog I have ever seen and can slalom through the kitchen chair legs and turn on a dime. BUT mentally? It took her over a year to not ferociously bark at the parents of my daycare kids, even though she warmed up fairly quickly to the kids, however, they are in my home for 8+ hours every day. I have seen small progress in being able to take her to the park and as long as we are a long way off from other dogs she can remain relatively calm. I do think if training her were my all day job (so many things I’ve read it seems like people can be with their dogs 24/7 and get in little snippets of training all through the day) we could progress more quickly. But maybe there comes a point where one has to realize, as you have, what activities are best for the dog one has. Here’s to lessons learned no matter what the situation! And, again, thanks for your heart-felt comment.


    • Ruth says:
      Friday, April 24, 2015 at 4:41am

      Faith and love can be seen in your post, overcoming struggles others would have baulked at. Faith and love in putting your dog’s needs first, above titles or competitions, and accepting him for who he is. Faith and love may not delete the stimulus of fears of our dogs but it can make their world a better place and that is a big thing!

      Faith and love has brought my dog a much better life than what he may otherwise have had, and has provided me the desire and confidence to be his advocate, to invest in Say Yes courses and overcome some pretty big fear obstacles. For me it has taken others around me to recall the immense changes in my dog since I got him. When we remember what he was like when I first got him, wow! Are the fears gone? No; but my patience, and advocacy of my dog’s needs; my chosen training style and faith in myself and my dog has painted his world a lot better, improved my choices, and brought us confidence.

      I bet you and your dog’s faith in each other and love for each other have engineered some amazing shifts!


  24. Catherine says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 10:03am

    I am brand new to dog training, although I have had dogs all my life. I got a puppy and signed up for Recallers and Handling 360. I have learned so much, and my puppy has benefited from learning with me. Susan’s instructions are positive, interactive for the human and dog, effective and fun. The courses are worth every penny spent on them. Videos, e-books, PDFs, FAQs, very complete and well done.


  25. Naomi says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:50am

    Love love love The Journey video. Excellent video! Thank you for sharing it again…always a good reminder 🙂


  26. Jill Barrows says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:43am

    The Journey is one of my favorite videos! I have bookmarked it and watched it many times over the past few years since I discovered. It sometimes causes tears and it always gives me a few minutes to reflect on the dogs I have owned who, although they have passed on have taught me so much. I also am thankful every day for the dog I have now who is teaching me so much…along with guidance of the Say Yes staff


  27. Janie gibbs says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:43am

    susan you are such an inspiration and your video is beautiful.


  28. nancy says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:31am

    My puppy comes in August. So much new to learn. Will be anxious to see who gets to stay. Thank you for sharing.


  29. Gale Hoey says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 8:59am

    Cindy, a chocolate lab/border collie mix, showed me right away that training her would be an entirely new adventure. I realized very quickly that she was not going to do anything if she did not want to–almost like she had to see the importance of obeying commands. For our yellow lab Maggie, she just loves to do anything to please us. Cindy is different and I had to work with her differently. I guess the lesson I learned is that each dog is a unique individual and you have to find the key to that unique personality.


  30. Sylvia Snell says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 8:42am

    I am in tears having just finished watching the Journey. This because we just last week lost our 14 year old lab “pup”. He was always a pup to me. I see the lessons I tried to teach him, but not til now many things he tried to teach me. He was not a competitor, except for our attention. Not an athlete except for the fantastic catches of his wiley tennis ball. But we loved him. JOurney wakes you up, opens your eyes, as long as I am able, there will be another dog, or two, to learn from.Thank you Susan.


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:21am

      Sylvia I just had a cry reading your comment. Sending hugs. So sorry for the loss of your 14 year old puppy.


  31. Connie W says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 8:32am

    I love your Journey video. I have it bookmarked and watch it before many of my agility and obedience trials. It help me get thru difficult spots in my journey with my 2 Aussies. Looking forward to who gets to live with you and congrats on the lucky people who will be getting one of the other puppies. I hope we can continue to follow all of them on their journeys.


  32. Jane G says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 8:14am

    Live The Journey. Great post SG. Looking forward to your announcement.


  33. Lainy says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 6:57am

    Just watched “The Journey” for the first time. It was wonderful, I loved it! I am such a fan of yours. I loved watching your latest litter of beauties grow and thrive.
    I too am convinced that dogs come to us because we need them, as much if not more, than they need us.
    Thank you for all you do with dogs and for sharing it with everyone.


  34. Diane says:
    Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 6:18am

    Wonderful information!


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