Defining Moments: How Decisions In Life Guide Our Dog Training Path

Posted on 01/04/16 30 Comments

Everyone has “their story.”  Think about your life. Our stories are a collection of defining moments one stacked on the next that have created the life we now enjoy. Who we married or didn’t marry, what adventurous trip we decided to take or not take. A new hobby we took up or a course we enrolled in…or didn’t.

Shelby, and Keegan

Defining moments are the decisions we have made, the actions we have taken or were afraid to take. Below are excerpts from an interview shot at the end of 2014. During this shoot I remember having several “ah ha” moments as I shared key decisions I have made in my life. It is amazing to me to look back and see how those pivotal decisions have guided my life as a dog trainer. I still get chills at the 3:40 mark, I can’t imagine where I would be today if I had made a different decision.

Defining moments are mysterious things. We often don’t know “why” we are making a certain choice until we look back years later and then it all makes sense. Three times in my life I have made a decision to adopt a puppy I had no intention of owning. Those three puppies; Shelby, Buzz & DeCaff were definitely the most pivotal dogs to my growth up that steep learning curve of understanding dog behaviour.

Buzzy as a 10 month old puppy.

DeCaff as a 6 month old puppy.

In Bermuda winning an obedience class under Judge John Blenkey…prelude to a defining moment?

The funny thing about defining moments in life is that they often take us outside of our comfort zone. A place many people don’t like to venture, but a necessary journey for growth. Too often when people come upon a “pivotal decision” they think that by allowing that opportunity to pass them by is avoiding having to make a choice.

What they don’t realize is that by allowing that opportunity to pass them by they HAVE made a choice! A choice of non action is still a choice…however it is a choice where nothing changes.

Heres to 2016 a year where all of our choices are conscious acts taking us a step closer to all of our goals.

Today I am grateful for all of the dogs who created those defining moments during my life. If you are still reading, I’m sure you have defining moments of your own that came to you through the love of a dog.

Leave a comment below and share one with me!


  1. Laura W. says:
    Friday, January 8, 2016 at 11:11am

    Two things came along in close succession to bring me to where I am today. I was becoming jaded with the school where I was taking my Vizsla puppy, my first dog, to classes. I still remember their most common phrase to help you learn to teach your dog to come: “Come….Pop” (say come then pop the leash).

    But in December 1997, when my pup was 9 months old, my soon-to-be-husband let me know that there was a lunchtime seminar about dog training in the Animal Science building at the University of Guelph. There was something about Relationship in the title of the talk. I wondered back then, what the heck does relationship have to do with dog training? It ended up being a demonstration of something called clicker training by someone named Susan Garrett. 🙂

    Then 6 months later, the day before my wedding, I discovered the book The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. It was all starting to fit together!

    I am certain that I would not have pursued competitive obedience (or any dog sport for that matter) had I not discovered a better way to train. Because I wasn’t happy with ‘old school’ methods, I know I would have found a better way eventually, but I’m grateful to have found the way through Susan.

    I will honestly say, it took until my second/current Vizsla to figure out what this relationship stuff was all about. I didn’t join Recallers 1.0 because I thought my recall was fine. But then curiosity got the best of me and I joined Recallers 2.0. That is what helped me to figure out just how important relationship is in dog training. R 2.0 started me on my path to the wonderful successes I’ve had (and I know I will continue to have) with my current Vizsla.


  2. sharon empson says:
    Friday, January 8, 2016 at 12:42am

    Dear Susan: My defining moment was when I rescued my dog Cody. At 12 weeks the shelter was going to put him to sleep for being too aggressive with the other dogs. He was just a little puppy and at the shelter they allowed all the puppies to play together, even the big puppies. Cody is full grown and only 18 lbs. So you can imagine how little he was at 12 weeks. Anyway, a rescue snatched him up. He was a challenge believe me when we got him. In fact I almost returned him to the rescue group because he would get so over the top around other dogs. At that point I was a traditional trainer and realized by God’s mercy that traditional methods would not help my cody. So, with this puppy who spent his whole puppy hood in a shelter, who was very intense and escalated quickly, I started on the road to positive reinforcement training. I had to find fun ways to get my training across to Cody. I then wanted to help others with over the top dogs and took the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Academy Course and became a professional dog trainer. Cody has greatly improved and my love of Dog Training can be used to help others. That is one of the defining moments of my life. The greatest was when I met Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Today I am thankful to the Lord for little black crazy dogs and their big wonderful hearts. I have found the most challenging dogs seem to have the greatest hearts. Thank you Susan, I am very grateful for you too. sharon california


    • Susan says:
      Friday, January 8, 2016 at 8:57am

      Thank you for sharing your story Sharon.


  3. Julia bennett says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 4:11pm

    Food for thought xx


  4. Gerda says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 2:25pm

    Hi All

    Hope all is good.

    Defining moments…I have had many, and the most recent is fulfilling my dream to do agility with my dogs.

    Every chance I got, I would watch agility on television, and be in awe of what those dogs and their handlers could do.

    One time it was a person in a wheelchair…can you imagine that.

    Another was a JRT who was by no means the fastest dog, slow, steady, and very precise he was. He won that day.

    After that I knew some day I was going to do agility with my dogs.

    I have owned JRT for many years, and the two dogs have now are both in training. It has been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work and some disappointments too.

    I would say the defining moment that I truly got hooked into agility was the day Roscoe got a double “q”.

    To even make the day better was when we were in the ring doing a starter jumpers run and “magic” happened. It was just him and I, we did everything right and the time was awesome.

    I can go back to that moment and still get goosebumps. After that I was forever hooked on agility.

    To have that feeling was priceless, to feel it again would be awesome. That feeling that you and your dog are working together, so in sync with each other, are having so much fun.

    That’s a defining moment.

    Take care all.
    Gerda, Roscoe, and Fancy!!

    All I can say is “WOW”


  5. Trudy says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 9:23am

    Great story. Every one of my dogs have taught me something, even if it’s smile! ????


  6. Trudy says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 9:20am

    Well said! Great story.
    Every one of my dogs have taught me so much. Even if it’s smile????


  7. Nancy says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 9:13am

    Defining moments:(1) Watching your seminar 14 years ago!! Wow!
    (2) Realizing how much the “next dog” learns from watching other dogs perform!
    (3) Finally finding a tiny BC inside a Pyr Shep!……Voila!


    • Nancy says:
      Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 10:03am

      Forgot THE most important moment. Being told by my mother how I used to set up the patio furniture (1970!) and have the family dogs enjoy the obstacle course. Much to her demise……


  8. Angie Crawford says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 9:13am

    Hi Susan,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! The 3:40 mark brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat for sure and I can truly relate!
    I am a vet tech from NB (a student of Christine Thibodeau and Julie Lizotte). I teach pet dog puppy and manners classes and have done this for 18 years. One of my biggest pivotal points was when my childhood dog died (a BC mix) when I was 17. A week later I got a 7 month old BC from a horse farm. She had never been socialized with people and had a lot of behavior problems and it was really a rough start for us. I was getting ready to head away to College in the fall and had to try to fix her fast. My parents wanted me to send her back but I protested A LOT promising them that she had potential and I would work really hard. Long story short is that my Jessie is the dog who laid the foundation for everything I do today with dogs. She ignited my passion for dog training that I didn’t even know was there. She lived for an amazing 17 years and taught me so much. She helped me teach puppy classes and helped me rear a couple lovely Aussies too. I now compete in conformation, obedience, agility, rally and freestyle with the Aussies. I owe everything to my Jessie. She changed my whole world and made me the trainer I am today. Every orientation night of every class I teach I pay tribute to her memory by giving her the recognition she deserves. Thank you for sharing your story and allowing me to share mine!!! You are amazing by the way! Thank you for all your teachings!


  9. Cheryl says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 11:51pm

    My defining moment was at a veterinary where the speaker was using one of my Salukis – yes a Saluki – was performing his entire list of tricks while she was just asking for a simple sit. I had another Saluki there also and he was just hanging and working the crowd. Unlike most my kids are very social which is not normal for the breed. Her co speaker was Bob Anderson who commented to me on how he wished everyone could enjoy the parter ship Ihad with my dogs. That was when I realized why I enjoy working with my dogs. It’s that special relationship.


  10. Carolle Marchand says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 11:34pm

    My husband and I had decided we were finally going to get our !st time puppy. Which breed did I pick? Well the breed chose me. He was a 14 month old French Spaniel. He was going to be euthanized so we took him in. When we 1st got him, he would bolt out of the house at any opportunity. Hence the name “Flash “.
    To make a long story short, he is the reason I started doing Obedience, not to break him but to build a bound that could never be broken. Flash is also the dog that got me into Agility. He was a challenge for sure. We never competed. But he taught me a whole lot of doggy things.
    I owe THAT DOG my life. I suffered from a debilitating depression but Flash would force me to get out and mingle. We had a lot of special moments together. He built the pathway for other wonderful dogs. I finally got the Gordon Setter I always wanted, Kassandre. She is competing in Agility at the master level. K now has a little sister, an Aussie, Pebbles. She should start competing in Agility in July 2016, If we are ready of course.


  11. Margaret says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 10:54pm

    Great video, Susan, you inspired me at a seminar many years ago at Dog Works in Zirconia. I did not have that “fast” dog that many of the others there had and you told me to work with what I had. Tara was my first competition dog and she taught me so much and I have continued to learn with each dog I have owned and trained. I would never have thought that years later I would be the instructor at Dog Works. I love knowing that I will help make a difference in many dogs lives. Thank you!


  12. Pauline Dikmans says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 10:49pm

    My defining moment was the decision to repair a working dog’s leg after shattering his wrist in an accident – it took approx 9 months to get him back to full-time work as a cattle dog on a Charolais bull stud – our best dog of 3. He became my best mate and when I decided to leave the farm and return to town, he came with me and needed to learn how to be a ‘town’ dog. I had trained horses (dressage, eventing & mustering) and show cattle but had never trained a dog in obedience – so off to school we went – who said you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks, Mac was 7 and within two years he was winning in obedience competitions. That’s when I experienced the dark side of dog school – I don’t think that some people expected me to achieve anything with Mac – a crossbred farm dog (Kelpie/BC/Cattle Dog) and a handler that had never trained dogs – but not many people had the relationship with their dogs that I had with Mac – he would do anything for me and we did everything together. The worst point came when one lady suggested that I put Mac down, as she could not see why I bothered with a dog with a broken/fused leg that was a crossbred mongrel (and I was beating her dog in competition regularly) – I was deeply hurt and started to believe the dog world was not worth it.
    The next defining moment was when Kamal came to town and I immediately regained a new lease on life and dog training realising that his style of motivational training with games/toys was much preferable than luring and training in a monotinous marching motion. Mac has since broken down and cannot compete anymore, so still hungry for more knowledge, along came Ky – a working BC who has fitted into our family unit wonderfully … and recently I also discovered Susan Garrett and Say Yes Dog Training. I am older now and should probably not have a high-drive BC but it is what it is and Say Yes is equipping me with skills to be able to cope from a training perspective – it may take me a little longer, and I may never compete – but I hope I can realise a level where we can compete regardless of my health issues. But we have already won … through Recallers and IC Peeps Ky and I now have a relationship equal to my bond with Mac and we are all enjoying life … THANK YOU Susan Garrett and Say Yes Dog Training!


  13. Suzanne says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 8:01pm

    My defining moment came the day someone in a small town in Mexico, where I was living, asked me to help them to help a wild street dog. I didn’t know it that day, but it was the day I was set on the path to remembering what I knew as a child: working with animals was my hearts work. Becoming a dog trainer and working with shelter and rescue dogs has become my passion over these past 5 years. That wild dog became MY dog. She is my guide as well as my best friend.


  14. Karli says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:34pm

    So fun to read and watch this video. It reminded me of all my dogs past and present. I had taken my 4 mo. old puppy Roxie years ago to obedience training which had many negative qualities. During that training both my pup and I had a negative experience because the trainer ask if she could use my pup for a demonstration. I agreed not realizing she was going to hang the dog by the leash. OMG!! I have never let anyone treat any of my dogs in a negative manner since. Roxy and I became the best of buds. Could not have had a smarter dog or a happier experience to my approach to dog training. Thanks so much for Recallers this is definitely Yes Yes Yes training.


  15. Ruth Fisher says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:25pm

    I love learning new what appear to be the right way of training and I am almost 83. I recognize what great training methods . It is truly exciting. My sister took up the hobby and with the new methods she is ahead of me. I am truly proud of her and what she has accomplished and she has nicely made time as iwe constantly are talking. to each other and what is new in the training of dogs. I am so thankful for her as in my mind I can enjoy all that is happening how the training is going (she has a PWD with who she is going for her CDX she does Rally-O, water trials, agility…just everything although we are far apart in miles technology has made it possible to FaceTime every night while over a drink of wine or whatever is at hand. We just talk dogs who were my life. I am so happy I have her as I See her struggles and joys as she continues on here path which at one time we were both working for something. Dogs were my sanity in an otherwise unhappy place


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 8:30pm

      Rock on Ruth! 83 years old and FaceTimeing every night! How cool is that!


    • Sharon Blasko says:
      Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 12:21am

      Hi, i so needed to hear your story,i got my dog 1 year after my husband & soul mate died suddenly, & he (Cruz) has been a life saver for me!! I live in saint andrews, manitoba Canada!! Thank u Sharon Blasko!!


  16. Lorraine Messier says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:20pm

    Always enjoyable posts that you share with us that we can learn from and ponder similar stories from our lives with dogs. My siblings recently posted photos at Christmas as young kids waiting to open presents, still in pajamas and slippers. My sister commented how some things don’t change & pointed out that I was always holding the family dog or had him sitting with me in all the pictures! I’m finding myself going through a change in my dog training and have been working toward Fitness certification for dogs. It’s amazing how quickly the prevention is starting to become more popular & can see how this journey will lead to other opportunities to help others & with my own dogs as well.
    Thanks for the opportunity to let us share & please keep doing all the great work you do for handlers and dogs alike!


  17. Darlene says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:11pm

    Hi Susan, I loved your video. I have a chiwennie male dog. He’s fourteen months old very hipper an fast. I just wish I could figure out how to give him more exercise than he gets. I love him dearly. He’s a barker. I’d like to figure out how to teach him when to bark an when not. If you have any ideals please let me know.

    Yours truly,
    Darlene Shope


  18. Sue Betteridge says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:10pm

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing. My own defining moment came when I was taken by a friend about thirteen years ago to see my first Heelwork to Music competition. I had had dogs as companions all my life but had never competed with them. At the competition I saw a lady called Linda Topliss work her long haired male GSD to the Meatloaf song – I can’t remember the name of it – which has the line ‘Would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?’ Her beautiful boy lolloped out in a outrun, picked up a bunch of red roses and lolloped back to present them to her, his tail and body wagging wildly the whole time. There was such a wonderful rapport between them that I thought. ‘ Yes, I want to do that with Gina. ( my GSD) And I did. Gina took me to Crufts main ring three times, once to demo HTM, once to compete in the Heelwork to Music final and once to compete in the Freestyle final. I will always be grateful to Linda for her wonderful inspiration.


  19. Chris M says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:08pm

    Defining moment: I was a kid, maybe 10 or so, and saw the author of a book “Good Dog, Bad Dog” on the Dick Cavett Show, I think. It was a wow moment! I was really impressed and tried training a rescue Westie we had, with that book. What fun! Then, some years later I got a pit-boxer pup, out of control….signed up for real classes and was totally hooked! I love to compete but I know one thing – all dogs in my life will have training!


  20. Lois Gibb says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 6:53pm

    My poodle developed mouth cancer, had her tongue removed but the cancer spread and she had to be euthanized. The day I received the bad news my neighbor invited me to see a new foal at a nearby vet hospital. He told the vet’s wife about my predicament and she told me she had a puppy in the back room. I fell in love with my first aussie, have had 6 since then, the latest is two and has 3 obedience titles now. I am now taking agility lessons from your student, Nikki Hall and loving them.
    I’ve put obedience and agility titles on every one of the seven. It began with a visitation.


  21. Kim (Romack) Davis says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 6:34pm

    Amazing how things appear at perfect times. Not even 2 hours prior to this message I was on the Say Yes website looking for training opportunities. After 13 years of living 6 hours away, I moved to Buffalo and am only a short drive over the border!
    But the truly inspiring thing is- I’ve been questioning if this was the right move for me. I’ve been looking for a sign that it was. Then this blog post came through and all my memories of that very first puppy camp with Remedy. My life was forever changed.
    Thank you. I now know this is right.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 7:18pm

      Come visit Kim! We would love to see you again!


  22. Sara Dunard Reuter says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 2:58am

    Love that pictire of you and Buzz!

    Defining moment – choosing the puppy with the most out-going, go getting kind of spirit, rather than the one with more “will to please” or what they call it.


  23. Cassie says:
    Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 12:07am

    I made a pivotal decision just over a month ago. I’m 22 and my life dreams and goals revolve around dog training. I rescued a border collie four years ago and I was planning on getting a puppy two years from now..well I came across a litter of border collie puppies from good lines and went to meet the breeder for a future puppy. Well one little girl just decided that I needed her in my life and chose me. Going against what everyone else in my life was telling me I decided to get her two years earlier than planned and it is definitely the most pivotal decision I could have made.
    I have learned so much from her already and I am so thankful that I took a huge leap and got her. It was all meant to be and I couldn’t be more thankful for her. (And super thankful for puppy peaks as she gives me a run for my money half the time!) Thank you Susan for being my dog training guide in all this puppy craziness!


  24. debra n Snap says:
    Monday, January 4, 2016 at 11:56pm

    Wonderful post, Susan…
    I believe we all have a Calling inside of us that waits patiently for us to find it. Sometime it takes years, but during those years we are learning and pursuing in order to be able to embrace it. I was 10 when I got my first dog (BC named Lassie), like you it was the era of negative training (choke chain and firm hands). That dog began my journey in training and learning and patience. She taught me that her love was unconditional and proved it over and over. I grew from her and will always be deeply deeply grateful that little tick laden puppy from the ‘Pound’ chose me for her human. You see I could have chosen a registered pup as it was my birthday and my parents were going to a breeder to buy me a beautiful collie pup. But for some reason (?) I pleaded with them to take me to the Pound to see this 6 month stray pup. This red/white BC pup that was sick, and full of ticks. That choice was the beginning of my journey and where I am today.

    Thank you for bringing back such special memories of my Lassie…


  25. Marianne Hovde says:
    Monday, January 4, 2016 at 10:37pm

    Wow, I got chills at 3:40 too. Great story 🙂


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