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Goal Setting, Defining Moments and Being the Best for The Dog You Love

Posted on 01/06/16 7 Comments

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better!”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was 10 years old I wanted to play organized ice hockey… you know, with coaches and team jerseys the whole big shebang. The only problem was there were no organized girls hockey teams in our city back then…however, there was a sport very similar for girls called  “Ringette.” So that became my goal…I wanted to play Ringette.

You see, I had been playing hockey with the boys in our neighbourhood since I was 8 or 9 years old. They were all getting better because they were all playing on organized teams… with real coaches!

Ringette was my only option, but there were two obstacles in my way…

EPSON MFP image Sunday dinner at the Garretts…circa 1979

First, the games were only played on Sunday, and my parents didn’t allow us to play sports on a Sunday (church and family only on Sundays). But that wasn’t all. Even if I somehow was able to convince my parents to allow me to play, my next obstacle to overcome was the fact that the hockey rink where the games were played was a mile away. With 7 siblings (and the 8th was on his way), my father a shift worker, and my mother a “non driver”, it didn’t look like a drive to the rink would ever happen.

I persisted…it took me a few years, but I did it.

By the time I was 13 years old, I had convinced my parents that if I didn’t miss church and I carried all of the goalie equipment on my back, I could walk that mile each way to the rink….no problem.

Well maybe not “no problem” ….do you have any idea how heavy goalie equipment gets after you roll around on the ice for an hour? But it didn’t deter me. When you set a goal and you are convinced it is worth while, you persist.

EPSON MFP image I played ringette until dog sports took over my time!

From that point in my life until I left for university, I walked that mile to the rink every Sunday through the winter…yes Canadian winters… to play Ringette… it was so worth it. I ended up on the city All Star team by my second year and was consistently selected to represent my region in the Ontario Winter Games throughout my youth.

Jan 6I was tenacious about achieving that goal because I wanted to get better…I wanted to get the kind of coaching my friends were getting…I wanted to improve. I had a ton of obstacles to overcome, but it was worth it because I wanted to see the rapid improvement that I saw in all of the boys in my neighbourhood.

Looking back at the experience today, I realize I got something far more valuable than just the chance to play Ringette.

I got the experience of having a vision and patiently working towards something I wanted. I learned how much faster you can improve with good coaching. That going it alone may create incremental progress but “incremental” pales compared to the exponential improvement of working with an experienced coach.  I realize now that the focus I have today to work towards something I really want was all born out of my unwavering desire to play ice hockey all of those years ago.

Those are lessons I have carried with me to this very day.

It all comes back to stepping outside of your comfort zone to achieve a goal, trusting someone else’s experience to guide you, and every day creating just a little momentum towards your goals. I can still remember the first time I got to skate out onto the ice for my first team practice. Perhaps it was a “defining moment” in my life…one of many.  I don’t think many of us have “A” defining moment, but I think we all have many. They just stack one on top of the other, altering the direction of our lives and the person we are becoming as we journey onward. They add another layer to the person we are growing into. It isn’t something that just happens to 10 year old kids who want to play ice hockey. It happens to people of all ages and walks of life who are willing to step up to be the kind of person/dog owner/trainer/agility competitor they have scarily allowed themselves to dream of being.

Here we are at the beginning of a new year, and many people are setting goals. If you haven’t set any yet, please do. Not as a “resolution”, but rather as a promisewhy to yourself because you deserve it. As you write your goals, be sure you also write down  your “whys” of each goal. Why is achieving this goal important to you? Who do you become? What other opportunities will open up to you? The “WHY” is what gives all of us motivation to stay the course and achieve those goals during the down turns when we may otherwise consider giving up. What do you want to achieve that you have been putting off? For yourself, your family, your dogs?
Over the next few weeks I am going to share several stories of my students who have inspired me and our community with their willingness to embrace challenge, and to be persistent about achieving their goals. They are every day people who have a desire to be better for their dogs. None of them are “professional” who make a living from dog training, they are all just regular people who dared to dream and welcomed success into their lives because they knew they deserved it. I know you are going to love their stories as much I have enjoyed watching the progressions of their journeys.

Today I am grateful for all of my early coaches who pushed me to be much better than even I thought I could be, because that is what the great coaches do.


  1. Veronica says:
    Saturday, January 6, 2018 at 8:22pm

    Dorothy hi. Not sure or your remark. But it it refers to people claiming to use someones style of training but its not….then yes I can relate to this too.
    I have Adopted Susans ( the “Say Yes ” way of training) and find it so annoying when people tell others something else and try and put Susans stamp of approval on it.
    Especially when novice handlers are trying to get a grasp on training their dogs.

    Most of the problems are associated with how to utilise reinforement correctly.
    And because of poor understanding they use it incorrectly.
    I can remember one year Susan came to Australia and had a huge challenge convincing dog handlers not to use check chains…..what a reaction . ( Susan can you recall that time) She stirred uo a hornets nest.
    Things change very slowly here in Australia.
    Any way my biggest goal now is not to change how people train their dogs but to do the best to train my dog using the knowledge I gained over many years. Susan is a huge piece of that learning.

    If you get your training right then eventually others will see what works and what doedn’t.
    It all about ” your choice”😊


  2. Liz says:
    Friday, November 3, 2017 at 3:05pm

    Goals are great, baby steps, as a young girl I wanted a horse but had “C” in school so age 10 my aunt who was raising me said when I got a straight “A” report card she would buy me a horse. YEP you guessed it next report card was straight “A” and I got my first horse I have to keep reminding my self baby steps as I have a very high energy dog breed that has a hard time with focus out side so that is my goal more focus out side so that we can get in the obedience ring


  3. Wanda says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 11:13pm

    Ringette rocks, I too entered Ringette at an early age and progressed to Varsity Women’s hockey at Western University. Coaching is a gift that we all get to contribute to.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, January 8, 2016 at 8:58am

      Nice Wendy!!!


  4. Carolle says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 5:07pm

    I too desperately wanted to play ice hockey. So I asked for a pair of guys skates for Christmas. I was 12 years old. Neither of my parents knew how to skate. I had to learn on my own. So I started to practice skating with the boys. By the time I reached High School, I joined the girls’ hockey team. We were not very good but I kept on going. When I reached University, I played girls hockey on the University Varsity team. You do not know how many times I wish I’d been born 5 years-10 later. Anyhow, I like competing in all things in which I’m involved. The fact that I got cancer, and had to go through 2 full years of chemo, did not stop me from doing agility with my Gordon Setter. Yes you read correctly, a Gordon Setter, THE BREED. I always wanted. We did not have it easy as a team. I was rarely there (physically and especially mentally) for my girl. I’m doing much better now. So much so that agility is now fun for the both of us. I love to see my girl happy. I’m glad we stuck with it. Those are a few of my defining moments.


  5. Naomi says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 3:53pm

    Great story Susan!! I love to read about how people become the person they are today. Thus your defining moments.

    One of my defining moments came to mind while reading your post. I loved to sing when I was young. I would sing at church, sing to the songs my parents would play on the Hi-Fi and we would dance around the living room singing as loud as we could. When I went into Junior High (7-8-9 grades). I was delighted to discover they had a choir. Coming to a public school and entering 9th grade was an adjustment after attending a parochial school. But singing in the choir bridged those gaps of uncertainty. We had so much fun, but the big step was yet to come. Our High School Choir was pretty well know. It won many competitions and many of its members would sing in the spring musical. My 1st year in HS I tried out for the choir but was placed in the Glee Club…not unusual for a Sophomore. I was determined to make the Choir the next year. I set out on my own and took voice lessons. Being one of 5 children my parents suggested I get a job to pay for these lessons. I did by babysitting for some families in the neighborhood. When tryouts came my Junior year…I didn’t make the cut. I had a choice to be in Glee Club for another year or not sing at all. I decided I really wanted to be in the choir so I stayed in Glee Club. I think I may have been the only junior in the club. Now I was even more determined to be in the choir…plus they were going to cut a record that year. So I took more voice lessons and would go visit the choir director at lunch time and ask him what I could do to make the choir. I probably drove him nuts LOL. He let me tryout again mid year. I made the CHOIR!! Although I didn’t get my name on the record jacket (they had already printed them) I sang with the choir while they recorded the songs for it. That year I was stage manager for the spring musical Carousel! I sang in the choir again my senior year and got a part in the spring musical as Motel the tailor’s mother Shaindel in Fiddler on the Roof. This experience taught me that if I set my mind to it, no goal would be out of reach. My persistence and determination has served me well over the years. I am grateful for my parents who always encouraged me to go after my dreams. WOW, I had forgotten all about this!


  6. Dorothy says:
    Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 1:52pm

    Dear Susan, I so wish you were in Brisbane Australia..whilst the dog training school that we have used utilizes your methods they are not you…could do with your help

    warm regards from Brisbane


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