Sunday, May 31, 2009


I was driving home yesterday when I was reduced to tears by a voice message. Hero vom Haus Kuhn had passed away at age 11, in the company of his best friend and in the sunshine of his own back yard. He had bloated again and was in pain and this time his owner let him go. The animal communicator advised Hero was ready to leave this earth during a previous bloat and pneumonia incident, but Shari needed just a little more time. This was that time.

Hero-- pronounced Harro-- was a tall, deep chested German Shepherd. He was part of my payment for the sale of his grandsire, Lex von Larchenhain, but the dear lad just did not have schutzhund in his heart. Yes, he would grip the sleeve, but not with the fire and fight of a dog who needs the sport for his very survival. My dear friend, Shari, welcomed him into her life and became his best friend and partner to the end. Years before when she was still training with Fox Valley Police & Schutzhund Club, Harro would ride along and would always have to say hi to "his Debbie" and then he would be content to lounge. Shari and I reminisced about the time I put on a sleeve and Harro looked so shocked to think he should bite me!! What? I can't bite Debbie!

Harro adored puppies. I can still picture him with my A litter of Dutch Shepherds, laying next to the fence and touching them gently when they were still so small I worried he might be too exhuberant and hurt them. I needn't have worried. For his great size, he matched his play to their abilities and was happiest when he was being mauled by puppies.

Some dogs remain in our hearts forever,despite moving on to new homes. Shari was so gracious as to allow me to continue to be a part of Harro's life to the end. Through her, he found himself. Sleep well, sweet boy.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Turtle on a Fencepost

I had a 15-16 hour drive to PA where the AWDF Championships were held, and made good use of my time by listening to motivational tapes. By the time I arrived, I was energized and had a positive attitude. On one tape, Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, spoke about the turtle on a fencepost. The story was so true and something we should all keep in mind. Back at home, I found an internet entry on a "Familiarity in Ministry" web site. I have made editorial changes to make the references reflect what we do in dog sports:

Turtle on a Fencepost
I became intrigued recently by a book written almost three decades ago by Allan C. Emery and Mary C. Crowley entitled “A Turtle on a Fencepost, Women Who Win.“ In the first chapter of this little book, Emery asks us to think about life in a deeper way by eliciting the picture of a turtle on a fencepost. I have been thinking about how well the image of a turtle on a fencepost depicts our role in dog sports and life in general.

What are a few things we know about a turtle on a fencepost?

A turtle on a fencepost didn’t get there on his own.
Turtles lack the attributes needed for climbing posts. Unlike the forlorn midnight cry of the neighborhood cat from the top of your backyard tree, having been able to “get up, but not down”, turtles lack the attributes necessary for post climbing.
Not only do they lack the attributes, turtles also lack the resolve for post climbing. On their own, they would see no benefit to climbing the post.
How like us! To make progress we must first acknowledge our inadequacy to climb that post. We must all rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us for the task, and people who serve Him by helping others. We cannot get up on that post by ourselves. In dog sports, that means helping the next turtle upward, giving them a boost by encourage, support and mentoring.

A turtle on a fencepost is outside his comfort zone.
The turtle on a fencepost would rather be on terra firma where his natural attributes give him stability. The flailing of turtle legs midair is disconcerting both to the turtle and the observer. To make progress we need to take ourselves outside that comfort zone and challenge ourselves. It may feel uncomfortable,but the view is great!

A turtle on a fencepost isn’t going anywhere unless someone moves him.
The turtle finds himself powerless to make productive progress without help. He may struggle and fall off the post, but that is the unintended consequence of his being unsettled by his place. Only when some caring person gently relocates him does the turtle find himself able to move forward without negative consequences.

The lesson of the turtle on a fencepost is quite simple, really. We can't get there on our own. We often find ourselves outside our comfort zone. We need help to make productive progress. We are all turtles on a fencepost and at the same time, have the ability to lift up another turtle. We need other people to mentor us in the sport, and in turn, have an obligation to do the same when we have that opportunity. If you can be selfless in these acts of serving the Lord by helping others, when it is your time, you will find yourself lifted back up when you fall. I was reminded of this when a gentleman at the AWDF Championships told me he had met me years before at another event, when he was new to the sport, and that myself and the two friends I was with had taken him under our collective wings and spent time talking about the sport and encouraging him. And here he was, a few years later, as a competitor in a National event, telling me how much it meant to him to have met one of the "nice people" in the sport.

We all have those opportunties to set ourselves aside and do things for which we might not see an immediate personal benefit. But do them anyway. You may fall at times and not feel like getting up again. But get up anyway. Remember the turtle on the fencepost. You have the power to make a difference.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


“Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.”

---- Frederick Langbridge

You have more control than you know. Two people faced with the same situation can see it differently. If you see mud, then you will be unhappy and dissatisfied. If you see stars, you see the potential in each day, and a failure is merelya step closer to success.

I've just returned from another dog competition. This one was the American Working Dog Championships, where I rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in the sport of schutzhund. I try to be a "glass half full " sort of gal. Sometimes I succeed more admirably than others, but if you at least try to find one positive thing, chances are more will come your way. This doesn't mean that you grin your way through the day, making excuses (in a postive way) for lack of preparation. It means that, even astraddle those mistakes, you find a redeemablepiece that lets you focus on moving forward.

A woman I met at the trial asked how to deal with the anxiety of competition, being new to the sport. I gave her this advice: "Surround yourself with good people." I went on to explain that it is important that you select as mentors and friends, people who are supportive but who do not make excuses for their performance nor criticize others to build themselves up. To be standing in the wings, hearing person after person torn apart will not serve you well. It puts failure in your consciousness.

In any dog trial there are folks who will never be happy, who seem to seek out something they feel has wronged them to whine about. They will not be happy that the sun was shining. The grass will be too short, too tall or too hot. They will not admit to errors in their own preparation, and instead the judge will be prejudiced, the helper too slow or too fast. Al Govednik once reminded us in a seminar that we need to be happy with OUR dog's 100%. What my dog and I are capable of, as a team, may not be the same as Ivan. And perhaps even his dog will earn 96points only giving 80% effort. But if my dog gives me his 100% then I should celebrate that and be proud.

Look for stars. Encourage others around you to look for them, as well. When you hear people complaining, instead of nodding in agreement, find one positive thing and see how quickly the mood changes. If they elect to walk away and spread their toxic waste elsewhere, you've saved yourself. See stars.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dog Parks

I am not a fan of dog parks. Ask the folks at your local Canine Emergency Centers and they will likely tell you, as did mine, that they see a large number of injuries each year as a result of dog fights at such parks. Why is it that humans insist their dogs must love and play with every other dog they see, when it is extremely unlikely they feel the same way about other humans? Where did this concept of dogs as Buddist monks come from? I find dog parks to be the salve of the yuppie conscience. By parking themselves on the bench with their Starbucks double latte while their pup gets rolled repeatedly by the bigger dogs (and gee, doesn't that just seem like fun?) they feel that they are "socializing" their dog and giving it exercise; the one-on-one time they are too busy to make out of their own schedule.

Not to mention the concentration of disease in one small area of earth. There is no check of vaccination or worming records, and your dog is walking through the remainders of whatever thousands of dogs walked that area before him, all in one little fenced in area. Many parasites live on in the soil and you have absolutely no way of knowing whether the cute puppy who was just playing there, went home and promptly died of parvo. I will never forget a person I worked with who said his son had come home to visit and brought two dogs, and that he had to take them to the dog park because they had worms... and he didn't want that in HIS yard!

Those are pet dog reasons to avoid dog parks. For those with working dogs, dogs who need a relationship with their human partner, a dog park can sound a death knell for all things good.
The first is that your dog should look to you as its protector and know that you will never intentionally place it in harm's way. You cannot possibly know all the dogs who might appear at the park, nor the responsibility of their owners. Would you lend your car to those strangers? Then why place the life of your dog lower on the rungs of importance?

Dog parks are primarily a place for humans to socialize. To your dog, you should be the most important person in his/her life~ the giver of all good things. We cannot possibly play as well as another dog, and we do not want our working dogs to decide that seeking out the companionshp of other dogs is a better choice than us. When we are with our dogs, the contact is interactive and engaging; we never stand around and ignore our dog's behavior, or pass up opportunities to reward and shape it properly.

At a dog park you surrender your opportunity to reward your dog. Toy play is likely to incite a riot. Throw a ball and you will have a race between labradors, and if your dog is not the fastest one, he will soon stop chasing the ball with the directness and gusto that you require for competition. Additionally, with other dogs hot on his heels he will be less likely to make a fast pick up and direct return. Using treats can become a fight between participants who threaten your dog over the pieces dropped.

You will be a fair and responsible owner if you commit to spend time with your dog, instead of giving that over to other dogs. The time you spend with your dog in interactive (emphasis on *active*) play that teaches simultaneously, is the best gift you can give. Your dog will look forward to spending time with you, instead of saying "just drop me at the gate."