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Cisu earned her Obedience Trial Championship

I’ve tried to find the right punctuation for that first sentence, but nothing fit, so I left it off altogether.  I couldn’t use a period because there is no emotion in a period.  I considered an exclamation point, but an exclamation point cannot cover what Cisu and I experienced over the years.

An exclamation point would not tell you the beginning, where our string of successes made me feel assured of an easy road, nor about the years in the middle; the beginning of a downward slide that ended with consistent failure in every show and every class. You would not know how I found myself giving up –  filling out entry forms and no longer writing in her name.  An exclamation point would not tell how I felt when I drove to shows; Cisu’s hopeful face watching from the window, or worse, how I felt when she stopped watching at all.

An exclamation point would give you no clue about the hours I spent trying to do better, so frustrated that she couldn’t just tell me – in a way that I could understand – what I needed to do to make us a team again.  An exclamation point could not express the inner conflict I battled every time I thought about her; and how that inner conflict finally grew too great to ignore, driving us to a new plan that allowed us to return to serious training and competition.

An exclamation point could not explain how after such a emotional journey, the OTCH wasn’t really very important.  The title measured our success, but the success had already been  measured in the process; the validation of what was possible.  We did it because we could, and that’s what I had needed to know.  Could we do it?  Yes, we could.

Maybe the English language needs a new punctuation mark; one which covers the emotional roller coaster experienced in a whole story; from the  beginning (the future looks bright!), to the middle (something bad has happened!) and finally the end (we did it!).

You can read Cisu’s early story for yourself here:

That story left off with Cisu’s UDX title and about 25 OTCH points. When I returned Cisu to training and competition, I needed to learn how to handle her – one exercise at a time, so that we could qualify.  I had no real expectation of finishing the OTCH.   The next few months were all over the map; in some trials we were highly connected and worked well, and in others we struggled.  Over time, it became clearer to me that I could not leave Cisu “alone” for even a second – each moment needed to be covered – touching her, talking to her, or actively working her.  Rather than trying to calm her down, I needed to support her energy through interaction. I needed to give 100% engagement, and if I failed to provide this connection, then we would fail.  Cisu did not break contact with me, but she could not recover if I broke contact with her.

And she blossomed,  leading to a solid streak of beautiful performances, consistently high scores, and a rapid accumulation of OTCH points and awards.  Competing with Cisu became a chance to show just how beautiful competition obedience could be, regardless of the day’s outcome.

While that is the end of the story for Cisu and I as a competition team, it is far from the end.  The experience of failing – giving up and coming back – validated my belief that the answer to training problems is understanding the dog in front of you – what matters to her.  Cisu taught me that all the positive methods in the world won’t work if the dog isn’t buying into the program.  I must actively search for the games, motivators, and relationship builders – as many as possible – that will support love of work and competition.  There is clearly much to learn when the dog isn’t going along with the program.

If you have been following Lyra’s progress over the past several months, then you have seen what Cisu has given to me.  Lyra is the end product of Cisu’s struggles – a way to approach training with respect for the dog and an overriding responsibility to keep training and competition enjoyable for both members of the team, regardless of where the scores fall in formal competitions.

Cisu, I am so grateful to you; what a patient and forgiving teacher you turned out to be.

Here is Cisu’s final run with a score of 198 out of Utility B: and her open run:

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

25 responses »

  1. Wow ! I am not sure why but tears came to my eyes as I read your post. Thanks for not giving up. Thanks for believing in yourself and Cisu. Thanks for sharing your story with all of us.
    Barb Breau

  2. And there should be some kind of punctuation mark for how thrilled we are for you, how much we respect and admire you and how much we love the Team Cisu. Congratulations just don’t seem to cover it, super work Denise, super dog Cisu!

  3. Fabulous Denise! Congratulations all the way around. Your blog post here ties in really well with an article I just wrote called “Train the dog in front of you”. many people would have just given up and not even tried with Cisu, I commend you for doing so and figuring out what works for her!!

  4. Denise, so wonderful a post. I’m a few years behind you, working through very similar issues with a Tibetan terrier who blew me away at Novice & Open, and slowly went from loving Utility to barely passing. I stopped, dismayed, and vowed I would not show her again until she worked like she did at home (with rewards!). Since then I’ve spent 6 months doing Susan Garret ‘engagement’ work, and am just becoming cautiously optimistic that we might be able to come back to the joy. So I appreciate this history, and the truth that positivie isn’t enough, it has to be tailored to the particular dog and handler. After reading this I’m looking forward to the rest of the journey with more optimism….thank you for posting and congratulations on both the titles and the wisdom that accompanied them. Keep writing!

  5. Again, huge congratulations. But more, thanks for the reminder of the story. Having decided yesterday to take an extended break from Utility with Taz, it is good to get the reminder that the possibility exists to try something different that might yield different results. Don’t know what it would be…but it’s nice to think about the fact that it might exist.

  6. I’m not the only one moved to tears. Favorite take-away idea…success is measured in the process.

  7. It’s always nice to reach a goal: But to learn something so valuable and share it with others is a greater good. Your insight, as always, astounds me.

  8. wow, you’re post made me choke up, it’s as if I wrote this myself.
    I am battling the same thing right now with my rough collie Kort, he has all the promise in the world, but after getting his CD he fell apart with ring stress. We are making our way back with lots of positive motivation & reading blogs such as yours. Thank you for that…as far as proper punctuation for your line how about…..
    Cisu earned her Obedience Trial Championship ♥
    Congratulations!!, I can’t wait until I can write the same line with my boy Kort’s name in it 🙂

    • never say never UDX, OM2

      Kort ..from one collie to another . Keep working hard, being supportive, and playing collie games (different than other breeds). I know because I’m only 13 points away from our OTCH ..smooth collie girl..

      • Another collie person here. Keep at it! You can do it. Collies are such a wonderful breed.

        to NSN – I can’t wait to see your smooth gal get her OTCH! You guys are closing in!

      • thank for your encouragement! We are still working hard with hopes of returning to the ring for Open in the new year, we managed to geet our last RE leg, whoo hoo!

  9. I’m not usually one to comment, but I feel like I need to not only say congratulations to you and Cisu, but also a hearfelt thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. What you have learned from Cisu and have shared is such an encouragement. Thank you.

  10. Denise you are an inspiration. Because of you I feel like I can overcome the struggles I’m having with Jet. He performed beautifully in your seminar, not so much today. But I have IDEAS now and a path to follow. Congratulations on Cisu’s OTCH!

  11. Helen Gruenhut

    Every thing you do inspires me. Your’s and Cisu’s OTCH is so deserved.
    I am doing a happy dance, not the most beautiful thing to see from a 78 year old.
    Your unselfish sharing, and time spent doing that, are a true blessing from God.
    I am so glad that I came to know you.

  12. “Cisu taught me that all the positive methods in the world won’t work if the dog isn’t buying into the program. Trainers must actively search for the games, motivators, and relationship builders – as many as possible – that will support love of work and competition. There is clearly much to learn when the dog isn’t going along with the program.”

    Absolutely wonderful post!

  13. Congratulations; what an awesome story. I love the journey of finding the path of teamwork. Thanks for sharing it!

  14. I am SO happy for you and Cisu! The journey of a thousand steps… Because of Cisu you have been able to help and inspire so many with problems of their own, including me! Thanks for sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly along the way so we can see how to deal with those experiences in our own training. Having just watched the movie “Seven Days in Utopia”, my new motto is “See it, feel it, trust it” which can be applied to any endeavor. I think you learned this a long time ago! WOO HOO!

  15. You made me cry too. I think the appropriate punctuation mark would be a group of stars, both before and after the title. Because you are both stars in my book…

  16. Wonderful and congratulations! Truly, what you and Cisu have experienced is what earning an OTCh. is all about, not like some folks who get their wins and points in a couple of weekends and everyone is dazzled. They have missed so much . . .

    Very, very happy for you both!

  17. Wow, just Wow! This is so beautifully written. I just attended your seminar at Joan’s (as an auditor) and loved it. I was very inspired. Your performance with Cisu is beautiful-you can truly see the connection, love and teamwork between the two of you.

    Gives me hope with a dog I”m having trouble figuring out (in agility).

    –Lori W in OR

  18. What a beautiful tribute and honest post. Congratulations to both you and Cisu!

  19. Also a good lesson that we can always “start again”…

  20. Congratulations on your Journey and Accomplishment. What a wonderful post. Love the part about the importance of building a relationship with your dog and making it fun for both of you. I had a similar journey with my 1st agility dog Chloe my JRT; Bless her rotten little heart. She taught me how important a relationship really is with your canine partner in any performance sport. She opened me up to a whole new wonderful world of training. Hope to catch another one of your seminars.

  21. We are so lucky to be a part of your journey, Denise. You are leading the dog world in a beautiful direction. Your work is paving the path to the future of competitive training. I’m grateful to follow and learn.


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