Ever heard the phrase “you get the dog you need”? Or even the thought that some dogs are “special” or universally arranged to land in our lives at the right time? The idea that some of our dogs will be game-changers over the course of our career

I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I even believe it. But what if all dogs are these things? What if every single dog we get is here to teach us, if only we let them? What if all of our dogs are game-changers?

My first game-changer was Kelso. He altered the course of my life. He maybe even saved it. Because of him, I am not an English teacher or a researcher out on a boat tagging whales or running an elephant sanctuary (but there is still time).


He was severely dog-aggressive, sound-sensitive, and so stressed by the multitude of environments I was putting him in that he sometimes struggled to find motivation in food. It was years before he’d play with toys. Because of him I know of these truths: all dogs are worthy of our best training, regardless of the severity of their issues. Aggression does not warrant the use of aggression. Being the kind of professional that my clients can trust to do right by them, and their dogs, still ranks high for me in truths that Kelso helped me know.

Idgie is my second game-changer. She made me a competitor. She taught me what it feels like to push for a goal; to reach for the sky. She showed me, and shows me still, what bravery is.


Stepping to the line with this dog for the past 7 years has changed the literal game of agility for me, and has changed the game of my life as well. I have been places and met people that have enhanced my life in countless ways; all because a little farm dog challenged me to be worthy of her.

Felix is changing the game yet again; and I couldn’t be more excited to see how it all unfolds. He is young yet but so far I have put the things I think I know to the test; and he has illuminated so much more. Control as a primary reinforcer, independence as a desirable trait, and training “impulse control” not on purpose, but as a side effect of clean training practices are just some of the lessons I have learned in his so-far short life.


I used to hope for a dog that would make my job easy, for once. Now I understand why that will never be the case: when we allow each dog to teach us, rather than shove them into the paradigms that be, we will never have an easy time. Learning is a process; like balance it is a verb. We are always doing it, so we are always processing information and learning about what went wrong and what went right and what falls somewhere in between. It isn’t easy; so my dogs won’t be either. And you know what? I am so excited for all the dogs to come.



6 thoughts on “Game-Changers

  1. Thanks for this post. Im not a trainer, just an owner. My dog’s fear issues have completely overwhelmed me. My energy is so low to do all the work that needs to be done and the urgency to “fix him” is like a gong in my head. For the first time in 3 months after reading this post I looked at my new 1.5yo rescue with a different perspective. I so wish I head trainers in my area like you. I really enjoy all your posts. Thanks.

  2. I am on dog number 22 and 23 in the sports world. each and every dog, be they competitor, pet, weekend warrior . . . whatever they were or are, they have ALL taught me invaluable lessons.

  3. Sophievis my first dog AND my game changer. I volunteer with the rescue that pulled her from a high kill shelter. They helped me too, I have flipout, no warning total panic attacks around people especially crowded areas. Or did.
    I was scared to even approach someone and ask about volunteering. Really!
    Finally talked myself to approach one lady, who directed me to another. Uh oh she told me I had to email a third person. Week went by before I talked myself into it.
    When I started volunteering I preferred to be in a pen with the scared dogs. I helped them and they helped me. I had an elderly kitty so couldn’t take or foster yet, after a few years I was able to interact for the most part, if I had had a bad week sometimes just huddled with scared dogs and avoided eye contact. Bit more time and was able to talk to some people about the dogs in my pen. My cat passed. Everyone pointed me to Sophie, my only needs were a dog that was ok with everyone as I live in a condo. I also had personal preference to not have one of the types that needed major grooming.
    Brought Sophie home, as a foster to adopt to see how she was in my environment. The next day I got her permanent tag made.

    Some months later I was talking to a friend whom I knew trained his own ptsd service dog. I asked him how would I train her when I wasn’t even aware of the issue starting until I came aware of being out by the parking lot in tears and breathing fast panicked.
    He sent me several you tube links of a behavior called grounding, that togs did with their people.


    She has changed my life, I was getting to the point that I sometimes wouldn’t leave home to go out before she joined my life. I can’t believe she’s been with me over 6 years now.

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