Defining Success One Heel at a Time

By Bette Sturino, CP APMP

We’ve all been beginners (novices) of something at some point in our lives. For parents, remember that ‘inexperienced’ feeling you had when you brought home your firstborn baby? Or getting that uneasy feeling when driving a new car or rental car off the lot? Or how you felt your first week at a new job, and of course this one – working on that first RFP assigned to you?

In times like these, feelings of incompetency and questioning failure will fill our heads as we think, “Now what do I do?” or “How does this work?”, and “Who can show me?” Of course the more we do something the better we are at it, right? But how do we know when we’ve crossed that success line from being a novice to having an intermediate or advanced skillset?

Since November, I’ve had 12 weeks to train my Goldendoodle pup (Hutson) for our first AKC Rally Obedience trial ( I’ve had many dogs in my lifetime, but I’ve never trained and shown at an AKC event before. And right in that exact moment when I committed to pursue this sport with Hutson I realized that I didn’t have a clue about what to expect. I’m a true NOVICE with a ticking timeline before our first event trial on February 1-2!

Like pre- work for an RFP, what’s the first thing we do? We perform industry analysis, gather competitive intel, and plan our strategy. For Rally, I needed information quick and YouTube became my best friend (no offense to Hutson). For hours I searched and watched videos of Rally performances. I studied the teamwork between each handler and their dog, what the handlers wore, and what kind of training techniques they used. I scoured the internet for everything Rally related. I found resources, command signs, and course patterns; I even set up my own course in my yard. I attended training classes every Tuesday, asked questions, and applied the instructor’s training tips to Hutson’s practices (I❤mySME!). This was just like writing a proposal draft. And trust me, there were many versions as we prepared for our event trials (the final submission/RFP due date).

I began following a few dog trainers online and one in particular, Marsha Houston, believes that “trials and titling are a natural, enjoyable extension of the training process”. Absolutely! Like the AKC, APMP members see the value of achieving certification as a means of titling that’s directly linked to the depth of our proposal training. As our proposal passion grows, APMP Certification becomes a natural extension to our professional growth and sets a standard for how we should work on each RFP.

At minimum, whether submitting a bid to an RFP or entering a Rally dog trial, a successful outcome requires preparation, focus, and teamwork (treats may help!). This truly helped Hutson and I succeed that weekend. Under three different judges, we won High Score with a 95/100 in our very first event, plus two more event qualifying scores (“Legs”) of 97 and 87 to earn our first-ever dog title of Rally Novice “RN”.

And it’s important to remember that we won’t win everything we bid on or enter. We need to turn those losses into growth opportunities and give ourselves a leg up by attending APMP webinars, seeking resources, and studying (for certification?). Be sure to learn from the mistakes, embrace challenges, and maintain a positive attitude when it’s easy to give up.

My passion for Rally has already grown, and I’m curious to continue training to see how far I can move our needle…that success line…to other AKC titles.

Where is your personal success line?

Bette Sturino, CP APMP is a senior proposal manager for BMO Financial Group, supporting the North American Commercial Banking team for Treasury & Payment Solutions. She has 15 years of proposal management experience in the banking industry. Bette earned her APMP Practitioner Certification in 2016 and has held various board positions with the APMP Greater Midwest Chapter, including 2018 Chapter Chair and the Communications Chair since 2019. She has been a life-long dog lover and has owned Collies, Shelties, Dalmatians, and Goldendoodles. Bette can be reached at