By James Turner

I was both aghast and frighted. I have two dogs, one a Great Pyrenes, the other a Catahoula. I love them both dearly. However, the behavior of Dexter, my Pyrenes, has committed some impertinences up with which I will not put. I will list these for your pondering. As I lay in bed Dexter, who is no small dog, jumped up on the bed, stood over me looking down straight into my eyes. It startled me as he looked like white wolf. It immediately came to my mind that Cesar said, “Never allow your dog to be higher than you as it is an attempt to dominate.” I screamed and pushed Dexter away and sat-up breathing heavily. Second, I was eating breakfast and Dexter, sitting beside me, lifted his paw and placed it on my leg. The same thing happened when he was beside me on the couch. He unceremoniously placed his paw on my leg. I pushed it away from me and scolded him. I told him “No. Never do that again.” He looked away from me knowing I was in command. He knew he had done something wrong. This is what topped all this off and instilled in me the awareness that I had to get Dexter under control. I was sitting in my rocking chair. Dexter approached me straight from the front, from the front. He placed one paw on the chair between my knees, then the other, pulling himself up. Now he is no small dog. Dexter, on his back legs stands tall about six feet. He looked down directly into my eyes. Those bright brown eyes set in that large white head just seemed to look right into me. I froze. Was he going to grab my throat and tear my larynx out? I couldn’t move. I read somewhere that when something like this happens one should just play dead and maybe the wild animal will leave. So I closed my eyes and played dead. I felt Dexter move. I knew it didn’t work. Then Dexter further shocked me. I felt a wet tongue on my face and he got down. I guess he didn’t like what he tasted because here I am, writing about these frightening accounts.

Well, you guessed it, the above is a parody. An attempt to exaggerate the silly, misguided thinking traditional trainers across this country espouse. Thinking that became popular through Colonel Konrad Most (1910), traveled through Barbara Woodhouse of the 1950s, and was the persuasion of traditional dog trainers down through Cesar Millan, the New Skete Brothers and seen on TV with those who make “instant” behavioral changes. It is the attempt to convince you that your dog, from the Chihuahua to the Saint Bernard, is out to dominate you. Your dog wakes up in the morning thinking, “Today I am going to dominate my master. I will unseat him and become the alpha of this relationship.” Does he? I mean, it sounds so reasonable. He is a direct descendent of the wolf. Wolves have a despot as a leader. He ferociously keeps his subordinates in line. Not! This is all a fallacy that has been sold and bought. The fact is, now we know this not only to be untrue, but that looking at the lives of wolves scientists have found little behavior to apply to domesticated dogs. Most of the comparisons that are made are from observing the North American timber wolf which is a distant relative of the modern-day dog, so distant, that they do not even factor into the dog’s behavior. The Eurasian gray wolf is directly in the ancestral line of the dog. However, the grey wolves studied to make sense of dog behavior is the modern day grey wolf. The dog traces back as far as 20, 000 years or further. There is no comparison of the grey wolf from which cam proto dog to the grey wolf of today. That grey wolf had to be different and is forever gone. The fact is proto dog remains a mystery. It begs the question, “What was proto grey wolf like?” That species must have been of a more tamable disposition. That wolf must have had a propensity to become familiar outside of itself. Now tamable does not imply domestication, but it does make domestication possible when the right time and the right environment is present. It is my persuasion that even before there was a split to what led to the modern-day wolf and the modern-day dog there was a different kind, a different breed of wolf. From that tamable wolf came the split of the modern-day wolf that remains wild and the dog that would become our modern-day, domesticated dog. That process was over thousands of years, but the potential was at that point of split.

Why is all this important? What is important is this. If we keep misapplying the wild wolf paradigm to our dogs, many methods we apply to prevent them from being “dominant” will damage and destroy the human/animal bond. To pursue these outworn, unscientific and aversive methods of control is to insure a dog that is fearful, conflicted, cheerless, possibly distressed, no matter how well you provide physically for him. Why, then, do many trainers continue to espouse these techniques? Well, in reading Cesar Millan’s writings, he said he gained his methods from watching how wolves behaved. That’s a pretty-narrow window of resource. His methods of training “stopped” the unwanted behavior therefore the methods were a success. People then bought into his wolf paradigm of interpreting the dog. If one’s purpose of training is to “stop” certain behaviors any aversive method will work. The more the dog resists just increase the level of aversive until the dog surrenders. But you will not have a companion which adores you, cooperates with you, or has a meaningful bond with you. Remember, quick fixes are not always lasting fixes. I learned early in my animal behavioral career, “You cannot train what you just traumatized.”

Catherine Waters, of Bro & Tracy Animal Welfare offers this list to let you know if your dog is “dominant.” Comments in red are mine.

Dominant dogs are pushy, unresponsive to training and may not have good house and company manners. They will try to have everything their own way.

This is simply an untrained dog. Sounds like the reward used is not high enough.

Pushing through doors, inside or outside, before you.

Meer excitement, natural. It is your choice, but for safety should be trained. Can be modified in 5 minutes.

 Jumping or reaching for food or treat before it is put down or in reach.

You’re kidding. My granddaughter does this. Just withdraw it until he sits.

 Putting his or her feet on you, standing on or pawing at you.

That’s right! Correct all of his expression of affection out. Just ignore the behavior. It will stop.

Barking at you when told to do something or when he or she wants something.

Sounds like he might be confused. Sometimes WE need to listen to him. Clarity, on our part, eliminates some of these behaviors.

 Trying to be physically taller than you.

If this is a bear he doesn’t want to dominate you. He wants to eat you. If it is your dog this is so silly I have no answer. Tell this to an owner of a Great Dane. If you don’t want him on your lap or shoulders, move. He will stop. Teach “4 on the floor.”

 Getting on furniture before you or before being given permission.

This is the owner’s choice. If not wanted on furniture just don’t start it.

Reluctance to move from a spot you want to sit on, walk through or put something in.

This is funny. I always say to me Great Pyrenes, “Don’t move, Dex. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”  But I also know he has arthritis. Give me a break! If you feel this is a polite issue, teach, “excuse me.” Not at all difficult. But don’t punish the dog.

Staring at you; prolonged eye contact except when you ask for it in a training or working situation.

Again, give me a break! I want to encourage eye contact. If you knew dog talk you’d know he is trying to tell you something. You’re not listening.

 Reluctance to obey simple, normal commands such as sit, go-out, get-off, etc. May be a refusal or slow compliance.

I’ll bet it’s not reluctance. I’ll bet the owner is not being clear. “Get off” sounds like a frustrated owner who needs training him/her self.

Marking (urinating or defecating) in house, marking your personal belongings or bed.

This calls for a vet visit and putting those undies away.

 Sexual behaviors, such as mounting, with an inappropriate partner.

Mounting in this context is not a sexual behavior. What is an inappropriate partner? That shows the absence of logic. Unless you’re married and it’s your mate who is the offending party.

Putting her or his head on or over your head or shoulders.

I encourage this from my dogs. It is like a sleeping pill.

Eating before you.

I have not the words to express how stupid (That’s a technical term for unintelligent) this one is.

To be honest, every one of these is more about power on the part of the owner than it has to do with dominance or power struggle on the part of the dog. This list should be titled, “How to Develop a Conflicted, Insecure Dog.” Or maybe, “A Shortcut to Developing a Schizophrenic Pet.” Talk about peddling nonsense.

Dogs do not want to dominate, they want to cooperate. And when we approach training in a force-free, caring manner the dog will cooperate. He is a dog not a wolf. He, long ago, made the decision to be with humans. This is not something we have to teach him, it’s instinctual. Many say, “I didn’t choose my dog, he chose me.” Then what makes us think we need to punish the wild wolf out of him. A wolf doesn’t choose you. A wolf avoids humans.

Let me suggest that it is not about dominance. Your dog is not your adversary. He doesn’t want to eat you or run the house. He wants to fit into your life. He wants to know the boundaries. He wants to live a fulfilled life. You need to know his breed. It is your responsibility to know his breed or non-breed make-up. If you don’t want a dog pushing you, or your children then don’t get a Border Collie. If you want a calm dog don’t get a Jack Russel or a Lab. Think. Ask, “Why do I want a dog?” “What kind of dog do I want?” “What is my lifestyle? Will a dog fit into it?” I had a client that lived in a three-room apartment. He got a Great Dane. A beautiful dog, but my client worked 10 hours a day. A cage wouldn’t fit and he didn’t want his dog to be bored. Do your homework.

Well, I guess what I’m trying to say is this. Don’t call a trainer who applies wolf behavior to dogs. The dog will not build a bond based on the inevitable methods of training that will be applied, or I should say misapplied. The dog trainer you want is the one your dog can’t wait to see and hates to see leave. I tell people all the time, “If your dog doesn’t act like this to his trainer, GET RID OF THE TRAINER!



By James Turner

Several years past, when I took my animal training and behavioral program my teacher, Julie Shaw, asked me (in front of the whole class) “What is the importance of a cue?” I had to trust it was not a question to trick me up because Julie always set us up for success. But it did rattle me. I mean, I stood there with my dog, leash in hand, everyone focused on me and I was about to be embarrassed. I dug deep into the training Julie had already given me and, somehow I found three thoughts which I expressed and hoped they would be what she was looking for. When I was finished Julie sat back and said, “You should write something about that.” Wow, Julie, my teacher, the best of the best in the animal behavior world, said that to me. Me, a student. The novice of my class. Everyone else in my class had dog backgrounds and for them, I felt this was a refresher course. For me, well, what does a former pastor, therapist, and law enforcement person know about four legged animal behavior? I felt like I had “behaviorally stupid” stamped on my forehead.

Well, I have written on several different subjects since I graduated, and I did graduate “the most improved student” in Julie’s classes. Now, I’m telling you, one did not graduate Julie’s class easily. She was no push over. To graduate Julie’s class gives one high standing in the Karen Pryor Academy. Julie told me one time, “I will not graduate you if I cannot feel confident to refer someone to you. You will be a reflection of my making a referral.” I thought, “I’d never graduate.” Well, I did and I value every challenge Julie gave to me.

So, cues. My answer. Pet owners do not always realize the importance of the words they use with their pet. Our words carry more importance, both negative and positive, than we realize. Do you know, you should never use your pets name in a scolding manner? If Fido does not like his bath and you have everything ready, you should never call, “Fido, come here.” then turn on the hose or put him in the water. Guess what Fido is going to do when you call his name three hours later? Run to you? Think again. He’ll run from you to under the bed or behind a chair, or he’ll crouch low and almost crawl to you. Then what do I do? You slowly walk to Fido and gently lead him to his bath place, reward him before you begin, during and after. Then you can say his name, “Fido, go play.” Never use his name in an aversive way.

But this is not about a pet’s name. Primarily it is about words. In the human world words have meaning and consequences. In the dog world it is no different. This is so important because dogs have a predisposition to humans. It is proven that dogs would rather be with their owner than with their counter. Dogs understand us, they come to understand our words and how we are feeling. They interpret that slight raise of the eyebrow or furrow of the forehead. Their behavior is often the result of how and what we speak. Now, I’m not going to write anything new, anything we trainers do not already know, but I do hope that I can give a different flavor, a fresh importance or awareness to pet owners.

So, what is a cue? A cue is any action, verbal, visual or auditory sound that produces a corresponding behavior Fido performs. Some cues are intentional, others are not. Often I have a client believe that their verbal cue is eliciting a particular behavior only for me to help him or her realize the real cue is a movement. When a dog performs a behavior when new do, say, or sound something, it is because that dog has paired that behavior with that word, sound, or action. When a dog sits when I say, “sit” it is because I have successfully paired the action of sit with the word. The word doesn’t matter, the pairing does. So I could just as well say “pepper” or “banana.” I could capture Fido’s sitting, reward that, and Fido repeats the sit. Now I could begin using the word “banana” when he sits. Banana then becomes the cue for sit. Someone can tell Fido to sit and Fido looks clueless. The friend asks you, “Can I have a banana?” and Fido sits.

But what I am more interested in here is not the definition of a cue, but rather the transaction of the cue. What does a cue express? What is it about the cue that the animal wants to respond to? The operative word here is “want.”  Some cues can be ominous and foreboding. Fido can perform a behavior out of fear or out of respect. I can train either as the boss or a partner. I can make a dog obey anything I say, but that is not the criterion. So my thoughts here are strictly and solely a force-free philosophy and perspective. These thought will not fit into a traditional or balanced training outlook. And, if you are an owner, but not a trainer, I want you to understand that if one advertises themselves as a “positive” trainer that does not mean they are a “force-free” trainer.

Here are the three dynamics of a cue. Others could list five or eight. I am not trying to be psychologically thorough here. I am not writing for a behavioral journal. This was my attempt, in class, to grasp the concept of a cue and its importance, because the cue is not just a passive transaction. Something happens when a cue is given to Fido and I hope that something is not just about “getting” a behavior but is something very good for both the one giving the cue and the one receiving the cue.

So, “Jim,” Julie asked, “What is the importance of a cue?”

First, when I give a cue it expresses to Fido that I have CONFIDENCE he CAN perform it. Therefore, I know and Fido knows that he is familiar with the behavior for which I am asking. I also know Fido has confidence he can perform it. When I give the cue I know Fido is mentally moving into familiar territory. This is the value of Operant Conditioning or Behavioral Modification. We first train the behavior. When Fido is offering to us that behavior 8 to 10 times a minute, all depending on the difficulty of the behavior, we then begin pairing a word to the behavior. All communication flows in a loop, from me to Fido and back to me.

Because I know Fido knows the behavior when I pair with it a word, visual or sound, then when I offer the word I have confidence Fido can do it. The only reasons he might not is 1. Physical, 2. Mental. If he is incapable of performing the behavior then I need to change what I am doing. If I persist I will set Fido up for failure. If Fido won’t sit I need to figure out why. I need to take Fido to the vet and find the reason. I cannot persist in a behavior that is causing Fido pain or discomfort. Ruling out physical or mental conditions then I have look at what I am or am not doing. I am either not being clear enough, my reward is not high enough, or my reward rate is not often enough. The sure fact is, the problem is not Fido so don’t punish Fido. Like my good friend, Dave Thatcher says, “Roll up a newspaper and with it, hit yourself.”

When I give a cue, if I have properly set the behavior up, there is a MUTUAL CONFIDENCE THAT FIDO CAN PERFORM WHAT I ASK.


Second, there is a TRUST that Fido WILL perform it.

He now trusts I will not ask him to do something he cannot perform.

By the time the cue is introduced I have worked out all the imperfections of the behavior. Most of those imperfections have been mine and I have corrected my poor communication or faulty expectations. There is no, “I want him to sit and…” I work out what is not clear communication on my part. I have worked out what is rewarding and what is not. Fido decides what is rewarding, not me. So I have to really work to understand Fido. I have figured out what works for Fido and what doesn’t. I know him and he knows me. He knows I am fair and correct myself. Because he knows that Fido begins to correct himself. He may begin to lay down when I say “sit.” On his way down he suddenly changes his movement and pushes himself up into a sit. I didn’t have to say, “No no,” or “Uh uh.” When that happens I get a big smile, give him 4 or 5 treats, a lot of praise, and he sits looking at me with a big smile and sometimes celebrates with a few spins. I never see Fido crouch with ears laid back, mouth closed, embarrassed and fearful. We party together.

So by the time I introduce the cue I not only have confidence that he can do it. I TRUST that he WILL do it. This is why this method is so enjoyable. Fido responds because he wants to, often times Fido can’t wait for the cue. I have seen Fido get so into the training that he literally shakes waiting for me to give the cue. His eyes are bright, his mouth is open, and when I say, “sit,” he quickly sits looking at me as if to say, “I did it. Aren’t you proud of me?” And of course I am. On looking owners are surprised, often shocked, that Fido responded to the cue. They had given the cue, yelled the cue thinking Fido didn’t hear, jerked on a chain while yelling, to make him do the behavior, and walked away cussing Fido. I work a few minutes, always a soft gentle voice. Patient when Fido is reserved or afraid and in a few minutes he is responding. I have had owners with tears ask, “How do you do that? I can’t believe what I just saw.”

What happened was, I communicated with (not to) Fido. We had a conversation. Fido had a Eureka moment, “This person is actually listening to me. I can trust him.” Because I communicated my trust in him he began to demonstrate his trust in me. Some dogs have never felt trust. I can see it in the dog’s eyes. They suddenly glisten and look straight at you, making eye contact. A lightbulb turns on behind those beautiful eyes. I got so excited about this one time that I had to call Julie Shaw and share with her my excitement

You see, it is not just that I trust Fido because of my work, Fido trusts me because of our work together. And it is work. When I leave a home Fido goes to his bed and sleeps like a puppy because he has worked hard and is tired. He has studied me and has had to process a lot of materiel. He knows me now and trusts me. He trusts me when a behavior is challenging or uncomfortable, but Fido knows I will not ask of him anything that will hurt him or is dangerous. He is willing to work hard for me. So there is a MUTUAL TRUST THAT FIDO WILL PERFORM THE BEHAVIOR I ASK.

Thirdly. There is REWARD when he DOES the behavior. Even now with my Nekayah, when I give her a cue she is relaxed in doing the behavior. There are reward for both the human and the dog when they have that relationship of partnership. We call it “THE HUMAN ANIMAL BOND (HAB). There is nothing like it. Fido begins to anticipate the cue. In a store I can ask Nekayah to “lay” and before the word is out she is on her way down, mouth open, looking at me and waiting for the next cue. I feel one with her and she feels one with me. Nekayah has learned to go potty on cue. Before we go into a store (she is a service dog) I take her to go potty. She sniffs and goes then runs back to the car, jumps in, gives me a kiss and we go park and go in the store. She is happy. Nekayah is emotionally well balanced and we are both rewarded with her doing the behavior and my seeing the behavior performed. We are one, partners. She feels it and I feel it. Cues are communication in a loop. It is not me “telling” her to do something and she does it or else. I ask (cue) her to do something communicating confidence and trust in her, she listens and performs the behavior I request, communicating back to me her confidence and trust in me. Then she bounds back to me happy and content as we move on together into the store or wherever we go.

If Nekayah does not perform the behavior I know something is wrong. I take her to have her checked. She knows I will not push the issue and will take care of her. This has happened and when the medical issue was resolved, she responded to my cues without hesitation.

In training a dog there is one I have one inexorable law. It is this. The HUMAN ANIMAL BOND. Anything, an act, a word, a training technique, a training tool that would threaten that bond is anathema. I will neither incorporate it, nor allow it to be incorporated. There is no behavior worth getting if it harms the dog in any way. I have actually seen dogs look at me with that “thank you” look in their eyes.

This is my interpretation of what transpires when I give a cue to mu dogs or a dog I am working with. I try to help the owner understand this transaction so he/she can appreciate what is really going on. Training is never a one way communication. I hear the dog I work with. He/she is talking to me. We are having a conversation from the second I enter to the second that I leave. Often times the communication bring tears to my eyes and makes my heart swell.

My hope is that this will give your interactions with Fido a new dimension. If you do not have this relationship with your Fido examine what you are doing. Figure it out. If and when you do your relationship with your one in a million Fido will be fulfilling to both of you, and you will find your training to be much less a struggle but actually enjoyable. Not only will you be giving cues to Fido, but you will realize Fido is giving cues to you, making your relationship mutually enjoyable and fun. A good indicator is that if it is not fun for you it is not fun for Fido and if it is not fun for Fido the training needs to stop. He may be sick or hurting. And you will have a wonderful, fulfilling bond of mutual trust and respect.

After all. Isn’t that the reason we acquire Fido. If you do not have that believe me you can and more. That’s why I do what I do.





by: James Turner MCL, KPA-CTP, SVBT

 Two Years past I was contracted to reorganize and restructure an animal shelter here in Indiana. It was a huge task that required my working with a 10 member board. With the nature of the issues I had to have the board covenant with me that I was in charge, my decisions would not be rescinded, and with the workers a new policy manual would be written. I terminated some people, some people quit, and all forms of aversive techniques were eliminated. All employees were trained in force-free techniques. If an employee could not make the change that person was let go. One of the actions I took was to clear the office wall of all collars that were not fabric. There must have been 50 pounds of choke chains and prong collars. I was told that it was a waste of money. I replied, “I fully agree with you, but the money was wasted, not in their discard, but in their purchase.” Nothing more was said and the new policy prohibited aversive collars. The local newspaper had a front page story, “LOCAL SHELTER GOES FORCE-FREE.”

Choke Chains, Slip Collars, Pinch Collars? What’s the problem? When I have a referral call me one of my questions is, “What kind of collar do you have on your dog?” Many of them tell me, “A Slip Collar, or Choke Chain.” My friend and colleague, Deb Dolak told me, “Sometimes a client will ask if they can use a choke or prong collar.  My response is, ‘Only if you are willing to wear one and let me correct you when you make a mistake during the training session.’  That usually gets the point across.” One shelter worker said, “Choke chains are okay to use on dogs. The choke chain is not used for punishment, it just stops the behavior.” WHAT? In dog training lingo if it stops the behavior or weakens a behavior due to a stimulus, that stimulus is a punisher. So her statement showed a basic ignorance of the subject. A client told me a shelter worker said, “Choker collars are fine on dogs.” My retort was, “That is because she hasn’t worn one!” People don’t wear choker collars. Then I had a bit of insight.

With this insight my mind took me back to the days of the old west. If a cowboy committed a crime, stealing a horse, or borrowing someone’s cow without permission he was taken out under a tree branch, sat on a horse, and had a slip collar (or a pinch collar if you prefer) put over his head and around his neck. Someone would slap the horse which would run out from under the convicted, the slip collar tightened and, well, the end seldom had a good outcome. Now, if the slip collar was not properly fitted and placed just right on the thief’s neck the collar would bind causing prolonged agony. The poor man’s larynx would crush, his ocular nerves were damaged, his trachea was injured, and his neck was broken. Now, if this collar as properly fitted all of these injuries still occurred, but it was all over faster. I think this would qualify as punishment as it certainly stopped the behavior. In the process it stopped any good behavior as well. The law makers determined this to be cruel and inhumane treatment and in 1972 this use of punishment with a slip collar (noose) was banned in the U. S. By the way,did you know that for the same reasons, choke chains are banned in Quebec, and Amazon has stopped listing them in the UK?  Yep, that’s true.

Men and women still wear collars. We call them necklaces. They are collars properly fitted, some loose some snug. But I never see “slip necklaces” where another person has control of the one wearing it. If I came home with a slip collar for my wife to wear… Well, we won’t go there. I’ll just say there wouldn’t be much affection demonstrated. We like necklaces as long as they are comfortable to wear. I like my dogs to wear a nice looking necklace (collar) that is comfortable, yet functional.

I hope you will Google the anatomy of a dog’s neck. The position of a choke chain is directly behind the ears (just like the hanging noose). This pinch collar/choke chain or prong collar pinches all of these nerves and muscles. There are dozens of potential and certain physical injuries that a choke chain or a prong collar can and will cause. This is not to mention the emotional damage choke chains or prong collars cause. Because this is an animal, and animals have to be controlled and/or dominated these are okay to use. I suggest these are not okay to use. They cause physical damage, often irreparable. They cause emotional damage that requires the specialized involvement of a force-free behaviorist. And, these medieval instruments of torture cause serious damage to the human-animal bond. Calling these the lesser reference of “slip collar” does not change the terrible impact of that “snap” one is instructed to use in the dog’s “training?.”

The unintended consequences of using a choke chain (i.e. slip collars, pinch collars) and/or prong collars are well documented in numerous veterinary journals.

Here I list the most common.

  1. Tracheal damage
  2. Sprained necks
  3. Asphyxiation
  4. Spinal cord injuries/paralysis
  5. Bruising of larynx
  6. Esophagus damage
  7. Thyroid gland damage
  8. Vertebrae damage
  9. Whiplash
  10.  Prolapsed eyes
  11.  Dislocated neck bones
  12.  Brain damage
  13.  Fainting
  14.  Skin and tissue bruising
  15.  Organ failure
  16.  Sharp headaches

Any of these medical conditions can lead to aggressive behaviors that usually results in more punishing use of the choke chain or prong collar. With these possible consequences are the psychological effects. Dogs are extremely intelligent. One jerk, snap, or pop of the chain, causing pain, will never be forgotten by the dog. When you get the collar and leash out the dog will cringe or run the other direction. I have had clients whose dog snaps at their hand when they put the choke chain on to go for a walk. If the dog is on a walk and sees another dog it is natural for him to pull toward the dog. The handler “snaps” the chain to correct the dog. Fido feels the pain of the snap and attributes the pain to what he is looking, the other dog or a child. Now Fido becomes aggressive to other dogs or children. If Fido attributes the pain to his handler he may become aggressive to the handler.

Traditional trainers will argue against everything I am writing. But this information is not mine. I didn’t imagine these to be facts. This information, again, can be found in any number of journals. Do the research yourself. Don’t just trust me or some other pop star in the animal behavioral world. If you do your own research I can guarantee you will come out very close to my conclusions. Punishment never has a positive result with your wonderful dog. Punishment shuts down the dogs learning. The really negative result is that punishment breaks the human/animal bond. You want your dog to respect, trust and love you. Punishment will damage that. You want your dog to trust you. Punishment will destroy that. Can those be regained? Yes. But you must stop the punishment NOW. Reinforce the behaviors you want and ignore the behaviors you don’t want. Then get in touch with a force-free trainer or behaviorist. Be careful. A trainer may say he/she is a positive trainer. That may mean he/she uses positive methods mixed with aversive methods. Most “positive” trainers are really “balanced” trainers.

I was called to help with a dog that was out of control. The dog was afraid of its own shadow. What happened was that this “positive” trainer took a wonderful little Sheltie and in just a couple of months the dog was so reactive that it would wake up at night, every night, crying as if in severe pain. Its daily training included the use of a choker chain. The once sweet little Sheltie was now physically and psychologically damaged.

I don’t believe owners intentionally hurt their dog. They don’t know better. They read books by trainers who wrote in the 60s or 70s. These “traditional” trainers are still around. They “stop” behaviors, but at what price for the dog and the owner. It often costs an owner hundreds of dollars to restore their damaged pet. Or, and sadly, the pet gets placed in a shelter and/or euthanized, not because of what the dogs is doing, but because of what has been done to the dog. Now the dog suffers the consequences of a trainer’s malpractice.



Today my frustration level reached about, oh, a 6 on a 1 – 10 scale. A young man in his early twenties has a Pit Bull Terrier tied in his backyard. The Pit Bull, which to some, has become the signature of virility and machismo. For many, to own a Pit Bull, is to say, “I’m a bad a..” Here I am writing about IRRESPONSIBLE ownership.

Anyway, this sweet Pit Bull, a female, maybe 1 year old, had her chain twisted in a chain link fence. She had about 2 feet of tether so she had no freedom to move. The temperature today was 100 degrees. She was forced to lay in the sun, her water 30 feet away. How long she had been like that, I have no idea. I know she was in distress. It took me several minutes to untangle her as she was jumping and climbing all over me, scratching my arms and face with her unattended nails, anxious to be freed. When I loosed her she ran to some water and some shade to rest. She was exhausted, overheated and alone. All I could do was walk away with an ache in my heart.

Why? Why do people acquire a dog to take home and tie it outside to live alone in the elements? Simply, I don’t know.

We have Dexter, a Great Pyrenees, and Nekayah, a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard. Both are large dogs. When we come home they greet us with tales wagging and smiles. They are very happy and emotionally healthy dogs. I have never seen a happy dog chained in the backyard. The dog in the backyard is often excited to see its owner, but that is because it is so lonely and depressed, not because the dog is happy or emotionally healthy.

My back yard is fenced. In my back door we have a dog door. My door is kept closed, but my dogs can go in and out as the wish. Dexter loves the winter. He goes out and lies for hours. Sometimes we cannot see him as he lets the snow cover him. They go in or out as their comfort dictates. They have water both outside and in the house. We can go and come knowing both dogs are comfortable. They are never thirsty, overheated, or unduly cold. If I could not provide for them in this manner I have no business having them.

Think about this from the dog’s perspective. I can do this because that is my specialty. I am the Dog Listener. Dogs tell me what they think and how they feel. A study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, 1996, by Michael Hennessy, show how dogs prefer human companionship over other dogs. That was a study, cutting edge research, almost twenty years past. Since that study there have been a myriad of research that have made this former hypothesis a fact.

This, alone, being true, why would one tie a dog outside to suffer loneliness, fear, confusion, isolation and whatever the elements delivered? Why? What rational argument or defense can one mount for doing this? Much education and advocacy is essential regarding this cruelty. The thinking many have is that a dog, being a dog, can be happy and healthy just being in the backyard. I have seen hundreds of these “back yard dogs” and I have never seen a dog, tied in the backyard that is either happy or healthy. Again, because they jump and bark when the owner appears is not an indicator that the dog is happy or healthy.

We know the negative effects when a baby is born and left without attention, affection or interaction. The effects are both myriad and terrible. So it is with dogs. Dogs are very social animals. Dogs do not develop healthily without human interaction. To leave a dog to live and survive alone, outside in ones backyard is one of the most psychologically damaging things one can do to a dog. Any responsible dog owner is charged with providing a safe, secure, quiet place to live as part of a family. Only in this place does the dog have the opportunity to develop an emotionally healthy life and experience a secure human animal bond.

As I write this, Dexter, my Great Pyrenees, is laying beside my chair, his head oriented toward me. As I smile with affection and periodically stroke him my brain and body respond in a calming emotion. This is very important for Dexter also. He is calm, secure, has no fear, no uncertainty, and is very important to his mental, emotional health and is evidence of a bonded human animal relationship. I cannot imagine Dexter tied up outside, dirty, insecure and both of us alone. I would consider that cruel and inhumane.

I work with many of these outside dogs. They tend to be less responsive to training, requiring more work. They develop stereotypical behaviors, compulsive disorders and have little to no socialization skills. These outside dogs have more stress related illnesses, infestations and mental issues ranging from mild to severe. Many of these maladies also range from hard to impossible to overcome. I hate to admit it, but many of these dogs, by the time they get to me, are too damaged to be restored to a healthy, emotionally balanced life. There are times when less than the best has to be settled for. These are the dogs that end upin shelters and, very often, euthanized. Not because of something the dog has done, but is the end result of what an irresponsible owner has created.

Most people, responsible pet owners, acquire a dog for the purpose of relationship. A relationship is not two or more just living together. Ask any wife and she will affirm this proposition. There needs to be positive, loving interaction. Violate this and I can think of no faster way to destroy a relationship. Enhance a positive, affectionate interaction and two will build a bonding relationship. I can think of no better way to build a bonding relationship with a dog than through force-free, marker training. This kind of interaction builds quickly the human animal bond resulting in a reciprocal loving relationship with one’s pet. Dogs long for this kind of relationship, thriving in this environment and become emotionally healthy members of the family.

I have been asked, “What about working dogs, Border Collies or Great Pyrenees? They work outside, often for long hours. How does this apply to them? Rather than give a long answer to this question, which is a valid inquiry, I would make this referral. One can begin understanding this concern by reading Patricia McConnell.
For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. These two books are a good place to begin to understand the premise of this article. Dogs, any dog, are about human relationships. This is in their DNA. There is no other animal in the human world like a dog. Humans are healthier both mentally and physically because of a dog in their life. Did you know that a dog is the only animal that will follow our finger pointing or our eye movement?

The other day my Great Pyrenees, Dexter, was laying on the floor. I thought I would test this point. I stood a distance from him and the front door. Now all Dexter has to see is his leash and he is up and at the door spinning in excitement. I stood very stoic. All I did was shift my eyes from Dexter to the door, back to Dexter, then the door. His head cocked, his ears came forward. He looked at the door then back at me. I repeated the process. His paws shifted as his head raised. “Does he mean what I think? Is he going to take me for a walk? Oh I hope so!” Now, without hesitation, Dex lifted his 100 lbs. went to the door saying, ‘Let’s go!.’” A dog records our every move, eye brow shift, smile, glance, and gesture. They miss nothing. The dog often knows what we are about to do before we have decided.

Unless you want this kind of relationship, for heavens sake, do not get a dog. If you get a dog don’t be an irresponsible dog owner and chain the wonderful thing outside. To do that is callous, cruel and abusive.

Now, about Cecil the Lion. What a beautiful specimen of its breed. He stood out with his coal black main and his slow lumbering pace. He was the attraction of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa. Millions, knowing of him came to see this King of the forest.He was 13 years old and had developed his own pride. Somehow Cecil knew he was special and could play to the camera. Cecil wore a collar so scientists could track his every move. Cecil provided information to science that otherwise would have taken years to acquire. He was a protected Lion. He waas not a candidate for hunting, legal or otherwise. I understand the need for culling wildlife heards. It is for the health and balance of nature. Culling is a process that is strictly controlled by law. To violate these laws is to poach, the illigal killing of a protected species. I will not get into PETA or other groups who raise either pros or cons concerning culling. Culling is a part of protecting wildlife just as death is a part of life.

That said, Cecil wore a tracking collar and the information gleaned over those 13 years led to the safety and protection of thousands of cubs growing to adulthood. He was famous in the animal world. Cecil’s death will now insure the killing of his 6 cubs by the new dominante male.

Cecil died as the result of poaching. He was lured beyond the border of the park and senselessly killed. His head with that distinctive main was severed and his body left to rot in the African sun. His head and main were wanted as a trophy. Now, granted his death, the death of one lion in Africa, doesn’t affect my daily life, except as this leads to the issue of how callous man can become. “Cecil is just an animal. He is good for just a trophy. He is an animal without feelings or emotions. He is a mindless creature, a robot of nature.” This is also what we hear about dogs. “It’s just an animal. Dogs have no feelings or emotions. They are incapable of feeling love.” This is the argument of gaming people in the blood sports who cruelly fight dogs to the death. And if a dog isn’t killed in the ring, the owner kills the dog for being weak.

Descartes, as with thousands, believed because a dog is soulless they are just machines of nature. As a result of that philosophy Descartes could nail a dog to a board and ignore the howls because the howls emanated from a mechanical response and had nothing to do with feeling or pain.

My point? If we can reduce a dog to nothingness, to an animal without feeling or the capcity to feel, then we can perpetrate any evil upon it without conscience. Thus killing Cecil or a dog is no different that dicing a carrot or slitting a tire. This changing of something to nothing can be applied to animals or the subject of abortion.

Think about it!





Une vie de chien – Partie II
by pinkchapals



Amy has dwarfism and you can read her blogs on Dwarfism Awareness and other topics

Wow. I bet you thought I’d disappeared. I did, into the abyss of a semester back after a sabbatical. But… I’m baaaaaaack!
As promised, this is part two of my discussion on service dogs, and this post is all about the training process. As I mentioned in Une vie de chien – Partie I, Max and I trained together for a year before he graduated from “service dog in training” to “service dog.” That’s it. That’s all it took. Boom. Done. Mic drop.
Kidding. Kidding. It was one of the most intense experiences in my life, and that includes grad school and the dissertation years.
Beyond picking out a rescue dog (of course) who had the necessary qualities (I worked with a behaviorist for this part, though this post gives you the idea), I had to pick a trainer. This is difficult business. There aren’t many trainers out there who do service dog training, and even then, you have to mesh with the trainer as much as you do the dog, and the dog with the trainer. I was lucky enough to find a one Mr. Jim Turner, an amazing behaviorist AND trainer. He’s got a blog right here on WordPress.
I can’t say enough about Jim. Right from the beginning, he let me know what to expect from the process and let me know, more than once, how difficult the task that lay ahead. This was a commitment. To Max. To myself. To training. To Jim.
This commitment meant beginning with three sessions per week, lasting usually about 2-3 hours, on top of my already full work schedule and long commute. Three days per week, I traveled from Indy to Muncie to Richmond. Often, I did not get home until 9pm or 10pm, and then I had to turn around and go right back to it the next day. In between training sessions, I did training at home, at the office, in stores, in restaurants. At home, we had regular formal sessions. Out and about, every moment was an opportunity. Beyond my chic purse, I got to add the additional bling of a clicker and a handy treat bag, filled with desiccated hotdogs (no nitrites, of course) and other such yumminess.
At the beginning, when Jim met with me and Jeevan, he had said (not verbatim, creative license here): “You know, this is going to be tough. You’ll always be training. You’re going to carry treats, and you’re going to train whenever you see a moment. Things are going to take longer, and it can get frustrating. It will be frustrating at times for Jeevan when he sees your relationship with Max grow and when it’s difficult for you to pay attention at a restaurant because your mind is always partially on Max. You have to be ready. Go home. Think about this. If it’s right for you, and I’m right for you and Max, call me, and we’ll start.”
It was daunting to be sure, but we were ready. Jim evaluated Max, and though he was a wild child then, he had potential. He asked what I thought a service dog could do for me. At that time, I was struggling with a failing shoulder and needed help carrying things, and I could really use something under my legs when sitting in chairs. Jim’s response? “A dog as an ottoman? Hmmmm.” Turns out, Jim was right: I never did train Max as an ottoman. Though, from time to time, he likes to get under my feet and rest his head on my shoe, but that’s not one of his service tasks; it’s just because he loves his mama.
We began with the basics that all dogs should have. Max was a blank slate and could only “sit,” so we had to begin with: down, stay, wait, leave it, loose leash walking, etc. Those are fairly easy, but service dogs have to have these skills down pat before they can even move on to service skills.
We did clicker training, which is a form of positive reinforcement training. You first teach the dog that a click means a reward (treat, love, kisses, “good boy”). Then, you mark a desired behavior with a click and reward. Eventually, you mark the behavior with a command. The real trick is to click at the right time and with the correct behavior.
For example, when we were training Max to “stop” on command (mid-walk, mid-trot, whenever). As SOON as Max stopped for any reason, “CLICK!” TREAT! At the beginning, the stopping is pretty much when you stop, but you CLICK! and TREAT! The wheels start turning in the dog’s head:

MAX: “Oh, I get a treat, if I stop. I’m going to stop.”
MAX: TREAT!!!!!!!!!! I’m a good boy! Good Max! I love stopping! Stop. Stop. Stop.
Then, you start adding the command: “STOP!” “CLICK!” (if he stops). TREAT! “GOOD STOP!” Rinse, lather, repeat.
This is marking desired behavior. We used this to train Max such commands as: stop, wait, fast, slow, leave it, etc.

The extra interesting part of training was the complex behaviors, and this requires shaping behavior using successive approximation (that’s what it’s called, right Jim?). Jim is extra awesome at figuring out this part. You begin by naming the desired task and then figure out the steps to get there.
EXAMPLE: Pushing a button to open a power assist door
Desired behavior: pushing button
Required skills: 1) recognize object to push; 2) push; 3) apply pressure.
For this, Jim knew that Max needed to first offer a paw. For this, we waited until Max placed a paw near us.

MAX: “Wha? What did I just do? Hmmm. I’m going to randomly do tricks and see what happens. Sit. Down. Kisses. No? Hmmm. This guy is dumb. I’m going to poke him.”
MAX: “What? Weirdo. Not sure what I did again. Sit. Down. Kiss. Sit.
JIM: ….
MAX: “NOTHING? Man! Poke.”
MAX: “Dude! It’s the paw! Paw!!!!! Poke.”
MAX: “Awesome! Poke.”
MAX: “That’s it! Poke. Poke. Poke.”
JIM: “CLICK!” TREAT! Good touch!
You get the idea. Once you mark the behavior with a command (“touch” in this case), you begin clicking and treating ONLY when the behavior is offered AFTER a command. The idea has to be yours, not the dog’s. To make sure this is the case, you can test it with multiple commands. For example, if you say “sit,” the dog should sit, not offer a paw. Try a couple of different commands, then say the new one. Once you consistently get the correct behavior, your dog has got the idea. Even so, go home and PRACTICE!! I had to keep a log of our home practice sessions: I had to log: 1) each skill we practiced; 2) How long we spent on each one 2) How many times the correct behavior was offered; 4) any distractions; 5) notes.
Wait. How is this related to pushing a button? A hand is not a button, and “touch” is not “push.” This is the cool part.
Once Max had the idea of touch down, we added a target. We’d say “TOUCH” and, with a yellow square in our hand, we’d click any time he’d offer a paw near the marker. The idea is that you reward the behavior, being lenient at first, and getting stricter as you move on. Eventually the dog only gets a CLICK! when it puts the paw on the marker. Then, you move the marker. On the floor. On the wall. On your thigh. The dog eventually associates touch with a target.
Wait. That’s still not pushing! Ok, ok. I’m getting there!
In the end, we want Max to apply the correct amount of pressure on the target. This is “PUSH!” Jim had me buy an “easy” button for practice. You know, one of these:

We put the target on the button and began clicking and treating when the button was pushed hard enough to get the trademark, “that was easy!” Then, we marked that behavior with the command “PUSH!” We eventually moved on to doors, door openers, grocery carts. Now, Max can PUSH! this:

And this:

And even this:

It’s true, some doors are too heavy for him, and it’s too heavy for me, but he gives me that extra power. We do it together!
For a more visual idea of how this happens, look at this cool little example:

You can see that it is quite the process. Now imagine this for every complicated skill Max and I had to learn together. Now you know why I spent the better part of a year exhausted!
Here is a list of the skills Max has (totally forgetting some). Don’t confuse the skill with the command. For the most important commands, I chose words that aren’t always obvious to others because I can’t have other people trying to tell my dog what to do. Sometimes people feel that they can tell me he doesn’t mind very well because he doesn’t listen to them. The mark of a good dog on duty is that he doesn’t mind anyone but the handler!
Leave it
Watch me
Greeting behavior
Refocus behavior
Go to X (bed, rug, towel, mat, etc).
Get it (keys, pencil, paper, credit card, bottle)
Give it to X (a person, me or anyone else)
Drop it (on floor, in garbage, etc.)
Hold (keep whatever he has in mouth until I say so)
Push (cart, button, door, etc.)
Pull (door, wheelchair, cart, coat sleeve, socks)
Crawl (good for getting into small spaces)
Under (table, chair, etc.)
Up (onto something)
Off (off of something)
Brace (stiffen his front legs to act as a sort of cane)
Help mama (i.e. go into service mode when he’s not actively on duty – mostly at home)
Bark on command
Spin right (helps to get into tight spaces)
Spin left (helps to get into tight spaces)
Sideways right
Sideways left
Follow (usually when I am in my wheelchair and am being backed up; he follows in front).
Pee on command
Poop on command
Go find
Step up (bracing for going up step)
Step down (bracing for going down step)
Dance with mommy (just for fun)
Command to get harness on
Command for service position
Command to finish service
Command for bedtime
Let’s go
Thank you!
Up up: Get in car and wait for harness to be attached to security belt before getting all the way in
Not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. Here’s another list for your perusal.
But… there’s more to training than that. There’s public access training. This means that, once your dog has a good skill set, it needs to be able to perform these skills EVERYWHERE and with distractions, like: kids, walkers, wheelchairs, food on the ground, other dogs, squirrels!, people he loves, loud noises, people talking to you… etc.
This is the most important, and perhaps most frustrating part of training, and I will get to that in Partie III! Also, there will be more about the wonderful Jim because he helped me not lose my mind during this crazy part of the training. I promise not to wait so long until the next post.

pinkchapals | March 25, 2015 at 13:30 | Tags: service dog | Categories: disability studies, dwarfism | URL:

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Une vie de chien: Partie I



Amy has dwarfism and you can read her blogs on Dwarfism Awareness and other topics

January 3, 2015 6 Comments

I’m ending my holiday hiatus with a post about life with a service dog. Well, several posts probably, because there is way more to life with a service dog than you think. Sure, it’s great to have your best bud with you everywhere you go, but it’s about more than that. Way more than that. It’s about partnership, responsibility, a deep bond, and an ever deeper gratitude.
Today’s post is going to concentrate on the paradox of my life with Max; or, the way in which having a service dog mediates my disability, while also making it more visible. A dwarf more visible, you say? Yes, ’tis possible. I’ll get there, but let me digress, as I am wont to do.
Just before the holidays, I did two things that got me settled on this being my next post: 1) traveled to New Orleans on vacation; 2) read Susannah Charleson’s book, The Possibility Dogs. Charleson’s book offers profiles of several psychiatric service dogs and their handlers, interspersed with her own story of training a “demo” dog, the ever clownish Jake Piper. It got me to reminiscing about my own experiences training Max, who is also an eternal clown.

Jake Piper, the demo service dog.
Like Jake Piper, Max is a rescue, whom I trained one-on-one with a certified canine trainer and behaviorist. It was one of the most intense endeavors I have undertaken, yet also one of the most rewarding. I don’t think I would have truly appreciated the effort that goes into training a service dog without doing it myself first. Another post will go into my training days with Max, but I think it’s worth mentioning here that service dogs are amazing animals whose training goes beyond skills and into behavior and compassion. Before I get where I’m going (yes, I’ll get there), I want to urge you all to respect these dogs and their work and to respect them and their handler when they are working. Do not talk to them, pet them, or even look them in the eyes. These are open invitations for a dog to break their concentration, which could be harmful to the handler if their safety depends on the dog. Part of the dog’s job is to focus on his partner; the partner’s job is to look out for the dog. Sometimes, that means being harsh with well-intentioned people who try to interact with your dog.
Although The Possibility Dogs is about psychiatric service dogs (Max is a mobility service dog), it offers some valuable insight into daily life with a dog:
Another handler notes: “And here’s the kicker: It’s a kind of trade. For all the good help a service dog gives, that same dog makes you visible. If for you a ‘normal’ life is about being able to be anonymous, good luck. You and your dog and your disability had better be prepared for stares and questions . . . and sometimes accusations. It’s not all bad. A lot of the attention on the dog is supportive. But there’s almost always a spotlight. It slows you down.”
Charleson, Susannah (2013-06-04). The Possibility Dogs: What I Learned from Second-Chance Rescues About Service, Hope, and Healing (p. 38). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
It’s the notion of being in the spotlight that I want to talk about. In my post “Welcome to Lilliput,” I wrote about how having dwarfism necessarily puts me under the spotlight, but having a service dog has not changed that so much as it has shifted the focus. Obviously, my disability is not an invisible one; on the contrary, it is one of the most outwardly visible ones you can have, as my body is so far from the norm. However, it is very easy for people to assume that the disability stops there: with height. I’m short, so I can’t reach things, and I can’t walk as fast on those short legs. Full stop. Think again. For some dwarfs, this is the end of the affair, but for a great number of us, there is a lot of complicated anatomy inside that odd, squat body. (You can read more about dwarfism and disability in one of my Dwarfism Awareness posts). (You can learn more about The Possibility Dogs project on their website).
I like to say that being a dwarf, or at least my particular experience of it, is to live in a liminal space, to inhabit the realm of both the visible and invisible disability. For, I am so visibly different, yet to many, so invisibly “disabled” by my body. I spent a good deal of time in college and grad school attempting to repress the disabled part of my persona. I walked with crutches for 10 years, but leaving for college offered me the opportunity to shed those walking aids in a place where few people knew me from my life before. Where my crutches helped me with speed and distance, I used a bike on campus to get from here to there. In grad school, I used the T or a car. This worked well for me until the long gap since my last major surgery started to close in on me in my late 20s, when my hips, which had long been severely arthritic, began to protest in earnest. This was the beginning of a new phase of my life, and what I now see as the moment when I needed to start “owning” my disability. I’ve had 5 artificial joint replacements in 9 years. I’ve learned that the gap from my last osteotomy to my first replacement was the exception, not the norm.
Accepting the toll that my lax tissues take on my body has been a difficult journey, but to be honest, it started with the decision to get a service dog. My husband had been kindly nudging me to get one for a long while, but I was always “looking into it.” I don’t know what clicked, but I finally acquiesced in 2011, around my birthday. Ironically, Jeevan and I were at the local shelter looking at some potential candidates, and I was walking a ginormous, yet gentle, St. Bernard (can you imagine that?) when my shoulder just gave out in pain. No reason. I had reached for my bag, and it just gave up on me. I had been struggling with “bursitis” (self-diagnosis) for years but had begun weight training in hopes of strengthening the muscles. In the end, those strong muscles did put off the inevitable for a while. The X-Rays showed the truth: my shoulder joints were gone. Who knows how long they had been like that? When you have arthritis everywhere, it just creeps from one place to the next without you knowing, taking secret root in your psyche. Just another thing that hurts. You don’t notice the toll it takes on your health. The fatigue, the slowing-down, the grumpiness, the depression. Again with the digression! But, I spend time on the background info because it’s essential to my service dog story. I had to come to terms with these things, to take stock of them, before I was ready for life with a service dog. To get a dog was to admit that I couldn’t do it all on my own, or that I could, but at a dear price.
After the “shoulder incident” at the shelter, I ramped up my search for a service dog candidate. I contacted a behaviorist to talk about what kinds of behavior a dog needed to show service potential. Any breed has potential, she said, but it’s true that Labradors and Goldens are very successful mobility dogs due to their retrieving instinct. Furthermore, with a breed rescue, you are much more likely to know the dog’s history than from a shelter. This is so important for a service dog because even thorough evaluation at the shelter doesn’t tell you everything that a life with a foster can. This is a dog who will go everywhere you go, who will encounter reactive dogs, people, and children. This dog will be an ambassador for other service dogs. Everything’s gotta click.
I found my match through Lucky Lab Rescue. This is truly an amazing rescue, entirely run by volunteers. Not only did I end up with the best service dog a girl could have, but we have now fostered three dogs with them, and I have seen the work that goes on behind the scenes, and these people are amazing. They are dedicated, and so organized. And compassionate. They led me to Max. I filled out an application and was forthright in my intention to train the dog for mobility work, and I hoped this would not go against me in the end. It did not! An adoption coordinator called me and said that there was a list of dogs who would probably work, but I had to meet Max. And, meet him I did. He had me at woof. He was 1 year young and a clown even then. But, he was also confident, self-assured, but kind. He was unflappable. Four men banging around in a large truck with a lift? Whatever. I got this, lady. You want me to meet your other dogs? Even the crazy cattle dog rescue who hates everyone? I’m a charmer, lady. A charmer, he was, and is. He’s the best.

The day I met Max. Look at that face!
Again, I’ll get into the actual training later, but I want to talk about what Max does for my disability. As the handler in the excerpt said, having a service dog puts you in the spotlight. I’m used to the spotlight, but I’m used to the kind of spotlight you can pretend to turn off. Someone staring? Oh, I’ll just pretend I don’t see it. Some kid just pointed me out to their mom (who pretends it didn’t happen)? I can pretend it didn’t happen, sometimes. (You’re lucky if I do). I can just go on with my day if I desire. With a service dog, it’s different. As I said before, he’s an ambassador for all service dogs. When someone makes what they think is a hilarious comment about how “hard” his job is when he is sleeping in a restaurant, I think it is my duty to say, “how many dogs do you know who could sleep while people step over him with steak?” It’s his job to be good while we aren’t working. Sometimes, it’s his job to sleep, to lie down, to let people step on his tail, to let a chip fall by his face, to ignore the world that is not me. This is tough, and many people seem to think it is their job to tempt him or to get him to break his service and then make a comment when he does. What would you do if someone kept calling your name and telling you how pretty you are? You’d wag your tail, if you had one.
I have to admit that I was too friendly about this behavior in the beginning, and so I let it slide, and now there are a lot of people around my small town who talk to Max. Mostly, it’s when we’re not actively working, but I’m sorry I let it happen anyway. It’s not fair to him to turn back now; he wouldn’t understand. I’m lucky that he resets very quickly. He’s got a greet command and a command to get back to work. I’m lucky he listens, really lucky. Believe me, with my next dog, I will not do this again. For the love of all that is right in the world, don’t pet the damned service dog. Don’t make kissy noises. Don’t talk to it. Don’t even ask. It’s hard to say no, especially if you’re a people pleaser. Make it easier for everyone: resist.
It’s also true that having a service dog slows you down. It is a huge responsibility. Just “running in” a store is darned near impossible. You have to gear up the dog, get the dog in the car, seatbelt the dog in, drive to wherever, get the dog out, stop and educate people, get your stuff, get the dog in the car, seatbelt the dog in, get in the car, driver home. It’s a bit easier when, say, I want to run in my favorite coffee shop (go Roscoe’s!); they know him there, and they know he’s a service dog. I can just put on his gentle leader and run in for coffee because I know I don’t need to use his bracing harness. Sometimes I brave places without his harness if I know I won’t need him to brace, but it makes me nervous. There is no requirement that a service dog wear a vest or harness, but it helps. Max does have a little badge that hangs off the leash, but I’m always risking some questioning when he’s not fully geared.

Max fully geared, under my feet on a plane.
The other thing I have to put up with is the famous question: What does your dog do for you? This is fine from a business owner or employee, but it is intrusive in any other context. It feels like I am constantly justifying my need for Max. I am sure that that is not the intent, but it gets old, fast. The ADA has this to say about service dogs:
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
I usually respond to random people asking this question with, “he’s a mobility dog, and I use him to brace., but he knows well over 50 skills.” I don’t try to elaborate on what’s wrong with me. Sometimes people push, but mostly they respect that. I just wish they wouldn’t ask. It’s personal.
Traveling ain’t a picnic either. I have to pack for me, and for Max. He needs food, treats, a ball, some chews, extra poop bags. I have to remember peanut butter for the airplane to help pop his ears. Security is a nightmare. New cities mean new people, and new service dog cultures. Colorado is a dog place. It seems everyone has a dog, and in the mountains, people let their dogs hike off-leash. I hate this. I hated it before, but I really hate it now. Yes, your dog is friendly, but please, he cannot greet my dog. He’s working. See that slippery rock in my path? He’s going to help me over it, but if your dog distracts him, he’s not concentrating and not bracing. Put your dog on the leash! New Orleans is also a dog city, and there are a lot of homeless people with dogs off-leash. Makes me nervous. I hope your dog is friendly, but if not, does it have vaccinations? Also, one bad encounter with a dog could ruin Max for service. He cannot become afraid of dogs. Paris is also a dog city, and my Lord, there are a lot of yippy dogs out there. They tried to get Max every friggin’ day.

Max helping me snowshoe! This is one of the ways he helped return me to a fuller life, even if people don’t leash their dogs.
All this being said, I have to also say that having Max is worth every annoyance. He has made my life easier on so many levels. Traveling is a pain, but less of a pain than it was before. Paris used to be so tough on me with its uneven sidewalks and steep curbs. I prefer busses over the Metro because there are no stairs to navigate into subterranean stations, but there is that one big step, and the crowds. I always hated getting places. People never thought of me as disabled, so they wouldn’t offer seats or help. This last time in Paris, though, people offered to let me on first, and offered to help me up that step, even as Max was there to brace, and they offered me a seat. He braced all over the cobblestones and awkward curbs. He braced me all the way down the Pantheon steps, which don’t have railings. This was, in fact, the first time I have been to the Pantheon. I have always avoided it because of the steps. Thanks to Max, I got to see my beloved Hugo, Césaire, and Zola in their resting place.

Max enjoying the Eiffel Tower.
Max takes me out of that liminal space and puts me firmly in the disabled camp. He mediates my disability by making my world wider, safer, and more mobile. He also helps to mediate the fatigue, the slowing-down, the grumpiness, the depression. He mediates stares. People are usually way more excited to see a service dog than a dwarf, and that is fine with me, in the end. I’d much rather have to educate people about Max than be the object of curiosity. Children love to see Max (often mistaken for a horse, due to his saddle-like harness). I’ve always had to educate people about disability, it’s just shifted somewhere else. It is tough to always be in the spotlight, but I guess I prefer the gaze to be cast on my Max. He’s a ham and loves to wag his tail coyly as I explain why he can’t be petted to a little kid. It takes time, but it’s a worthy moment. I’d really like to live in a world where I didn’t have to explain any of these things, but that’s a bigger job. That’s why I write this blog.





I received a call from a lady, in a nearby city, inquiring about training a dog for service. I asked what services she wanted this dog to perform and she told me, “I have dwarfism and it would be helpful if the dog could lay under my feet.” I thought, “A dog for an ottoman?” “Do you have a dog yet?” I thought that was important. She had three dogs, all of which were special needs. This wonderful couple made it their practice to adopt dogs no one else would want. But for a Service Dog she needed a dog with all four legs, good hearing, and healthy eyes. None of her present dogs had all of those. I did not hear back from the lady, Amy, and I thought my requirements and expectations were too high. Then came another call, “I have a dog. Will you evaluate him to see if he will work?” We set a time and they drove to my city and my home. They opened the hatch of their car and there was the goofiest looking, ill-mannered Lab mix, with a grin on his face saying, “Here I am!” This adolescent dog was everything adolescent implies. This dog was anything but bashful, and was everything un-socialized. “What do you think?” Amy anxiously asked. “Give me three minutes with him and I will tell you.” This dog certainly appeared to be a project. But he showed me he had promise and I agreed that I would work with him. I explained that this was not an inexpensive program and that at some point we may rule him out and need to find another dog. We agreed. I told Amy and her husband I have two rules for this to work.
1. They would only take their raining counsel from me. They were to ignore TV, books, or another trainer. No Cesar, no training books. Just me.
2. This has got to be fun. No rushing, no frustration, if we want Max to not be stressed, we could not be. If it is not fun for the dog, it is not fun.
With those two understandings we would begin.

I gaged Max’s training according to Amy’s need. With dwarfism Amy had increasing trouble navigating stairs, inclines, and slippery surfaces. Amy’s shoulders functioned with difficulty, and her knees and hips made a more than three or four steps impossible. Where Amy worked she had to walk all the way around the building to a ramp to enter. Being four feet tall shopping and shopping carts were avoided. Wow! Not only would Max have to fit in the Service Dog role, he was going to have a lot of needs to be attentive to. Not only would he have to perform his tasks perfectly, but he would have to anticipate Amy’s needs in every situation. He could not see a squirrel and take off after it with Amy’s hand in the leash. That would not be pretty. We made a list of needs and we guessed Max would have to learn more than forty (40) behaviors, all of which had to be fluent.

Now, more about Amy. Amy has her PHD and is the Chair of the French Department at IU. She travels around and out of the US. This meant that Max had to function in other cultures as well.
Amy’s husband, Jeevan, is a Medical Doctor and serves in the cancer field. They are both loving, considerate and giving. As I said, Amy has many medical issues. Not only would training Max be a long process, but I knew it would be very hard on Amy. I needed to be aware of her endurance as well as Max’s. Amy was a trooper and was a perfect Service Dog handler.

Another concern I had for Amy and Jeevan was Jeevan’s feeling left out of the process and create an unintentional gap in their relationship. When they brought Max to me in our first meeting I told them, “This is Amy’s dog. Every good thing comes from her. Feeding, treats, affection, all from her.” Jeevan would be kind to Max, but Max could not bond with him. It was important for Max to bond with Amy. I knew this would be hard. Jeevan could only be a part of the training if there was something he needed to have part of. Things like, showing affection to Amy. Max had to be aware that was okay. Helping Amy, Max had to know that was okay. If Jeevan, for some reason, needed to take Max’s leash, Max needed to know that was okay. When we were training, Jeevan could not offer suggestions. Outside of the session we could talk, but in the session Max had to know he could only listen to me or Amy. The best way to address this, so Jeevan did not feel left out, was to talk about it, and talk about from time to time. It worked out just as it needed to.

So we set a date to start. In the meantime I did not want time wasted. Amy was to take Max home and begin implementing my instructions. It was she who would take Max from the car. She was to limit Max’s time with the other dogs. She was to in control of his play time. Only she could feed, treat, or walk Max. From now on, no treats because Max is cute. Max had to work for rewards, including praise. To eat, he had to sit. To be petted (only by Amy) he had to sit. Max would not be on welfare, no freebies. If he begged, nothing. If he wined, nothing. Max was now in the labor force without a union to advocate for him. His only handler, director, and advocate was Amy. If you could know Amy you would discover she is no pushover, but she did have her weak moments with Max. She held her own, most of the time. When I train behaviors, if I get 80% out of the dog, I consider that acceptable. That includes the handler. In this case they were both at about a 95%.

There were several “firsts” to begin with. However, every behavior had a process and each behavior was designed to build on the previous behavior. I would not allow Max to become overwhelmed. So, the place, in formal training, to begin was Max’s public access. Oh my, his first trip to the Mall was like a kid in the candy store. If I told the Security person that he was a Service Dog in training, I think he would have walked away, having a good laugh. All we could do was walk Max to acclimate him to the new environment, one he would be spending a lot of time in. From this experience it was obvious, a simultaneous behavior we needed to work on was Max walking on a loose leash if we didn’t want to lose Amy.

Max was smart. It did not take long for Max to realize he was doing something very special. He very quickly understood, when we came together, it was training time. He also knew that that clicker thing meant good things. Max became extremely serious about our work. In fact I always had to be sure Max’s stress was eustress and not distress. I do not think there was any session of our over 125 that Max did not have fun. Well, there was one. Max was trying so hard to work, but I sensed something just wasn’t right. I ended the session on a high note, and told Amy something was wrong with Max. I asked her to take him to her vet for an exam. Sure enough, Max had a virus. Bless his heart, he was trying so hard. After that it seemed he trusted just a little bit more.

Max responded to my methods with seriousness. If there was a lull he would sit, lay, and sit again. He was saying, “Hey, do you see what I’m doing. Why isn’t that thing making that noise?” When Amy took the leash and ask something of Max, Max would take the leash in his mouth, jump up and down. He just was not taking Amy seriously. Amy was getting frustrated because with me he was serious, with her it was always play time. My cues were responded to, her cues aroused him. A good trainer is already guessing the cause of this difference. Amy had a high pitched voice, mine is low pitched. Mine was a commanding, hers was “let’s play.” I told this to Amy and instructed her to lower the tone of her voice. This did not come naturally for Amy. She had to consciously change the pitch of her voice. As she did this, the problem completely resolved. Amy’s lower tone was still high, but Max understood the difference and we never had this issue again.

Max was doing really well on his loose leash. He was staying beside Amy, but we had to teach Max that staying right beside her was the best place in the world. We had to train Max to be on Amy’s right side because her left shoulder was not strong. If Max lurched at something it could worsen her left shoulder. What we needed to work on now was “stay.” Oh boy. Max had learned his “rest” cue. But Max has springs in his legs. He thought rest meant his belly touched the floor and he was to bounce back up. “Stay” was not in either his vocabulary or intention. This seemed to take Max forever. Amy was his job, he understood that. So every time she moved, he moved. If she stepped back, he stepped forward. If we put him in a down by a kiosk and she stepped out of sight, he was up. He was smart, as he would come from the opposite direction and greet Amy. If Amy back around the kiosk she would not see him following her. “Success,” she thought, until she turned around. There was Max with the “I caught you,” grin. There were some things Max could do, but he just didn’t understand the purpose, so a few things took a little longer. When Amy was finally able to take two steps away from Max and he stayed in his down, we celebrated with Max. After that his stays became perfect and for great duration.

One of the behaviors we needed to teach Max was “pulling.” We wanted to be able to hook Max to Amy’s grocery cart and Max help by pulling it. This was not easy for Max although he caught on quickly. It was scary at first. I hooked his leash on a bicycle rack. The rack was aluminum and was not heavy, but that thing following Max was a different concept. There were a couple of approaches to this, Max got through this exercise, and became a perfect “puller.” If we were going to have Max pull a grocery cart he would have to learn his directions. Amy could not see over the cart so Max also had to be her eyes. We taught Max “left turn” and “right turn.” This was easy for Max to grasp and Max understood left and right. He learned slow and faster. He learned back and forward. He learned “side step, right and left.” This meant he would move sideways by moving his two side legs in the requested direction. People thought that was funny. Sometimes, to help Max, Amy would move as if dancing and Max would follow.

The stairs for Amy and Max was a bit more complicated and had to be trained separately.
Going up stairs for Amy was a different protocol than coming down. It was not as complicated for Max as I was afraid. He was now beginning to anticipate Amy’s different needs. Max now, instinctively, understood how Amy “would” move and position himself accordingly. Like in the car. When Max was taken to the car he would jump in and Amy would have to streeetttch to hook his safety strap. After a few times, Max decided on his own, “It’s better for her if I put my front feet up, leave my back feet on the ground, until I hear that “snap,” then bring my back feet up into the car.” Max was developing the ability to think and anticipate.

Targeting was another behavior Max caught on to right away. I wanted Max to open the handicap doors for Amy. I started by placing a target in my hand, then slowly move it up the door I placed it about a foot from the bottom of the door. This door had a push bar. He said, “Oh, I get it. You want me to do this.” And he stood up and pushed the door open. That was that. All we had to teach him was the word for the behavior. He knows that “open” means doors with a bar on it, and “push” means the circle or square on a post. Max hardly needs cued. When he comes to an entrance and sees a push button on a post of the wall, he just goes ahead and opens the door. Max can push light switches, grocery carts, and he can help push an item Amy needs help moving.

Max learned to stop at curbs, place his front feet on the street so Amy can balance herself on his shoulders, then step down. Then Max brings his hind feet from the curb and waits for Amy’s, “Let go.” In one session Max learned to brace his front legs for Amy to balance herself. She would say, “Brace” and you could see his legs stiffen and his shoulder muscles flex. It was amazing and wonderful because Max new what his job was.

Max’s recall was one of his favorite behaviors. Max had to respond immediately to Amy’s call to “come” or “come aside.” We trained this in a variety of ways. Each method was to teach Max that responding to Amy, and responding quickly, meant something wonderful. His favorite game was Ping-Pong. Amy stood on one side of the room, I on the other. I would call Max. As soon as Max came and got his treat, Amy would call. To increase his speed he would not receive reinforcement if he was slow. He caught on to this very quickly, and it was hilarious to see him get his treat, Amy call, and Max’s whole body whirl in motion and head for Amy.

I have to include another of Max’s favorite training, retrieving things. We taught him two different retrieves. One was for him to pick something up and place it in Amy’s hand. This was for something Amy needed. Bending down was difficult. So Max could pick up pencils, a paper. Oh, picking up a paper was hilarious. Max wanted to tear the paper apart. He would pounce on it and kill it. He enjoyed that and it took a while for him to get, “Oh, you want the paper in one piece? Shoot!”” But we got through that. The other behavior was for Max to pick something up, hold it, and deliver it to the nearest trash can. We started with “drop it,” then moved to where to drop it. This went well with most items, except for the Styrofoam cups. Do you know how much fun it is to hear that crunching sound when you tear a Styrofoam cup apart? Max finally got the concepts. He now delivered things whole to its designated place, according to the cues. He never lost his enjoyment of retrieving. Of course, for all his behaviors, he performed with gusto. Max just plain enjoyed life.

Max was taught not to take food from strangers. One day, long after Max graduated, Amy was in a Mexican restaurant. A man across from Jeevan and Amy’s table reached down with a tortilla chip, placed it between his paws. Aside from the stupidity of doing that, Max turned his head and ignored the chip.

Often, Amy needs the use of a wheelchair. We incorporated her wheelchair in a session of training at the Mall. We wanted to teach Max, “aside,” as well as, “front.” The reason we needed “front” was that going down a ramp, she needs to go backwards. I know, I thought that odd also. That just shows how much we understand the needs of a person handicapped. We couldn’t have Max back-up for that distance as that would have been dangerous for both. I held Max’s leash, Amy called him, he came to her frontally, and she began to back down the ramp with Max following. We showed this to Max one time without a cue, but marking the behavior. He caught on so quickly that we gave him the cue “front,” and after that session Max had it down fluently. Perhaps this was so well learned because we had also worked with a motorize cart at a grocery store. There were times Max absolutely amazed me. Max also had to understand what it meant to gage his distance from Amy’s feet, and her wheelchair. This did take a little work because Max wanted to stay close enough to touch Amy. He would get his paw stepped on or rolled over. He caught on to keeping himself close, but safe.

This brings up a very good point. Some dogs are so smart and catch on so quickly, a good trainer knows he/she must stay ahead of the dog. Example, when I trained Max to target door bars and openers. I started out with a target on my hand so he would touch the target with his paw. Suddenly Max understood what I was moving toward and opened the door. On a scale of 1 to 5, Max went from a 2 to 5. I would have been a poor trainer had I taken Max back to a 3 because he jumped ahead of me. My training plan has to be such that I understand that possibility and I must be ready to jump ahead of his understanding. If I don’t factor that in, Max will get bored while I’m trying to redraw my plan. A dog may surprise me, but he cannot get ahead of me. Max had a habit of doing keeping me on my toes.

When Max’s session was over, Amy and I would bet something to drink and decompress and let Max come down also. Max would lay and sleep. He was always worn out. When Amy would put him in the car he would kiss me, lay down and sleep all the way home. He was tired but fulfilled.

An important thing we needed for Amy was the possibility of her falling. I wanted to teach Max “bark” and “quiet.” He had fun with this exercise. But, if Amy fell, she needed to be able to cue Max to bark to summon help. Also, for Amy’s personal safety, I want her to be able to cue Max to bark if she was uncomfortable with an approaching person. Max was not aggressive, and I would never train a dog to be aggressive. But the approaching person does not know that and that is a good deterrent.
Another thing I had to teach, this time to Amy, was the ADA laws. Merchants, Mall security people, even Law Enforcement officers are not always informed of the laws pertaining to Service Dogs. Because I have a Service Dog, I know the problems the handicapped can have. Amy, Max and I met at Panera’s. Amy had not yet arrived. I went to a lady who was with a friend and introduced myself. I explained to her what I was doing. I asked her if, when my client got settled with her dog, to come over and ask her to remove Max because she had allergies. So I had that set up. Amy was settled and the lady came over, “Mam,” she said, “Would you please remove your dog? I have awful allergies.” Amy’s face went blank. She looked at the lady, looked at me, looked at Max, and was lost. I shook the ladies hand, said, “Thank you,” and she left. Amy told me, “That was mean.” That was the best thing I could have done. The experience was a good teacher. The handicapped endure so much unnecessarily. The fact is, a business or person can ask a person with a dog, two questions.
1. Sir./Mam, is the a Service Dog?”
2. What service is your dog trained to perform?
They cannot inquire about a handicap or if the person has the handicap. If a person has allergies, that is not cause to remove the dog. They cannot ask for the dog to be seated away from the public. Amy and her husband had the experience of a restaurant manager asking them to take a table away from the customers. Amy politely said, “No. We want that table there.” Remember, Amy is not one to be intimidated.

The other challenge a person with a Service Dog encounters. People think the dog is adorable and just cannot exist without that person’s petting. A person may be polite enough to ask if they can pet the dog. We say, “No, he is a working dog. Thank you.” Of course it is on the dog’s jacket, “WORKING DOG. DO NOT PET.” Since Amy travels to France, she has this in English and French. Some people cannot read and they just have to ask. We want to be polite and educate people. However, some people will not take “no” for an answer. Some will approach and reach out, determined to pet. I taught Amy she must use her body and step between the dog and the person, and kindly but firmly, say, “Please do not touch my dog.” The person may take offence, but it is her being offensive rather than me offending.

Amy was getting ready to take a flight. I am friends with the Chief of Security and the Indianapolis International Airport. He was kind enough to assign an officer to us for a visit. The officer was very kind and allowed us to go where the public could not. We was able to take Max through the TSA in a mock experience. The agent allowed Max to stay with Amy. Max observed the agent placing hands on Amy. The agent searched Max, and placed his hand under Max’s back pack. Max was a little anxious, but handled this experience well. Amy reported how perfect Max was in all of these airport situations after the Indianapolis session. This session was very important in Max’s training because Amy and Jeevan have flown several times since. Max has never had one problem.

A few days after the airport session Amy flew to another city for major surgery on her shoulder. Max was with her before as well as after the surgery, but not during. Amy was laid up for 6 or 8 weeks. I kept close to Amy and Max during this convalescing period. Amy reported that Max, after about a month, was getting rusty. I asked where Max was being fed to which she said he eats in the kitchen. I told Amy I wanted his food and water beside the bed, and only treats came from her. She could ask small things from Max to keep a sense of working. This brought Max right back to his serving Amy in just a couple of days. Max has not been lax since then.

Max’s 11 months of training was done with a clicker and operant conditioning. In all of those months there was not one act of punishment, coercion, or manipulation. He was never scolded. If he was not doing what was being asked, we understood the problem was US, not him. We had to adjust how we were approaching the training. There were times Max taught us how best he would respond to a request. Max was never wrong and we had to listen to him. When we came to a session Max was always excited and anxious to learn. Max came to trust every request. He may have been a little unsure once in a while, but he never resisted learning one behavior.

One last point. Max fell in love with me. His trainer. I always say, “If your dog isn’t this way with your trainer, get rid of the trainer.” But there can be a downside to that if the trainer is not aware. There was a point where I realized Max was bonding to me and I to him. In this kind of extensive and intensive training there will be some unavoidable bonding. But I realized Max was looking to me more than to Amy. I had to change my relationship with Max. This was not easy on me or on Max, but it had to be done. For two months I was strictly, trainer. Max was always “over the moon” to see me. It took 5 minutes to calm him and get into a session. I was as bad about this as Max. What I did was this. When Max and Amy came in to wherever we were that day, I would not even look at Max until he was calm. If I approached him and he got up from a sit or down, I turned and walked away. He would cock his head in wonderment. It just about killed me. I wanted to go hug him and apologize. When I finally greeted him I was very detached. When he did what was wanted, I had Amy praise him. I did not. This worked very well. Max loved me, but he was definitely bonded with Amy. This taught Max a lesson, “You like other people, but Amy is master and focus.”

Now Max can love on me all he wants, because I know he knows my place. One day I made a visit to IU. I saw Amy and Max, but Max had not yet seen me. As I got closer Max gave me a glance. It was hilarious because when he glanced at me like I was just another person, he turned his head back to Amy, and just as quick, he jerked his head back to me. Max is the only dog I have seen take an actual double take. He could not compute me being there in his territory. Several times, he would look to Amy and turn back to me. Then, when he could believe what he was seeing, Max was excited from nose to tail tip. We loved on each other and when we calmed down, his attention went back to Amy and he served her needs. That is what I wanted. That is what we worked on together.

Max graduated, certificate and all. Now he is on the job every day for Amy. The most significant thing Amy said to me in all this time together was, “Now (with Max) I feel like a normal person. When Amy said this, my eyes filled with tears. That is why I train Service Dogs and Companion Dogs. This is the real payoff.

I must say something about the dog being trained. I have discussed this many times with my professor and mentor, Julie Shaw. In some ways what we do in training a Serviced Dog, however necessary and needed, is unfair. What we do is condition the fun out of the dog. We are asking the dog to ignore being a dog, ignore other dogs when in public, to ignore the squirrels, not to chase the ball that rolls by, not to approach people, to lay under a table for an hour while we eat, and ignore children. This was extremely hard for Max, because Max loved children. It took a long time to get him to ignore children that were close by. I’m not saying this is harmful to the dog. The Service Dog does not miss what it does not do. We still condition the fun out of the dog.

Our Service Dog, Nekayah, is a prime example of this. Our Dexter, a Great Pyrenees, will go outside, especially if there is snow, and lay for long periods of time. If another dog is here, Dexter will go out and play, run and romp. Not Nekayah. Nekayah is a Hearing Impaired Service Dog. She alerts my wife to many things in the house and outside. She even alerts when someone is behind her in a store. There are 7 or 8 buzzers, dings, and rings to which she alerts. Nekayah is on the job all day and night. If she hears the smoke detector she will wake us up. In her head she is never off duty. We can tell her to go play. Sometimes we tell her, “Go get the rabbit.” She’ll run out the doggy door, run the perimeter of the yard, and come straight back in. She will not allow herself to be where we are not. She is relaxed in the home. She is not anxious, waiting for the next buzzer. She just chooses to be with us. Right now she is laying on a chair, on her back, head hanging over, tongue lolling out, resting. Oops. The oven buzzer just sounded. Nekayah is up, going to the next room to tell Linda, “Whatever you are baking, it done.” She did her job and now is resting on another couch.

What I am saying is this. This is not bad. These are very special dogs who give up a lot to serve one person for all of its adult life. The dog is highly educated and is able to think for itself. It was Max’s idea to start going and getting sox for Amy in the mornings. When Amy steps off the curb and tells Max, “Let’s go,” and Max stays where he is. Amy looks up and sees a car. We call this in Service Dogs, “Intelligent Disobedience.” The dog knows to move is dangerous for my master. The handler has to learn to trust the dog. I told Amy many times, “Max is never wrong. Listen to him.”
I have had this with our Service Dog many times. Every time I thought Nekayah must be wrong, she was right. Once I told Nekayah, “Find mommy.” Nekayah sniffed the air and headed forward. I just knew Linda didn’t go that way and I would direct Nekayah another way. I frustrated her terribly. I found that the direction Nekayah was going was exactly the way Linda went. Another time, Linda was leaving the Mall. She walked out, Nekayah beside her. Nekayah stopped at the curb, Linda stepped into the access drive. Nekayah immediately jump in front of Linda, and pushed her aside. Linda did not see a car coming. Nekayah saw it and placed herself between Linda and the car. We handlers can get so used to the routine that we don’t always look. Nekayah is trained to always look, to always be ready for what is not the norm, and to act accordingly. Intelligent Disobedience. Always trust the dog.

There are people who feel, when we train a Service Dog, that we are placing the dog in bondage. I have had a few who have actually said that to me. I don’t know what they would suggest to the handicapped person as an alternative. We are discovering, more and more, the capabilities of dogs. Not only dogs, but small breed ponies are now showing promise, as a guide animal for the blind.
Is it wrong to use dogs for hunting? What about agility, or sports? Is it bad to train dogs for Search and Rescue? These dogs are not mistreated or abused. They save and protect countless lives each year. I wish these people, although well intended, would demonstrate their outrage at the blood sports dogs are forced to be a part of. There is where the energy should be expended, to stop that horrific abuse.

Well, this is Max’s story. That dog with that goofy smile. That dog who didn’t know what to do with those hind legs, who was so full of life and love. That beautiful, shiny haired dog with glistening eyes, who was so fixed as if he was afraid he would miss an instruction. This dog who finds joy in serving Amy every day, and does so for no other reason than devotion, is the textbook dog for Service Dogs. There are no words to that can fully tell others about Max. He is the model of all Service Dogs, but a mold like no other. He is the perfect ambassador for Service Dogs. He is the perfect Service Dog for Amy.

In a few months I will do a follow-up with Max and Amy. We will meet at the Mall and do some evaluating, but I am sure Max will pass that evaluation with amazement.

What I hope with this article is that my readers gain an insight into what is poured into the dogs that are wearing service jackets. For many reasons, not every dog qualifies for this training. Max was one that did, and he excelled. To be able to tell Max’s story is an honor.





 A couple weeks past I was riding my scooter, on my way to an appointment. A man seeing me, waved me down. He introduced himself and said, I hear you work with dogs. I explained to him that I am a Behavioral Consultant and yes, I work with animals. Mr. Cunningham explained that he had a Wirehair Terrier, Murphy, who is very ill. He asked if I would come and take a look at him. I, very clearly, let Mr. Cunningham know that I work with the behavior of dogs, not the health of the dog. I am not a veterinarian and I do not do the work of a vet. Understanding that, Mr. Cunningham again asked if I would come and meet Murphy.

Murphy is a beautiful brown with a large amount of grey throughout his coat. He is 16 years old. His flanks are concaved, his ribs are showing, there is virtually no meat on his pelvis, and his back legs are very unsteady. Three years past he was diagnosed with kidney failure and was placed on a protein free diet. It was hoped Murphy could live another year or two. He has now lived three years longer than his prognosis, but after his blood exam in December, he was given three to six months. He is hard of hearing and his sight is not the best. He is also diagnosed with dementia. He will not lie down to rest until he is worn out and his legs cannot hold him up. He paces hour after hour. The problem is that his brain no longer tells him to lie   down. He has lost that function of the brain. In spite of his health Murphy seemed to have more good days than bad, until this last week.

When I entered the house Murphy came right to me. I don’t know how aware he is but he seemed to relax as I petted him. He stood for a few seconds then walked away and continued his pacing. With tears in his eyes, Mr. Cunningham talked about Murphy’s history. Murphy was gotten from ARF as a puppy, and has been loved all these 16 years. Murphy has been a faithful, loving, affectionate companion. “He has been the perfect family pet.”  I offered no evaluation and felt my place was to let Mr. Cunningham talk about his one-in-a-million, four legged, family member. I knew Murphy was living his last days. I gave my card to Mr. Cunningham and told him to call me any time if he needed to talk or if Murphy took a turn for the worse. I then left with a very heavy heart.

Mr. Cunningham lived just three blocks from me. As I rode past his house I would stop just to see how Murphy is doing. He remained pretty much the same, no better and no worse. This last Monday morning, early, my phone rang. It was Mr. Cunningham. I could tell immediately he was crying.  “What’s wrong with Murphy?” I asked. He proceeded to talk about Murphy deteriorating in health. I told him I would be up in just a little while. Again, my heart was heavy.

I began my day and went to Mr. Cunningham’s home about an hour later. Both Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham were in the back yard with Murphy. Murphy, sensing I was there, came to me. As I scratched his chest he stood there, but it was obvious he was looking at me but not seeing me. I sat in silence for a few minutes, and then the silence was broken. “I don’t know what to do, Jim. When I think I should call the vet and put Murphy to sleep, then he’ll do something normal and I don’t think he is as bad as I thought. How do you know when to he needs to be put to sleep? I need someone to tell me what to do.”

“Mr. Cunningham, I can’t tell you what to do, neither can your vet. I do believe you will know. Murphy is sick. He is not going to improve, but you and Roberta need to make that decision together.” Mrs. Cunningham said she felt it was time, but Bob just can’t let go. I raised the question of quality of life. They talked about Murphy’s quality of life not having much quality and, “We know that is hard on Murphy.” Then I said, “I am not talking just about Murphy’s quality of life, but your quality of life.” I talked about the amount of guilt in these end-of-life decisions. We discussed how dogs completely depend on us to resolve their issues, take care of their health, their shelter, food, all of their needs. Now, at the end of life the dog depends on us to read the signs and make the right decisions. We often shrink from that responsibility because it is so painful. I said, “At this moment it is not about you making the decision, I think is about you giving yourself the permission to make the decision.” Mr. Cunningham said “I give Murphy permission to give up often. “Murphy doesn’t believe you,” I said. “I believe our dogs often do not give up the fight because he is still doing his job of caring for the owner.” This often happens with humans in the end-of-life days. Another question I felt Mr. Cunningham had to answer was if he was hanging on to Murphy for Murphy or himself. Mr. Cunningham said, “He will often come to me and just stand there looking at me and I wonder, “Is he trying to tell me something? Maybe he is telling me he wants to quit the fight and I’m not listening.”

While we talked Murphy’s back legs gave out a couple of times. We talked about how dogs will not show pain, that it is instinctual. I told them about my brother’s dog who was hit by a school bus. Buddy’s leg was severely damaged. He did not express pain, even after his leg was amputated. The last thing I felt needed to be said was, “The burden of guilt mainly comes because we think that we are doing something “to the dog” rather than “for the dog.” I think that thought gave Mr. Cunningham a new perspective of the situation. Mrs. Cunningham said, “This is the last dog we will have. I can’t do this again.” I didn’t reply as I understand that feeling. That feeling may change later and it would be inappropriate, foolish, and unfeeling to challenge that expression in a time like this.

“I would like the vet to come here to put him to sleep,” said Bob. I affirmed that and if his vet couldn’t or wouldn’t do so I know a vet who will. He called his vet and left the area to talk to her. I don’t know what that conversation was, but he was on the phone for about ten minutes. Mr. Cunningham returned to ask his wife if Thursday afternoon, 5:30 would be alright. Now each of us had tears in our eyes. They agreed that the time would work. It was a solemn moment. I reminded them that God cares deeply about their pain and weeps with them in this heart crushing time. To try to lift the moment I said, “You know, God was asked, one time, why he created the dog. God said, ‘I didn’t. I already had one.’” I told them that it is in keeping with my theology that dogs will be in heaven, and someone asked Billy Graham that question. Billy Graham said, “God knows what will make me happy in heaven and if that includes my dog, my dog will be in heaven.” I believe that, and I comforted my daughter when, as a child, our family dog died. I told Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham I would plan to be there with them Thursday. I then, with my hands on Murphy, said a prayer. With a heavy heart I excused myself.

That afternoon I called Mr. Cunningham and asked if I could run up for just a minute. I have CDs of music from Through a Dog’s Ear. There is one titled, “Calm for Elderly Dogs.” I explained how to use the music over the next couple of days. I also suggested that 15 minutes before the vet’s arrival that Murphy can be made comfortable and play the music which will insure he is relaxed and leave this world with an environment of love, calm, comfort, and dignity. With that, and the assurance that I will be there with them Thursday, I left.

Today, Mr. Cunningham called and asked me not to come to be with them this afternoon. He said his children called and wanted to be there and he asked them not to. He and Roberta wanted this to be a private time. In asking the children not to be there he felt he should call me and make the same request. I assured him that he did not need to explain, I understand completely. He thanked me for the use of the player and the CD, “Calm for Elderly Dogs.” He later told me the night before they put Murphy to sleep, they played the music, and it was the only night, for weeks, that he slept all night. They began playing the CD 20 minutes before the vet arrived. The music did what it was produced for, and relaxed Murphy. Murphy, very calm and relaxed, passed very peacefully.

This is one of hundreds of stories involving the end of life of a families pet, be it a dog, a cat, or a horse. For most of us our pet is a family member. We say they are like one of our children, and the fact that dogs retain their neotney, we are not far off. People often compare the death of a pet with the death of a child. I can’t fully explain the connection humans have with their dogs, but the bind is both relational and spiritual. We develop oneness with our one-in-a-million dog. The means by which our beloved pet is taken will vary, but that bond is strong. The story about Murphy is about our adored pet becoming terminal and having a lingering illness. As time goes on it is understood that the prognosis is dismal and the illness will most likely take our beloved’s life. Murphy developed multiple maladies, any one of which was terminal, but together left him with no hope and very little time.

Now, my friends were faced with an excruciating decision. It is a heart wrenching process. We wrestle with our emotions. Is it time? How do I know? Just when we make the decision he does something a normal dog would do. We question our self. Maybe he is not as bad as I thought. Maybe I am rushing things. He is not showing pain. We go on and on rationalizing, explaining away, hanging onto hope, not wanting to let go because of a mixture of love and guilt. We vacillate between denial and acceptance. We ask, “How do we reconcile the end-of-life decision with a loving, caring act?”

The hardest step in this decision process is the step we have to take beyond the emotional self. It is natural to want to do everything to keep that life with us. This pet has been a part of our life, our family, for five, ten, eighteen years. He has been there when I leave and excited when I come home. This dog has comforted us in bad times, shared our joyous times, and aided our healing when we were sick. He goes to get my socks, picks up what I drop, and picks up and puts away his own toys. I can’t imagine a day without him. I just can’t let go. The very first question we have to ask and answer is, “Am I keeping him alive for ME or for HIM/HER?”  There is a point at which our caring becomes selfishness rather than consideration for the suffering our beloved pet is experiencing. I don’t say this judgmentally, but understandably. However, it is our pet that is physically and emotionally suffering. How do we get beyond our self and our grief so we can make that final decision to end his/her suffering and life? After all, our dog has depended on us for everything, and is now depending on us, to do what it cannot, to make his/her end-of-life decision.  None of us feel up to this, but we cannot delegate this to someone other.

As a behavioral consultant I am often asked to tell the owners what to do. I never take that responsibility upon myself. I always refer to the owner’s veterinarian. The vet will address the medical issues, but unless the animal is showing suffering or he/she is dying on the table, the vet will help the owner to be fully informed, but the final decision has to come from the owner. In the long run this is the way it should be. If I have to look back on the death of my beloved, one-in-a-million dog I don’t want to reflect on someone else making that decision. When I took her into my home and family, I accepted the full responsibility for her, including her end-of-life needs. She trusts me for everything, including this, and as excruciating as that will be, it is mine and my wife’s decision to make. There are helps and considerations that will help me know when it is time to say, “Goodbye.” Hopefully, this will help you.

As a former pastor and therapist, I have been involved with hundreds of end-of-life experiences. Often a parent, a child, or mate, lingered because the grieving of the family made it difficult for the dying person to take that last breath. Many times I have talked to the family that perhaps it would be helpful if they gave their loved one permission to give up the fight. Other times it was the ill person giving the family permission to let them go. I remember the child who told his parents it was okay to let him die because Jesus was standing near to take him to heaven. My personal rules were, 1) I would never intimate, suggest or direct a family to make the end-of-life decision. 2) It was my place to stand with, support and affirm those who needed to make that decision. 3) I would never intimate, suggest, or direct how or how long one should grieve loss. For me, I would never get between one’s doctor, the family, or the patient. I carry that protocol with me into my animal behavioral career. This is one reason one’s veterinary is a part of my team building. These emotions are very complex and deep, these times very difficult. But this time can be a blessed time as well. If you have never read, Merle’s Door, by Ted Kerasote, I highly recommend it to you.

When I have had an owner ask me how they will know when it is time, I often say, “He will let you know.” I believe, many times, this is true. In the story above, Murphy would come and just look into the eyes of his master. The old Murphy had already left. What was he trying to say? What was he asking? Many times Murphy would go to another room by himself. He would pace for hours, as if he had someplace to go, but couldn’t leave. An animal cannot understand what is happening to his body. How much money and emotion are you prepared to spend just to give him a few more months with you? Our Nekayah had a Mast Cell Tumor on her leg. We spent several hundreds of dollars to have it removed. Chemo was recommended as a precaution. When the process was explained to us we could not bring ourselves to put her through those months of suffering. We have now had three years more with her and, as far as I know, she is doing fine. Did I make the right decision? At the time I wasn’t sure, but I had to gather all the information and my decision had to be one informed. My head said, “Maybe.” My heart said, “No.  Don’t do that to her.” I’m glad we made that decision. Medical procedures may extend a life, but to what kind of life?

There comes that time when we have to stop wrestling and vacillating with the inevitable decision and bring it to a conclusion. The essential question we have to ask and answer concerns one’s quality of life. Certainly the quality of life for our beloved pet, but also the quality of life of the owners. This is often forgotten. Consider these,

  1. The family has to take shifts, one stays home while the other leaves for needed errands.
  2. We takes shifts during the night.
  3. We are exhausted each day.
  4. We can’t eat, our hearts are so broken.
  5. Vacation is postponed or put off all together.
  6. It is hard to impossible to have friends over.
  7. What finances are involved (vet visits, medications, treatment)
  8. We can’t agree on what to do, it’s hurting our home atmosphere.

Loving owners don’t want to be selfish and relegate their pet to a financial decision, but all of these factors have to be considered. It is never selfish to rationally ask the hard questions, and to honestly answer them. If you are not taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, you cannot care for your sick pet well. The quality of life for you, the owner, has to be considered. There are times when our grief is so expressive that it is hard for the pet to let go. His job, for all these years, has been to take care of you. We can add to our pet’s weakening condition by making his letting go more difficult. There are things we can do to help us comfort our self.

During this time of our beloved pet’s weakening, one thing that could help is to begin a pictorial album. Allow him/her to live again by arranging the album from puppyhood to his/her senior years. Caption all the photos and laugh and cry together. Write a daily journal of his/her daily progression. Note the things he/she was able to do, but how each day is taking its toll. Both of these activities will help you stay clear in the decisions you have to make. Bring in a “baby sitter” so you and your mate can go out together. You need to take time for yourselves and step out of the emotional environment in the home. It’s okay. Give yourself permission to step away for a few hours or a day.

Murphy loved car rides. No matter how sick he was, if he could go for a car ride, it made him feel good. Does he/she love ice cream? What about a cheese burger? Maybe a peanut butter pop cycle? Ice cubes? When you think you can’t do anything for him/her and you feel helpless, perhaps there is that one thing that will make you both feel good. Fix a place for him/her with those favorite, soft blankets, a soft bed, perhaps her bed. If she will be immobile for several days the softness will prevent soars. Place her water nearby. Place near him/her the favorite 2 or 3 toys, and a favorite chew. He may be too weak to interact with these, but he knows they are there.

You will want to check him/her often to see if she is becoming incontinent. He/she has not peed in the house for years. This can be very stressful. Have some diapers available, and reassure her it is okay. If he/she can still move around a bit, you can make a sling out of a towel and help him/her go outside.

Here are some factors you can consider in determining quality of life.

  1. Is “Marley” irritable, restless and/or confused?
  2. Perhaps “Marley’s” appetite has decreased or is lost. Is “Marley” drinking less water, or drinking water excessively?
  3. If there are other dogs in the home, are these attacking or picking on “Marley?” Very often this happens when one becomes the weakest in the home. It doesn’t mean the others are cruel. Do not punish, but mange. It is a natural behavior in the wild.
  4. Does he/she go off alone? Maybe removes himself and goes off to another room?

These are signs of a deteriorating life due to untreatable conditions or aging. These are ways in which the dog is “telling” its owners that its quality of life is vanishing.

What about pain? How can we tell if he/she is suffering pain? This is a little more difficult because animals hide their pain. In the wild an animal doesn’t show pain as that signals being a weak one in the pack.

  1. Has he/she begun to snap at you when you touch him/her in a certain area? This has never happened before. Well, he/she has not just become mean. This is information that there is pain in that area.
  2. Are certain activities avoided? Jumping up on the bed, catching a ball, or turning his/her head. These can be signs of pain. Maybe he/she won’t lift the paw and put it in your hand. Don’t make or coax these behaviors if he/she is avoiding them.
  3. Perhaps he/she has become reclusive. Often an animal will go off by itself to suffer or to die.
  4. He/she may not eat the same diet. Kibbles can be too hard to swallow. Softer food and less may be the new diet norm.

Every new sign of deterioration will be painful to watch. One thing that might help is, again, to journal what is happening. Write how this makes you feel. Do not hide or bury how you feel inside. To do so will not take your pain away, but if you pent-up all that grief inside it can cause you to become ill (or snappy). Watch your pet as irregular patterns of behavior are often the first signs of illness and pain. No one knows your pet better than you and these things are telling you something is not right. Make an appointment with your vet.

Grief is a very real emotion and a natural response to loss. I do want to mention, so you will be prepared, not everyone will join you in your grief. There are those who will say, “It was just an animal.” As insensitive and ignorant as these may be, I don’t believe they are trying to be cruel. They just have no understanding of how deep the human/animal bond is.  They have missed out on this wonderful, joyous, experience of life. They will never understand and I will not waste my time or theirs trying to explain my grief. To do this will only result in one’s feeling worse.

Grief is the healing process that helps us accept and live in our new normal. In the Peanuts cartoon series, Charlie would often exclaim, “Good grief.” It doesn’t seem like it when we are going through it, but grief is good. It says a lot about you and it says a lot about your beloved pet. It speaks to your deep love, connection, and attachment to that which is lost. I will recount the grief process here.

  1. Denial
  2. Bargaining
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These are the familiar five stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, Death and Dying. Robert Kavanaugh, in his book, Facing Death, expanded these five stages to seven. I refer to these seven stages in my counseling because they allow for more inclusiveness to the process of adjusting to loss and transitioning to one’s new normal.

  1. Shock & Disbelief
  2. Denial
  3. Bargaining
  4. Guilt
  5. Anger
  6. Depression
  7. Acceptance & Hope

Regardless of the model, remember, these are not a fixed sequence. A person may shift up or down in these emotions. The important point to make is that there is no fixed way a person is to grieve. There is no fixed time for one to grieve. There is no fixed resolution or new normal for one’s grief. If you get “hung-up” in one of these stages then talk to someone. Here are some suggestions that can help us heal.

  1. You can have a memorial service for your pet. I am an Animal Chaplain. I have held a memorial service for horses and dogs while I was in Law Enforcement. Some people may think this is silly because “it’s just an animal.” So, don’t invite them. Invite those who love and understand you.
  2. Make a scrapbook to honor the life of your beloved pet.
  3. Write a poem or a letter, or a song for your pet.
  4. Volunteer your time at an animal shelter.
  5. Make a donation to ASPCA or local shelter in your pet’s name. Include his/her bio.
  6. Plant a tree in your pets name on your property.
  7. Make a collage of your pet’s name, collar, tags, toys, blanket, etc.
  8.  Have a special memorial urn for your pet’s ashes.
  9. Locate and attend a Pet Loss Grief Group. In my area we have a group called, HEAL (Healing Every Animal Loss). Each of us that lead this group are professional therapists and we want a person to come and share their story, pictures, and the loss of their pet. Some people come who are preparing for the loss and others come who have already experienced their loss.
  10. If you do not have a grief group in your area begin talking to others who have a heart like yours and begin a Pet Loss Grief Group. Research, find and talk to others who have begun a group, gather information and form a group. You will honor your pet and you will touch the lives of others who are grieving.

Many times a person will say, “Never again. I will not have another pet.” I never answer this. They may or may not, but at that point this is a real feeling and there is no right or wrong. Once the person has worked through their grief this may change. My only counsel is not to think in terms of getting another dog just like “Marley.” Some people, in their grief, may run out and buy two or three dogs to fill that void inside. Because I did this one time, I do try to guide this if possible. However, the person needs to do what is right for them.

“How do I know when it is time?” I don’t know how to answer that, because your situation is unique. But if you have read this you will have more information to help you make an informed decision. Deciding what to do is agonizing. Actually deciding the how leaves you feeling guilty. You can’t explain your decision to “Marley,” so you feel like a murderer. And when it is “that time,” you hope “Marley,” or God, or yourself, will forgive you. Hopefully you will know it was for “Marley’s” best and that your decision, as painful as it was, it truly was for him/her.

It is normal for owners, in this situation, to feel they are doing something “TO” their beloved pet. If that thinking can be shifted to knowing you are doing something “FOR” your beloved pet the guilt will be minimized, leaving you to deal with the pain of your loss. Remember again, your pet has to trust you to make these decisions for him. You have to protect him from further sickness, further pain, and further suffering. When we took him/her into our home, our family, and our hearts, this was part of the unwritten contract.  To make this end-of-life decision is not a nefarious act. As excruciating as this is for any of us, you are doing the most loving and unselfish thing you can do. Making this decision is to give the ultimate gift of love to end your beloved pet’s deterioration and suffering. As you have been faithful to each other for all these years, you are being faithful this one last time.

I would like to write about after the death of “Marley.” It would take another paper the length of this one. I will say this, I do not believe that love ends. I believe as Billy Graham said, “God will provide our every need in heaven. If God knows our “Marley” is needed for us to be complete in heaven, then “Marley” will be in heaven.” I believe this is included in that “hope,” which is the seventh stage in the grief process.

Someone asked God, “Why did you create the dog?” God said, “I didn’t. I already had one.”

God bless.




 As much as we love our dog/s barking can be a source of irritation for us. Many owners are embarrassed when a neighbor calls Animal Control to complain about Fido’s barking. Owners go to the door and shout, “Shut up.” Some use spray bottles or hoses to spray the dog in the face. Others roll up a newspaper and smack Fido on the butt. Some use the extreme (which I consider both unnecessary and abuse), the E-collar or Shock collar.  The only things these efforts accomplish are, 1. You instill fear in Fido. 2. Causing Fido to distrust, 3. Perhaps, instilling fear aggression in Fido, 4. Your possibly causing Fido to become reactive to newspapers. Anytime one applies punishment there are unintended consequences. There is a better way.

 I will illustrate what you can accomplish. I have a Great Pyrenees. Barking is a part of the Pyrenees DNA. He lays in the back yard and barks at everything that moves. His job is to keep the coyotes away from the sheep (us). He takes this job very seriously and I love him for it. His barking is to summon everyone, “I think you need to come and check this out.”  Now, I don’t want to stop his barking. What I want to do is let him bark on my terms. Here is how I did that.

As I explain this process, remember, I am a clicker (marker) trainer. When I click to mark the behavior I want, it is always followed by at least one treat. Having our clicker ready we also have treats in a pouch around our waist to hold the treats. You can use a bowl to place your treats in. To mark the wanted behavior I “click and treat.” I will use “C/T” to indicate this.

The first thing I needed to do was put “bark” on cue. Here is how I did that. Remember, Dexter does not know what the word “bark” means. So I need to capture that “bark” and C/T that behavior. I set up my training time. No phone calls or other distractions. I needed to focus on Dexter. When he barked, I would C/T. Dexter knows the clicker so for me he responded quickly. “Bark,” C/T. With a couple of times of this order Dexter would bark, look at me, C/T. Be sure you are clicking the bark. If your timing is off, you will click the head turn and that will confuse both Fido and you. When he barks, C, you would then treat if he turns his head. What you want to mark is the bark.

Once Dexter was barking intentionally, I changed what I was doing. Now it was time to set my training to 2 or 3 minutes. I would count out my treats, 20 or 30 treats accordingly. This way I knew Dexter’s rate of barks. When I felt comfortable that he was barking, C/T 8 to 10 times a minute it was time for me to introduce my cue, “Bark.” As Dexter would bark, I timed the word “bark” with his bark. In the next session (2 to 3 minutes) I would say “bark” with his bark, but I would then switch and say “bark” just before his bark. I would do this in a couple of sessions until I could back the word “bark” to before his “bark” and him bark in response to my cue. Now, I can say, “bark” and he barks. He doesn’t bark if I don’t say, “bark.”

I want you to understand, this is only in the training session. Outside of the training session he can still, and will, bark as he needs to bark. Be sure and not correct or punish him for this or you will poison your efforts. You have a goal here, do not get ahead of the process.

Now, you are going to ratchet things up. In your training session you will cue Fido to bark, C/T. You wait a couple of seconds (no more), if Fido barks you do not C/T. What you do is immediately cue Fido to bark. He will and you C/T. You do this for a couple of sessions until Fido understands that you want him to bark on your cue, but not when you do not cue him. This  process will not take long. He will understand.

Here is another point. When Fido barks, without your giving the cue do not say, “No,” or “uh, uh.”  We call those a “no reward marker.” Just don’t say anything. Also, if you get frustrated because things are not going the way you want, then stop. You will only make Fido frustrated and he will shut down. However, don’t just walk away leaving Fido to wonder what he did wrong. End EVERY session on a success, even if you hold your hand down, say touch, he touches your hand with his nose, C/T. At the end of EVERY session, put your hands in front of you and say, “finished,” then toss some treats on the floor. This way, you ALWAYS end on success, and with something wonderful. Fido will always anticipate you getting the clicker out for another session.

Now you have “bark” on cue. The goal of this exercise is the second part. Quiet. Again, set up your training session, 2 to 3 minutes. Have your clicker and treats ready. With Dexter, he knew we were training, so he would sit in front of me. I cued him to bark, then I waited after the bark, one thousand one, C/T. Cue him to bark, one thousand two, C/T. I keep extending the time AFTER the bark until I can count, one thousand five, C/T. When I could have Dexter bark, quiet to one thousand five 8 times a minute, it was time to introduce the cue, “quiet.”

I would cue Dexter to bark, then he would be quiet, I would count to one thousand four, say, “quiet” C/T. I wanted to move this forward until Dexter would bark, I could say, “quiet” and he would not bark again until or unless I cued him to do so. Now I want to ping pong bark and quiet. Sometimes I would want to really reinforce Dexter by giving 3 or 4 treats. Not every time, but once in a while. You do not have to limit yourself to just one treat following the click. Just be sure you are clicking one time as a mark. Also, when you cue, you give the cue ONE time. Let Fido process your cue. If he can’t do that, then you introduced the cue too early. Always end your session on a success.

You will want to train in a different room, outside, so Fido can generalize his bark/quiet behavior. When Dexter had this down I will let him bark 2 or 3 times at something, then I will say, “Good bark Dexter, now quiet.” And guess what, he quits barking and usually turns to walk with me. I had a guest in my home not long ago. We were sitting at the kitchen table, and Dexter was barking at something. It was summer and the sliding door was open, so I called out to Dexter, “quiieet,” Dexter stopped barking and my friend said, “No way.” So you can begin adding distance when you cue.

Early in Dexter’s training for bark/quiet, if he did not stop barking I would take a few steps toward him to close the distance, cue him again, and usually he responded. Never close the distance in a threatening way. If you are frustrated just go calmly and quietly, take Fido’s collar and walk him away from his interest. He will usually stop barking as you walk away. Now tell him, “Good quiet” and reward him.

I also want you to understand in teaching Fido quiet, you are not C/Ting him for not barking. You are C/Ting his quiet. We are teaching Fido two distinctive behaviors, bark and quiet. I do not C/T Fido for not doing something. So it is not that Fido is not barking, but that he is being quiet. This distinction is important for your thinking and avoiding Fido becoming frustrated and confused.

One last thing. When you are cuing Fido, do so in a calm, controlled voice. Louder is not better. Fido is not deaf (although you will at times think he is). Do not repeat the cue. “Fido, quiet—quiet—quiet.” Or, “Fido, quiet—-QUIet—QUIET!” If Fido is not responding there are three reasons, 1. You introduced the cue too early, 2. The value of your reinforcement is not high enough, 3. The rate of reinforcement is not often enough. You may need to go back to establishing the behavior with no words, just Behavior, C/T.

Fido is not being “stubborn.” Dogs do not know “stubborn.” They know when they are confused. They know when they are conflicted. When Fido is confused or conflicted, that is my not being clear.

You goal, in this exercise, is to teach Fido quiet. To do that we put its counterpart “bark” on cue so we can then put “quiet” on cue.

Here is just one valuable time this can be used. A lady is taking her dog for a walk. There is a man approaching and you have feelings of being uncomfortable. You can cue Fido to bark. This will usually deter someone with whom you are not comfortable. You now have a safety feature in walking Fido.

Have fun training because you are strengthening your relationship with Fido in the process.



. What do each of these dogs have in common? FUN! Look at the resourcefulness of these pets. Take in that wonderful smile. Is that not face to die for? What do you think the owner of each of these dogs have in common? FRUSTRATION!

Let’s talk about


When I was in college (I mention that, otherwise no one could guess) I had a wonderful German Shepherd named, Little Boy. He was anything but little, but he was everything wonderful. Our house on campus was so small that we had to keep him outside, which just killed me. The problem was not with me, but with my wife. I guess she had good reason. One day we were having a very special dinner, roast. Understand, meat for us was a rarity. With three children and no money, meat was just unaffordable. We ate a lot of mac/cheese, eggs/beans, soups, but more seldom than seldom, meat. We were like Pavlov’s dog with that roast on the table. Remember the Christmas Story? The turkey on the table? The dogs? Yep, that is what happened. I had let Little Boy out of his fenced area. Linda was in the kitchen rustling around, I was in another room (we didn’t have that many). I heard a yell and “#*&@ Littler Boy.” I ran from the other room (our rooms were not very large), and all I saw was a butt and tail exiting the back door. The meat was gone, Linda was upset, and Little Boy was banished, exiled to his fence, and we had potatoes and carrots for dinner.

If you are laughing about this, it is not because this is funny (it is now) but yours is a sympathetic laugh. Nearly all who read this has had a similar event. Some of you have called me, pulling your hair and mumbling things unrepeatable. And your poor dog! In these situations I have to calm the owner and rescue the dog. When the owner is telling me the kitchen misbehaviors of Fido, I quietly laugh. The descriptions are like the Marmaduke cartoons. I sometimes jest with the owner and say, “That is so much like a dog.”

My daughter’s dogs are the King and Prince of Counter Surfing. Cooper is a Flat Coated Retriever and Oliver is a Black Lab. Sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, steak, crackers, bread, hot dogs, a chocolate cake (whole cake), all gone. These dogs are no respecters of food. Cooper had extensive training as he went through my behaviorism program with me. Attaching a rope on the door handle,  I taught Cooper to open the refrigerator. Linda was baking bread. We have a towel on the oven door handle. Thinking nothing about it we went about working in the house. When we came to the kitchen the bread pan was on the floor and half of the loaf of bread was gone. That ornery Cooper, seeing a towel on the oven handle, opened the door and found a warm treasure that met the delight of his palate. Now don’t tell me dogs do not generalize. I rescued Cooper to a car ride so Linda could calm down.

Let me brag about my dogs. Nekayah is a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard, and Dexter is a Great Pyrenees. Both have had service dog training and Nekayah serves us as a Service Dog. They have had extensive training. We can leave a plate of grilled hamburgers on the table, grilled steaks on the counter, or food on the patio table. Neither of our dogs will touch. They may take a few whiffs,

But I have never had either of them “steal” anything with one of us there or none of us there. This is because Nekayah, Dexter and I had a very specific conversation and they cooperated with me in proper training to overcome these temptations. When Cooper is here Nekayah and Dexter go to another room. They’re not about to let Cooper get them in trouble. He is on his own.

Besides “#@$&!$#” what can one do to stop this aggravating behavior from one’s pet? Or, is there anything that works? There are so many powerful odors. If we are preparing stew, we smell stew. Fido layers the odors. He smells meat, potatoes, and carrots. So the first thing we need to realize is that these are powerful temptations for Fido. Understanding this will help us to keep our expectations reasonable. When you cook, do you not take a taste? Don’t expect more from your dog than you can expect of yourself.

Here are a couple of things you can avoid in the kitchen with your dog.

  1. Do not yell, scold, or punish Fido. He is acting naturally and believes your cooking and baking are as good as you hope others will think. Some will have a water spray bottle handy to spray Fido in the face if he comes close to the counters.
  2. Do not hit Fido. Don’t slap his nose. You do not want Fido to fear you.
  3. Do not push Fido away or down. This reinforces his behavior and turns into a game.Jumping up on the counter is self-reinforcing and you do not want to make it “really” fun.
  4. Do not get an air horn, marble can, or a shock collar. Do not purchase shock pads, tack strips, or double sided duct tape.
  5. One source advised you come up with different “booby-traps.” This same source suggested “aversion therapy” for Fido. Now, I was a therapist in a past career. I can only imagine what “aversive therapy is and it doesn’t sound therapeutic.

It is in Fido’s genes to scavenge. Also, if Fido has found food there before then he will check it out again. That being true then we are complicit in his behavior. On our side, counter surfing can be dangerous. Fido may get scalded. He may break a plate and get glass shards in his paw. He may get a pill or other objects that can be lethal.

Okay, that’s enough of the don’ts. Let’s talk about resolutions to the unwanted behavior of counter surfing. Are you ready for this? The onus is on you. If you do not want Fido jumping up on the counter, you have to help him. You cannot expect Fido to just “know.”  The first step you must take is to remove the temptation. No, I don’t mean you need to tear the counters out. I mean you must manage the temptation. Keep the counters clean. Move things to the back of the counter. Place a cake in the oven or microwave, or refrigerator. Have a bread box. Keep the lower cupboards closed. Keep the lid on the trash can. Take the chicken bones OUT to the trash can outside. The bones smell good, but can splinter, so why temp by having the throwaway in the house trash? The point is, good management helps to set Fido up for success. Booby traps help set Fido up for failure.

The real place to start with Fido is when he is a puppy. The moment we take ownership of Fido, his training begins. The real problem with counter surfing is Fido’s jumping. We who own pets must teach Fido what we do not want very early, by teaching him what we do want, what is allowed. Because he is so cute owners allow the little guy to get away with behaviors as a puppy, thinking he will grow out of them. He won’t. By doing this the owner is doing a bait and switch which leaves Fido very confused which causes other unnecessary issues. My personal opinion is that every puppy should be crate trained. The crate should be the best and the safest place in the house. Fido can be taught to go to his crate on cue, or to go to his crate when you are working in the kitchen.

If you dog is adolescent or older and you are just wanting to stop this unwanted behavior, you can. Some are afraid because their dog has been allowed to counter surf Fido is too old or the behavior is too ingrained to be changed. That is not true. Age does not matter. How long it has gone on does not matter. Unless a dog is mentally or physically impaired, with Clicker or Marker training, Fido can be taught any new behavior. If you do not understand Clicker Training, please find my article titled, WHEN? WHY? – CLICKER TRAINING. You will find this article under the Education or Training tabs. Reading that article will help you understand all of my philosophy and methods of training.

So MANAGEMENT is the first step in curbing counter surfing. Training is step two. You may ask, “What do I train?” I’m glad you asked.

You can train, “FOUR ON THE FLOOR.” This is primarily a jumping issue. Now, if you have a Great Dane then the issue is his height and “Four on the Floor” is not the only alternative. Four on the Floor is easy to capture. Any time Fido puts his paws on a chair, jumps up on you, have your clicker. When he drops his paws on the floor, click and treat Fido. Act like you are working on the counter tops, or you may have work that needs done. Fido will show interest and may put his paws on the counter. Totally ignore that behavior. Have your clicker ready and when Fido puts his paws on the floor (watch him closely) when his paws touch the floor, click and treat Fido. Timing is important. Click when Fido’s paws touch the floor. If you are late with the click and Fido turns his head, he may think that is what you are marking. You can give Fido one treat, or you can give him two or three. Fido will think, “Wow, when my paws are on the floor it is better than being on the counter.” Ignore the behavior you do not want, reinforce the behavior you do want.


This is a great alternative. You can use Fido’s crate, or you can lace a pad on the floor. With your clicker and treats ready capture Fido’s going to the mat. You will not use words until you get the behavior, but when you do, you can use “place” or “mat.” The way you begin is to stand near the mat and when Fido even looks at it, you click and treat. This is all by successive approximation. Any interaction with the mat elicits a click and treat. Remember, one click and treat 1, 2, or 3 treats. Some people have misunderstood the clicker and click a couple of times. It is just one click, then treat.

When Fido is going to the mat reliably, then you can begin introducing the cue. Let’s use “place.” As Fido steps on the mat say, “Place,” click and treat. Keep backing your cue up so when Fido is a few feet away, you say, “Place,” Fido goes to the mat, click and treat. To help you reset Fido, you can toss the treat a few feet away from the mat, and then you can re-cue him. You can teach him to lay on the mat and then, when you ask him to “go to your place,” Fido will go to the mat and lay down. Now you can begin adding duration and distractions.

You can use a mat because it is easier to move around. You can have it near or in the kitchen so Fido can watch what you are doing. You can have a Gong toy filled with good things, and let him enjoy that. This tends to be a little more mobile than a crate.

Some people do not want Fido in the kitchen at all. That is easy. Teach Fido where he can be. You can teach him to not go closer than the tack strip in the door way, or the carpet edge. He will put his paws just over the edge, but this is also a great alternative. You can teach Fido to stay until released.

Here is where you succeed or fail. CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY! Every person in the home, including children, must be on the same page. If it appears Fido is just not getting it, I will guarantee it is because he is getting conflicting messages. Inconsistency is the sure way to set Fido up for failure. Guess who will be blamed? That’s correct. Fido. So involve everyone in the training. You will have to instruct visitors. If a family member comes to visit and wants to drop a piece of cheese for Fido, tell her “No.” CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY!

Fido may have a relapse every now and then. Do not scold, just get the clicker out and do a refresher course. In time it will be natural for Fido to go to his place when you begin messing in the kitchen. You will turn to cue him to his “place,” to discover he is already there. You may want him near you and just sit near you while you work in the kitchen. Either way you have him with “Four on the Floor,” or lying in his “place.” The counter surfing problem is resolved. You are happier, Fido is happier, and it was achieved without yelling, or “#*&%@%.” The watershed to this is that you now have a deeper relationship with Fido. He knows you are pleased and you know he is happy.

WOW! What a great outcome