Wasn’t that part of an old commercial?  For us, how about is it dog training yet?  Does the dog, in other words, view what you are doing as work or as some sort of trick he can do when he feels like it?

Take a pill

Years ago I taught an intensive week-long graduate course in mystery writing at Manhattanville College and one of the most talented members of the class, a retired police officer, came for a conference with me about his writing.  Who’s your agent, he wanted to know.  Ha ha ha.  You’re not ready for an agent, I told him.  But but but – what he really wanted was my agent’s name.  What I really wanted was for him to take his writing seriously, to make it his job.  The technical problems he had could be overcome.  The fact that he didn’t consider writing to be his work could not, unless he began to view it differently.

OK, back to dogs.  The way I see it, most dogs are free, more or less, to do as they please for about 95 percent of the time.  For about 5 percent of the time, they may be asked to do your bidding AND if that is not their job, if that is not serious, if that is a trick and not dog training, they may or may not obey.  (OMG, politically incorrect!)  And when, for instance, a dog does not drop immediately when he gets an emergency down command, he may continue on the path he was taking which will lead him into traffic.

Ignoring bad behavior, some of which is self reinforcing so that the dog doesn’t give a hoot if you ignore him, or turning your back on bad behavior will not create a dog who listens when there is an emergency you understand but he doesn’t.  When you wouldn’t raise a child without saying NO sometimes, and if you did, God help us all, why would you raise a dog that way?

Saying NO is not abuse, it’s communication.  It’s clarity.  It can be life saving.  It can offer a dog an opportunity to see his training as his job.  Not that, this.  Good dog!


No matter the weather, my dog and I hike every day.  I almost never ask anything of her unless, for fun, I am teaching her something new.  I often ask her which way she’d like to go and follow behind her.  We have games she loves that we play on our way to the gym where I swim.  Her life is full of work she understands and loves, learning, play, rest, more play, kisses and great food.  But once in a while, when she’s being annoying (yup) or perhaps headed for danger, I give her a command and I expect her to obey it promptly without thinking over whether or not she should.

Had my Golden Retriever, Oliver, thought over the Down command on the two occasions when it saved his life, well, there only would have been one of those occasions.

Watch your dog’s eyes when you are working him.  Is he looking at you, waiting for a signal?  Is he waiting to see how many times he can get you to say a command before he obeys? Does he have an irresistible itch right when you say Come?  Is it soup yet?