It’s not unusual for people to get stressed and it’s not unusual for dogs, either.  Anything can do it – too many bills (for the people), too much noise (for the dogs), confusing relationships (for the people), confusing requests (for the dogs.)  Working dogs, dogs who are out in the world helping their people, have many chances to get an overload of stress because they are often in environments where animals are not expected, allowed or considered in any way.  But pets, too, sometimes because of the long hours they spend alone, are subject to to stress.  Happily, help usually cuts both ways.  When you do something for your dog, when you consider your dog’s needs, you are, for that moment, not fretting about your own problems – and that in itself is a very good thing, a healthy thing.  In addition, some of the activities that can reduce stress in dogs can also reduce human stress, sort of a two for the price of one situation, another good thing!  Let’s look at a few.

Scan OY 2



I used to have sneeze conversations with my Golden Retriever, Oliver.  This started right after we moved from the suburbs to the city.  When I’d walk him, the streets were crowded and noisy and though he was a pretty easy going dog, I thought the crowds and noise might make him feel isolated.  I had to watch where I was going when I used to be able to just watch him.  So I began to sneeze to him.  Most dogs will sneeze back and if you work on this a bit, laughing and praising his sneezy retorts, you can get a pretty good volley going back and forth.  The thing about sneeze conversations is that the dog knows they are all about the two of you.  They speak of friendship, telling secrets, joy (dogs sneeze when they are happy) and the private connection you two share.  But no one else has any idea what’s happening.  So Ollie and I would walk down Madison Avenue in the heart of New York City sneezing back and forth and while we did, his tail wagging wildly, I stopped worrying about whether or not my first novel would sell and he stopped focusing on the crowds and the noise.


When I swim, Sky waits at the end of the pool.  She’s fine with this, but after a while, a dog can feel neglected.  So every few laps, I hold up my pointer to her, the hand signal that means “wait.”  Unlike “stay,” wait not only means things will resume momentarily, it also means “I haven’t forgotten you.”  “Wait” warms my dog’s heart.  It’s like a Valentine’s card coming from the pool.

Silent Walking

I yammer at my dog as much as the next guy.  I tell her my plans, I complain, I make up songs and sing them to her and when I have nothing to say but still want to converse, I talk dog to her, a language I make up as I go along, gibberish, that she seems to enjoy because it means I’m sharing my feelings with her.  But a favorite stress buster for both of us is a long, long, quiet walk, me trying as best I can to walk Border collie speed.  We usually do this on the High Line, preferably in bad weather when it’s nearly empty.  There are no streets to cross, no red lights to hold us up and the sounds of the city are muted.  We can see the Hudson River and we’re surrounded by plants and trees, not bad for New York City.  Sometimes we’re uptown for something stressful, like a doctor appointment.  Afterwards, we head for Central Park for a long, fast quiet walk.  It soothes the soul, no matter your species.

A dog may not appear to be stressed.  They’re great at hunkering down and hiding their bad feelings, just the way some of us do.  But you know your own dog.  You know the signs.  Tail tucked, licking his lips, lots of yawning, hiding, licking his paws obsessively, less sparkle in his eyes, whining, plotzing down as if he’s given up all hope of any fun?  Take a walk.  Have a sneeze conversation.  Play a game of Smell it, Find it.  Take him to the dog run.  And be sure, when you’re busy, to give him his “wait” signal so he knows he’s on your mind and fun is just around the corner.


2054A timely reward lets your dog know she did something right, by George, she got it, she learned the lesson, found the hidden object, left the pizza on the sidewalk, took away your pain, made you laugh, stopped on a dime, put the ball into your hand, didn’t annoy the cat, jumped through the hoop, or whatever it was you were hoping she would do.  So what’s a timely reward?

Though my dog will accept verbal praise and or a pat on the head or a scritch on the neck, for her, a timely reward is time. time with me, time when I am not writing a blog or reading the news or eating an apple or talking on the phone, time that’s all hers.  All hers.  And that means a walk, long, fast, with little conversation save the occasional “Go left,” or “Go straight,” or sometimes, just a whispered, “I love you, Sky,” which always gets me a smile, my reward.

Sure, you’ll want to say, “Good dog,” when you toss out a command and your dog obeys.  But the real stuff isn’t food, it isn’t that pat on the head, it’s time.  This is what your dog craves.  This is how the bond between you tightens.  This is putting your money where your mouth is.  And despite the weather, and all the things you need to do, it will not only be the best time of the day for your dog, it will be for you as well.  Always was.  Always will be.

Happy New Year.  Back soon.




Some years ago I was training dogs to work off leash on New York City streets.  Doing this, as opposed to teaching dogs to work off leash in a training center, fenced area or anywhere in the suburbs, I learned something fantastic.  Dogs know exactly how much of your attention is on them and how much isn’t.  I do not use the word exactly lightly.  When you are working someplace where traffic is whizzing by a few feet from where your dog is off leash, you need one hundred percent of your attention on the dog, not ninety-nine percent.  Do you want to window shop? I’d ask my clients.  Fine.  Do so.  But put the leash on first and then unhook it when you are ready to work your dog again. Do you want to ask the trainer a question.  Same rule applies.


Even without cell phones to check, because there were none then, here’s what I saw.  If a client took 11% of his or her attention off the dog, say to glance at me and ask a question, the dog misbehaved 11%.  They didn’t run off.  They just cheated a little.  11% worth.  I don’t have to tell you how astonishing I found this, nor do I have to go through all the numbers.  In fact, I had actually seen something like this with my demo dog Oliver.  People would ask if they could work him.  It was a lot easier and more fun than training their own dog!  With kids I worked with, working Ollie at the end of a good lesson became their reward.  With adults in class, sometimes it was actually useful to let them get the feel of a trained dog and for me to get to work their untrained dog.  How did Oliver react?  He would test whomever held the leash.  He would heel a tiny little bit forward, say 4%, watching them all the time.  If they didn’t tell him, “Heel,” and of course they didn’t, he stopped listening to them 100%.

What’s the point of all this?  Of course, don’t work a dog off leash in New York City if you haven’t taken every single step and precaution to make sure he’s ready for it.  And even then, don’t do it if you are not prepared to give him your full attention.

Full attention.  Something scarce these days.  Go out to eat and you may find half the people in the restaurant scanning their phones.  Be careful crossing the street.  Even drivers who don’t text while driving sometimes text at red lights, rolling forward as they do. Mothers out with their children? Texting.  People out with their pets?  Not paying attention.

Here’s the thing.  When you give one thing your full attention, there’s none left for anything else – unpaid bills, relationships on the brink, work stress, concerns about your health, whatever garbage is floating through your head lots of the time, day and night.  Getting fully involved, let’s say in a little walk with your dog, can be good for your health.  Beyond that, it’s good for your dog, too, and no doubt, he will notice and he’ll be thankful. I’m 100% sure of this.






Someone’s been texting in my bed!

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Alas, I keep reading articles that tell me I shouldn’t hug my dog.  I shouldn’t pet her on her head.  I shouldn’t do this.  I shouldn’t do that.  Hasn’t anyone ever heard of body language?  Don’t people look at anything other than their phones any more?  A dog will tell you what’s OK and what isn’t.  All you have to do is look.

Here’s a true story.  When I went on book tour with Dexter, my first service dog, oh, you all know Dexter…



Well, I would take him off leash the moment we entered a bookstore, all 84 pounds of him.  He’d go right for the audience.  He’d sit in front of the first person and wait.  If they smiled or reached out to pet his big head (his head, OMG), he’d put his front paws on the edge of their chair, one on one side of them, one of the other.  He was big.  He could do that.  And he’d wait again.  If they smiled or touched his warm, broad back, he’d lean forward.  Step by step, waiting each time to see if his advances were welcomed, he’d get closer until he had his front legs resting on the person’s shoulders, his big cheek resting against their cheek.  Me next, me next, people would cry.  And he gave each and everyone a hug, making them all feel I was an excellent writer!

Can’t we do what my old rescue dog did?  The occasional dog might not like a hand reaching over his head.  Some dogs don’t like arms around them.  But many, many do.  Of course, like me, dogs don’t like the feeling of being trapped.  They should always have an out, an option to end the hug.   So, go step by step, until you know for sure what the dog wants.  And if it’s a yes, sure, hug the dog, but with loose arms, gentle arms.  Sure, massage the top of his head.  But only after his body language and his eyes tell you he thinks it’s a good idea, too.

Sheesh, guys, if a dog can figure out how to do this, surely we should be able to figure it out, too.

Drawing of Carol Lea with Flash from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP?

Drawing of Carol Lea with Flash from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP?

the flasher

We’ve always found it funny to imagine dogs thinking and acting like people, but now tests have been performed and at long last scientists are coming up with the same conclusions many of us had come up with long, long ago.

I recently wrote that when I am swimming, if I suddenly don’t feel right, all I have to do is make eye contact with  my service dog, Sky, who is waiting at the end of the pool, and I feel better and can finish my laps.  Now tests have shown that eye contact with your beloved dog causes a flood of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, in both human and dog.  Looking at your dog, petting your dog, snuggling with your dog, these normal activities cause not only a release of oxytocin but of serotonin and endorphins as well, lowering pain and making us feel just wonderful, and happily, making our dogs feel just wonderful, too.

Is it any wonder dogs chose to live with us, back when it was a choice, and that we continue to choose to live with them now?



The first time I looked at an Apple computer, I was so turned off I didn’t consider buying one.  After all, I was a Serious Writer and when I had to delete something, I didn’t like the idea of dragging it to a little picture of a garbage can.  So I struggled on with DOS and all the confusing things that came afterwards, putting up with all the insulting things my computer would flash onto its screen when I put in the wrong command.  Being verbally abused by my computer just became part of my work day.

Now that I can ask Siri to make calls for me, I have been thinking about accommodation, how technology saves me from having to take off my sunglasses and put on my reading glasses when I need to make a call while out with Sky – and more appropriate for this blog, how we accommodate our dogs and make sure their needs are taken care of no matter their age or ours.

When our dogs are very young, they need frequent outings, gentle training, a smart introduction to the human vocabulary that will become one of the many connections they have with their mixed species families.  They need to get used to the human world, to riding in vehicles, ignoring the vacuum cleaner, making peace with the cat.  As they get older, they need enough exercise to keep their muscles strong and help them relax when there’s not much to do, but not so much that they are punched up to an impossible to deliver level.  They need a human who can understand their signs and signals.  They need stimulation, education, affection and time to just be.  And as they age, and as we do, everything gets modified, but just as a good, long walk will help keep our immune systems humming, so it is with them.  Together, at every age, we keep each other a bit healthier, a bit more sane, loads and loads happier.  And those accommodations have been around a lot longer than Siri, even longer than the little trash can icon I use so often on the computer that never, ever verbally abuses me.



Years ago, when Mother Knows Best first came out, one of my clients was looking through the book and when she came to a photograph where there was much to get about dog behavior, about  how to interpret what you see, about how to relate to your dog and understand the way they attempt to relate to us, in a picture that just happened and that I couldn’t get again in a million years, she said, “I have the same boots!”

Long before that, I understood the power of drawing, the way it can focus the eye on what’s important and eliminate what isn’t, like the trainer’s very chic suede boots.  Long before that, I knew I could draw dogs to show what they were feeling, show it in a way far less subtile than their real faces, their real eyes, were apt to show it.  And that sometimes, after seeing the cartoon, pet owners could see that their real dog was feeling sad, mad, glad, or even bewildered, just like the dog I drew.


More and more, I saw that I could shine a light on the behavior of both human and dog by leaving things out of the picture, the cluttered background, the suede boots, even the trainer’s other hand, the one that wasn’t giving the signal I wanted the reader to see.  I could even leave out the trainer altogether, except for his or her voice, and still get the point across.


As important, I wasn’t one of those trainers who made people cry in class or made fun of them as they tried their best to learn what I was teaching – and good for them for wanting to learn something they didn’t know, something that would make sure they could live well and happily with whatever dog they had chosen, something that would make sure that dog would never ever end up in rescue.  Instead, when I wanted to show them a mistake they were making, I could do it in a drawing.  Yes, they’d get the point, but instead of feeling embarrassed and stupid, they’d be laughing when they got it, especially if the dog in the picture was mine and not theirs.  Because what good does it do to pretend you don’t ever have a problem with your dog?  All that does in alienate people.  All that does is show them that you don’t know what it feels like to stand in their shoes.  Better, I always thought, that they should know you’ve been there, where they are, and that whatever it is, it can be fixed.



There are other reasons why I draw.  The drawings do more than make other people learn and smile, they do the same for me. Art (a term I am using very loosely here) changes the brain.  A single drawing, painting or photograph can stick with you forever, shining light where before there was none, making you smile, helping you to relax and get on with it, even if the art is “just” a cartoon.  In fact, I like the idea of pointing the way with drawing so much that I did a whole dog training book that way.  Some of you already know it.  If not, you can get a free sample via iBooks or Kindle, see if it’s your cup of tea, too.  Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing board for me! (Credit for that line entering our vocabulary goes to the cartoonist Peter Arno.)  See you soon!


What do you do when you meet a service dog?  Nothing.  Nada.  Not anything.  Don’t talk to her.  Don’t touch her.  And do not, I repeat, do not stand there staring at her.

springdogs 005

In addition, do not ask her partner what she has.  Do not ask what the dog does for her.  Do not stare at her eyes to see if she’s blind.  Do not talk about the person and the dog in their presence as if they weren’t there unless they can’t hear you, in which case the dog’s cape will say HEARING DOG.  In fact, don’t do it anyway because even if that person can’t hear you, everyone else will and it’s just plain rude.

Do not whistle to the dog, snap your fingers, cluck your tongue.  Do not fall upon the dog as if she’s a sizzling steak and you haven’t eaten in years.  Do not yell at the person or act snarky if you are asked not to touch the dog.  If you really really love dogs so much that you can’t keep your hands off a working dog, go to the shelter and adopt a homeless dog in dire need of a loving home, and pet that dog.

Do not make people angry who have enough problems already, which is why they need a service dog, especially if they write a blog.

Do not, do not, do not presume to know why the person you see with a service dog needs a service dog.  Do not guess some wrong stupid reason why the person has a working dog.  Many legitimate service dogs do work you cannot discern for disabilities you cannot see.

And, finally, unless I need to keep on ranting, do not pretend your dog is a service dog so that you can have him in the plane with you because you stand a good chance of screwing things up for people who cannot get by without help from their legal service dogs.  And you will go straight to Hell in a hand basket, whatever that is.

Thanks for listening. Over and out.



Sometimes you have one idea of how to spend your time and your dog has another.


man with book, dog with ball


What’s a person to do?  First, it’s really great to make note of what the dog wants to do, to understand and encourage his attempts to communicate with you.  But does this mean that you need to do whatever your dog wants to do whenever he makes his feelings known?  Certainly not.  Impossible.  Hardly ever.  OK, maybe sometimes.

It’s wonderful for your dog to know that sometimes when he requests a game, a biscuit, a walk, a snuggle you will drop everything and make his wish come true.  But it’s also important for him to know, as we all must, that at times a dog or a person needs to wait, that instant gratification, though appealing, is not a reasonable expectation 24/7.

Sure, sometimes put down the book and play a little ball with your best friend.  Sure, sometimes say Go lie down, or whatever, when you dog pesters you with his tennis ball for the one hundred and sixth time in a morning.  Communication is a beautiful thing and communication between species is a kind of miracle, but still, your dog should understand that while one hundred and five times is OK, one hundred and six might be pushing his luck.








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