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!

bandh 050

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.







Sometimes I find myself thinking that my previous service dogs did a better job than Sky is doing.  They seemed more aware of when I was in pain and more willing to spend long periods of time pressed against me to chase the pain away.  And then I realize, taking the same fox hole again and again as we humans tend to do, that the reason Sky seems less aware of when I am in pain is that, since she has become my service dog, I am hardly ever in pain.

Having a service dog can work like having a pain patch or those patches that help you to quit smoking or perhaps a morphine drip but one that leaves you alert and able to function well.  The drip drip drip is the dog changing your body chemistry and keeping things humming as well as they can hum considering the fact that you have a chronic illness, whatever illness it may be.  Whether the way I am now is a function of Sky’s magic, the magic all dogs have, or a function of the fact that like any other endeavor, we tend to improve with practice, I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s both.  But over the years, I noticed that the time it takes for the dog to chase away pain has gotten shorter and shorter.  It could be akin to what happens during meditation or bio feedback.  A kind of trust in the method develops and gradually, you no longer need all the steps to get where you are going.  Gradually, you let the dog do what dogs do so well, cause a relaxation effect that allows our bodies to release their good chemistry, the stuff that diminishes the feeling of pain and increases the feeling of well being.

When I am swimming, Sky waits at the foot of the pool.  If suddenly there’s pain, I just have to look at her and the pain goes away.  Sometimes I don’t need to take the same fox hole again.  Sometimes I understand how things work, that all the seeds planted by the service dogs who came before her have blossomed.




The dog who is willing to sit when asked to, alone or with a partner, is a dog who is ready and willing to learn.  In fact, teaching the sit, or better still, the sit stay, is actually the fastest, easiest, best way to teach a dog how to learn.  In the process, he comes to understand that he should look at you when you speak to him, that your words are a signal that he should do something, that he should perform a simple act and that each word has its own meaning, that it will always mean the same thing and that when he does the thing the word implies, you will be very happy.  And since dogs can share emotions with us, he will be happy, too, especially when you express your pleasure by petting him and telling him what a good and brilliant dog he is.

Want to house train?  Teach the sit first.  Want to increase the wonderful bond between you and your dog? Teach the sit and use it when there’s something happy in store, dinner! a walk! a game!  Oh boy. Want a dog who is comfortable gazing into your eyes, a dog who will learn the basics, the rules of a few games, the names of his favorite toys, the messages you send with your eyes?  Sit’s the answer.  It doesn’t matter where…


or with whom.

Flash and baby


A simple sit can be deceiving.  In fact, there’s nothing simple about it at all since it is the beginning of more connection and more understanding than nearly anything else you will say to your dog.  Sit, Sky.  Good girl!



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