Scores in Obedience Trials may judge trainability, but not necessarily intelligence.

Once upon a time, I worked with a very special Doberman whose owner wanted him to get a Register of Merit but did not want to do the training himself.  Though I tried to get the owner involved, I failed, and for a time, the dog lived with me so that I could work with him every day without all the driving to and from his owner’s house.  I loved that dog.  And he loved me.  Though he was eight, he learned quickly, enjoyed the training and the games that became his praise for a good lesson.  He even got that part, that working well led to fun and games, games he never got to play at home.

I took him to the obedience classes I was teaching at the local community college and he worked for everyone in the class.  He (finally) learned to play with my female dog despite the fact that she wasn’t a Doberman.  And he slept in my bed.  Had he been up for grabs, I would have grabbed.  He was a fine animal.  And very smart.

Does smart mean he aced the obedience trial with his neglectful owner who barely had the time for me to show him the routine he’d have to do?  Nope.  Smart meant he did not want to work with someone who kenneled him a great deal of the time, who never played with him and who couldn’t be bothered to do any of the training himself.  Smart meant that on a hot day, instead of heeling, coming when called, doing a sit stay, he jumped the low barricade surrounding the ring and found a nice shady spot under a tree – and there he did his down stay.

In order to judge the intelligence of a dog, you have to know what matters to dogs, what work that breed was bred to do, what inborn skills the dog inherited. For all of us, dogs and humans alike, the bottom line is always survival, and while our take on that differs somewhat from that of dogs, not understanding that leads to poor judgment on which dog really is the smartest dog of all – because, as most of you know, it all depends on what matters to the creature being tested.

So unless you understand the character, breed traits and individual personality of a dog whose intelligence you want to assess, don’t toss a towel over the dog’s head and think the faster he gets it off, the smarter he is.  My dog Dexter, finding his head under a towel, would have taken a nap.  My dog Sky, on the other hand, might keep the towel in place because we are a team and I, her teammate, asked her to hang around with a towel on her head.  And so forth.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  I won’t put a towel on your head!


I am often told, as I go places with my dog, that Border Collies are the smartest dogs of all. Silly people.  If I wanted to retrieve a downed bird, I’d get a Lab.  If I wanted to save drowning people, I’d get a Newfie.  If I wanted to hunt rabbits, I’d get a Beagle.  And if I wanted the best dog in the world, I’d knock on your door and ask if I could have yours.





When she goes to a Memorial Service.  With a heavy heart, I walked into the chapel for my oldest friend’s Memorial Service and looking at the faces of the other people who had arrived early, I told Sky, my service dog, she could kiss and comfort anyone who needed her.  And so she did, understanding the precise meaning of what I had said, she slipped under the hands of one, put her paws on the lap of another, poked here, kissed there, lying down quietly in between.  Some reached out for her.  Some were surprised and then pleased when she elected on her own to offer comfort.  When friends and family spoke, sharing stories about my dear friend, Nini, there was applause as each finished and Sky barked along with the clapping.  Everything she did, including that, seemed appropriate, even kind, including the way she curled herself onto my lap for the long ride home.

I never needed a study to tell me that dogs feel emotions deeply, that they think, make decisions, are capable of kindness.  I’m sure you feel the same way.  I love you, Nini.  I always will.


Yes, yes, yes, of course your dog is the most beautiful dog ever born.  No one would deny it.  But what about the dogs you don’t know, the ones you see in the park, on the sidewalk, in the bank and sometimes on the bus or in a museum?  What makes those dogs beautiful?  What makes strangers make a point of saying so, of stopping and gazing with admiring eyes?  Could be genetics.  Beautiful mom, beautiful dad.  Could be grooming, a shining coat with no tangles.  Could be coat color or even coat length, some people have a dog in their heart that looks like Lassie, after all.  Or it could be, hold your hats, behavior.

No one ever told me my handsome dog Flash was beautiful when he was stressed or overly excited and pulling me down the street.  (Yeah, yeah, we were going too fast for comments, but it was more than that.)


No one ever told anyone with a snarling dog, a cowering dog, a leaping up on people dog, a dog choking against his collar, a dog scarfing up pizza off the sidewalk, a dog whining, a dog snarking, a dog who had an itch when you called him to come, a dog running away when you called him to come, no one every said THAT dog was beautiful.  But the calm dog, the dog walking happily at your side, the dog waiting on her towel at the end of the pool…


Sky at Chelsea Piers

the dog sitting next to the Picasso until you get the shot you want…


those are the dogs you will be told are beautiful.  The dog who gazes lovingly into your eyes, the dog who brings back the ball you throw, the dog who doesn’t pull, who has some self control, whose eyes shine with intelligence and humor because he’s got some education under his collar, the dog who’s fit because he’s well exercised, the dog whose coat gleams because he is given wholesome meals, that dog is beautiful.  He needn’t have taken his breed (if he has one) or cost a fortune.  He could be a rescue, a mix, a dog you found in an alley and took home to find him a person of his own and then, as luck would have it, it turned out to be you.  That dog can be beautiful.  And often is.


It takes more than love.  It takes education, exercise, respect, a humane outlook, good food, a shared sense of play, time spent together and yes, love, the deep abiding forever kind.

Dog training, you can see it emerge on the first lesson, when the leaping, pulling maniac gets that light in his eyes, Ah, I get it, and his breathing changes and his life changes and the beginning of beautiful has arrived.

Dear Peeps,

Some of you expressed disappointment at not finding a drawing to adopt and just recently, I started to reorganize my office (more on this in a minute) and found a few more drawings to offer for sale.  The office reorganization is because I want to start drawing larger.  And then larger still.  All these drawings were done to size (more or less) for books.  They have all been previously published and some of you will even recognize some of them from the books they were published in.  Two of the drawings even have pasted on corrections (a tiny one on the bull terrier in bed and a large one on angel/devil – but that one is so adorable that even with the paste up and a wrinkle, I thought someone would want it.) As usual, message me on FB to reserve the drawing you want.  I will send you my address.  When I get your check and the address where I should send the drawing, I will send it along for you to frame and hang and love. The watercolor wash is pale – enhanced by the scan but not that dark.  I am keeping the sale price for these since I love you guys and I love that my drawings are now living among you, all over the country.  And I love the notes you send me which make my heart so glad.  So, $310.  All drawings are originals, not prints.  They are all pen and ink with watercolor wash.  Sizes range from 4 x 4 – the terrier sitting, to 5 1/2 by 7 – the dog about to break his piggy bank.  Price includes postage and packing. Each drawing comes with a present.  You can’t get a better deal than this!


dogsmoking 2terrier:sit

fetch1swimmingPiggy Bank


goldensitbullterrier in bedangel:devil

Friends come to visit and need to whoop up the dogs because that’s how they feel loved.  Look how excited they are to see us!!!  Good for them, bad for the dogs.

Someone who cannot control his young Rottweiler, even with a pinch collar, gets upset and yells at me because I hold up my hand like a stop sign, No, don’t bring your dog into my dog’s face.  Good for no one, this man who should not have gotten a Rottweiler.

People wait until the service dog’s human partner is swimming, in the shower, looking the other way or in the case of someone who is blind, at any old time, and handle the dog.  Or call the dog.  Or crouch in front of the dog, talking like a squeaky toy.  Not good, not good at all.

The thing is, sometimes it’s not about you.  Sometimes it’s about the dog.   So many people forget the dog part of the equation.  They never think, What does the dog need?  What is good for the dog?  What is that dog doing, that dog I want to distract so that it will give me me me some love? Or why on earth is there a dog at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Louvre (for godssake!), this restaurant, my gym, the Post Office?  Why is that dog on the bus?  Nope.  They don’t ask themselves any of those questions.

Sometimes it’s about the baby crying on the plane.  Bad luck that it annoys you, but the baby is in distress.  Sometimes it’s about the man in the wheelchair for whom you have to give up that front seat in the bus, the one that folds up, the one where the chair fits.  Sometimes it’s about the person coming right behind you, you know, the one you let the door slam on instead of holding it.  How much in a rush are you?  Sometimes it’s about the dog, enjoying a walk, sniffing things, feeling the wind in his fur, thinking his own doggy thoughts.  Does he need you to block his path and squeal at him?  Does the working dog need to have his train of thought interrupted?  Does the dog who is happy to greet you at the door need also to leap and bark and be hysterical because you dropped by?

Sometimes, oh, the humanity, it’s not about you.







OK, only kidding about the going out of business part, but not the sale part.

As per your requests, here are some drawings for sale, priced to leave here and have forever homes with you and yours. If you want one, please message me via FB and I will reserve the drawing for you and send you my address for payment.  Drawings will all be signed and the black and white one will be colorized.  You know, like old movies.  Colors are muted, not as bright as the scans made them.  Drawings have all been previously published, are smallish and look lovely matted and framed.  Sale price: $310 except This is America which is $290.

I Can Do It, 5 x 4 pen and ink with watercolor wash


Great Minds Think Alike, 5 x 7, pen and ink with watercolor wash  SOLD

dog juggling


Fetch!  two part drawing, can be framed separately or together, 4 x 4.5, pen and ink with watercolor wash

dog w ball

Dexter doing math!!!  6 x 7, you know the drill by now  SOLD

e=mc2 2

A Few Simple Rules, 6 x 4, very cute   SOLD

Can do

and last but not least, This is America, 4 x 3 1/2, will be in color  SOLD

thisisamerica 1

highlinewSky 004

Why a sit stay on a bench?  Because you can practice not only SIT and STAY but UP and OFF.  You can teach UNDER when there’s a bench around, LEFT and RIGHT when there’s a fork in the road, UP and UP and WAIT when there’s a picnic table (with no one eating there!)  Low fences are perfect for jumping games.  Your own self for GO AROUND.

Most of my walks with Sky are silent, if you don’t count the noise of the city!  But sometimes a walk can be an agility challenge, brain work, time for new words, time to practice known skills.  Today we used everything we found, a picnic table, a bench, a little park for some off leash retrieving.  Going down the stairs from the High Line, I stopped many times and to make sure Sky would stop, too, for our safety.  OK, for my safety.  She did and I thanked her.  Just before turning the corner to head to the entrance to our building, I had her loose in the park that sits between our home and the sidewalk and, as luck sometimes has it, she found a tennis ball so we incorporated that into our fun/educational walk.

I love our quiet walks, walks when I often let Sky choose the way.  And so does Sky.  I also love walks like today’s when we make everything we see part of a game.  And so does Sky.  Almost immediately, she began to use the environment, too, and so I didn’t have to tell her to leap up and up and down and down every time we passed a picnic table and when we got to the first little park, she turned to look at me, her mouth open in a grin, pulled me just inside the gate and stopped so that I could unhook her leash.

It’s fun for a dog to break from comforting routines to test herself, to practice what she knows, to learn new words and skills, to earn a great big smile for her brilliance.

Good dog, Sky.




As always, thanks for stopping by.




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?





It happens every year.  When the holidays approach, more people want to pet my service dog.  Perhaps it’s the light shining from her eyes that blinds them to the notice on her cape which says, Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working.  Or perhaps they are too busy to wonder why she’s in a place where there are no dogs allowed.  You may spend your Christmas season shopping, singing carols, opening gifts.  I spend mine batting hands away from my dog and informing strangers that she’s working. That’s when I get the look, or the comment.  Both say the same.  Working? But she’s just (standing, lying, sitting) there.  I don’t get it.

Indeed. Because when some service dogs work, it’s what lies beneath that counts.  What lies beneath is a silent conversation, the dog’s understanding of where something is off and the gentle, miraculous way that dogs and people improve each other’s chemistry. What lies beneath is a connection that thrives without words and that helps maintain the ancient contract between humans and dogs: We will each do whatever we can for the survival, safety and health of both our species.


Happy Holidays, dear readers.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP? by Carol Lea Benjamin and C. Denise Wall

Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP? by Carol Lea Benjamin and C. Denise Wall

The time is always now, I told her.  The present, that’s all we have.  She turned and looked at me and then her attention went back to the road ahead of us, to the plants at the side of the path, to winding her way through the other walkers, to taking me where we both wanted to go.  To here.  To now.

But she’s always known that.  It isn’t she who needs a reminder.  It is I.  For I am only  a human.  She, after all, is a dog, so she lives in the moment.  She doesn’t rue the past.  She doesn’t plan the future.  She just is.  And I would like, no, I would love to be more like her.  And sometimes, when I am in her company, I am.  I get totally swept up in the small, beautiful, fragrant, colorful, peaceful now.

The elegance of dogs, it’s just astonishing.