Archives for posts with tag: Dog Smart

Every good dog needs an education, not just the teaching of basic commands, but enough of an understanding about the ways of the human world they share with us to make appropriate decisions when circumstances require them to do so.

As many dogs do not.


Will your dog learn not to cross the street when cars are coming?  Probably not, but she definitely can learn to wait at the corner or the curb or whatever you have to separate pedestrians from traffic.  Will your dog learn the command “Use your inside voice”?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But she can discern the difference between letting her hair down at home, so to speak, and manners befitting an outdoor cafe, a trip to the hardware store, a walk through a street fair.  How will she learn these things?  With education that is not robotic.  With education that encourages, even requires her to think and make decisions and to do so mostly for the pleasure of getting it right.  And by allowing her to figure things out when she is ready to do so.

When I take a service dog in training, meaning in my case, a puppy, to a restaurant, I do not ask her to sit or lie down next to the chair I am sitting on or under the table.  I usually tell the pup, this is your space for now, and proceed to converse with both the waiter and my companion.  Of course I do not ignore the pup.  I always watch her out of the corner of my eye.  At first, the pup will stand there.  What?  What!  What…  And then the pup, observing that I am happy to be where I am, will relax and either sit, fine with me, or lie down, also fine with me.  If you are lucky enough to be training a pup when you have an older, trained dog, the pup will merely copy the older dog.  Oh, he’s relaxed.  I think I’ll lie down, too.  Either way, the pup has made a sensible decision, and aside from perhaps an ear scritch, needs nothing from you.  Why not give a treat, say?  Because the emphasis is on the rightness, the comfort, the calmness, the satisfaction, the safety of making a carefully thought out, appropriate, sensible decision.  And the beginning of making good decisions when you are not around to give you opinion or a reward.

Are you teaching your pup to heel?  Good for you.  When you say the command, eventually your dog will fall in at your side.  But the dog who has been allowed to make sensible decisions will also fall in at your side when you are walking in a crowd. And like a service dog who often will help other people when that’s an appropriate thing to do (yes, it is appropriate sometimes), your dog may begin to decide when there’s something she can do without being asked.  She may get close to you or someone else who is feeling bad or sad.  She may put herself between you and something causing you to be stressed.  She may even bring a toy or ball when you are the one who needs to play.  She may pull you into the park, but not into the street.  She may – but don’t count on it – make the sensible but heart wrenching decision not to steal the defrosting roast.  Yeah, well, maybe that’s more sensible than we can count on.  But still.

As always, thanks for stopping by.  It was the sensible thing to do!





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.







La Paz


When training your dog, increase his ability to think, his confidence, your pride.  As he learns new commands, begin to string them together and see what happens.

Wait, Take it, Come, Out



As you admire your teaching ability and his learning, don’t forget that he knows things you don’t.  Be sure to observe him when he’s outside, when he’s meeting new people, when he’s interacting with other dogs.  Note what he does when you’re happy, when you’re feeling ill, when you plan to leave the house with him, or God forbid, without him.  Figure out what he thinks is funny so that you get it when he cracks a joke.  Take him seriously, too.  He’s so much smarter than you think!

Need more hints?  Here they are:






Years ago, when I was writing the Rachel and Dash mysteries, I attended at a Private Eye Writers convention in St. Louis with my first service dog, Dexter.

DexterOn the third day of the convention, someone came up to me to tell me that Dexter was the best trained dog she’d ever seen.  I thanked her for her kind remark and then told her that I hadn’t asked him to do anything since I’d left home.  I hadn’t told him how to behave in the airport or where to lie down on the plane.  I hadn’t told him to kiss everyone who came to talk to us to make them think I was a great writer.  I hadn’t told him what to do when I was on a panel or how to behave at meals.  Dexter made his own decisions and this was fine with me because he always made appropriate ones.  He was the smartest dog I ever met about being a dog.  He knew how to get along with others, humans he didn’t know and dogs who were too fearful to even look at him.  The first time he walked into a hotel, he stopped in the lobby, glanced around and had the whole thing down cold.  He happily moved from hotel to hotel with me on book tour, schmoozed up the audiences to help sell books and even did some tricks on TV when we were in Phoenix and discovered that the host of the show had not read my book and had no idea it was a mystery.  Dog?  Dog tricks!  OK, you got it.  Smart dog?  Smart dog.

Now that my partner is a Border Collie, I hear this just about every day:  That’s the smartest breed, isn’t it?


How should I answer?

Should I say, as I sometimes do, it depends what you’re after, that if I were hunting rabbits, I’d sooner take a Beagle along.  Or that if I needed to protect some sheep, rather than move them, I’d want an Akbash.  Should I say that hybrid vigor makes mixed breed dogs smarter?  (Some yes, some no.) Or should I say that what’s really important is that you can work with your dog in a way that increases his intelligence, that takes him from wherever he is and helps him to learn language, solve problems, crack jokes, understand and be understood.  Should I say that if it’s the Tibetan Terrier or the Lab or the Dachshund or the Newfoundland that makes your heart beat faster, so be it.  You can make that dog, the one you love, the one you have, into a smarter, more fun companion.

And, no, you probably don’t want a Border Collie unless you have a real job for her to do.

What’s the smartest breed?  All the ones I’ve ever had because when someone asks me how long it took to train my dog, I think, Why stop?  Why not show her shapes with my hands and send her to find something to match the shape?  Why not make the sound one of her toys makes and send her to find it and make that same sound?  Why not satisfy everything a dog needs, mind, body and spirit alike? Why stop at a PhD when you can do post doctoral work?

Of course, when I’m in a rush and someone says, a Border Collie, the smartest breed, I just smile and say, She’s pretty smart.  And that’s true, too.



When you are out and about, exercising your dog’s  body, don’t forget about his mind.  Dogs love to learn new things, figure things out, crack jokes, discover ways to do things on their own.

When I pass an outdoor, open staircase, I go around behind it, put Sky’s duck on the highest step I can reach and tell her “Find it.”  The first time I did that, she had to figure out how to get to the duck, assessing the “puzzle” and seeing that she needed to go around to the front of the stairs and run up as high as the duck, snag it and return.  And so she did.

You can put your foot on a low barrier and ask your dog to jump over your leg.  Or go under it.  Help your dog get the idea quickly by tossing a ball over your leg or rolling it underneath.  This game can be done at home on rainy day,s like today, when you don’t want to stay out too long and it can be played with as many dogs as you have.  In fact, while playing, the dogs will have to learn to wait their turn, more good brain work.

Does your dog know a variety of commands?  Excellent.  Now add a hand signal to each, using voice and hand together until your dog will folllow the hand signal alone.  Don’t fret if you don’t know the hand signal for “speak,” let’s say.  As long as you are consistent, you can make one up.  I tap thumb and forefinger together which looks like a little barking mouth, at least to me.

Got the hand signals down pat?  Now whistle a tune for each command.  It won’t matter what tune says “sit,” as long as it’s always the same one.  Ours is the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.  We get a lot of laughs that way, but I wouldn’t use one that long for an emergency command.

You can teach your dog to fall over “dead” when you point a finger at him and say “bang.”  You can teach him to bring a tissue when you sneeze.  You can have him make circles around you as you walk forward.  It doesn’t matter what you teach, it only matters that you teach.  A little brain work every day can go a long way toward having a smarter dog.

More ideas, you guessed it, in Dog Smart, The Art of Training Your Dog, available wherever ebook are sold.  And if you love it, please post a review wherever you bought it to help other dog lovers find it and enjoy it, too.  Much appreciated!

Drawings have a way of getting to the heart of the matter while at the same time, going straight to the reader’s heart.  With a few simple lines, a hint of color and a minimal amount of words, Dog Smart, The Art of Training Your Dog, combines humane, effective dog training with a comic-graphic format that is laugh-out-loud funny, easy-to-use and impossible-to-forget.  With a strong emphasis on good communication as the key to a great relationship between you and your dog, Dog Smart teaches you how to teach your dog to come, sit, stay, lie down, wait, back up, find hidden objects, fetch a tissue when you sneeze, ignore the pizza lying on the sidewalk and much, much more.  You will learn how to prevent and, if necessary, put an end to naughy behavior, make walks more fun for both of you and even how to reinforce good training and teach your dog the meaning of dozens of words while playing fun games.

Dog Smart can help you become the smartest partner a dog could ever have and will help your dog to become the smart dog you deserve.

Available at iTunes, Kindle and Nook for only $4.99.

Even if you never want to take a picture of your dog standing next to a Picasso sculpture, or let him run loose in a dewy meadow when dawn is breaking, or have him play fetch on an uncrowded city sidewalk, you still want him to come when called.  Because even if you never plan to take the risk of having your dog off leash in the wider world away from your home and yard, one day someone may leave the door open.  One day, the leash may slip out of your hand.  One day, he will be loose in the world.  And what then!

So let’s agree to agree that every dog needs to learn how to respond quickly and cheerfully to the word, “come,” no matter what language you say it in.

And let’s also agree that your dog needs to learn a few more words as well.  In fact, let’s agree that the larger your dog’s vocabulary, the safer he will be, the more interesting he will be and the brighter he will be.  There’s no reason not to teach a dog as much as you can and every reason to do just that.

Let’s begin.

Go potty on command.  The choice of language is yours.  We use “Smoke,” as in “Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.”  A bit retro, but a good command.  Even if they don’t travel by train or go on vacation with you, most dogs will have some times in their lives where the place you walk them doesn’t look – or smell – just right.  A “command” to go potty can be a great relief to both of you.  It says, this may not look like the place, but, trust me, it is.

Sit:  Put your butt on the ground.

Stay:  As you are until you hear otherwise.

Come:  I need you as fast as you can get here.

Down:  Lie down.

Wait:  We’ll get going in just a sec or two.

Out:  Kindly drop what’s in your mouth.

Heel or Walk Nice:  Walk at my side without pulling.

Take it:  Take what’s in my hand or what I just threw.  When it’s something thrown, bringing it back is implied.

Up:  Jump onto something.

Over:  Jump over something.

Under:  Go under something.

Roll it:  A nice alternative to fetching a ball and bringing it to hand.  In this case, the dog rolls it back to you.

Find it:  The basis of many a fun game.

No and OK:  Said calmly, the easiest way to let your dog he’s doing something he shouldn’t be doing, like molesting the cat, or doing something you approve of, like being gentle with a child.

Catch: Catch what I toss.

Good dog:  Mmmmm, mmm, mmm.  You are swell.  Or you just did a good job.  Or I love you to the moon and back.

This is pretty basic and you no doubt have many more words you have taught your dog.  If you like, send some along for a second blog.

No matter what other words you teach your dog – for instance, the name of all his toys – teaching vocabulary will increase his ability to focus, will speed the rate at which he learns and will make him much more fun to play with.  If you are interested in some fresh, new ways to think about communicating with your dog – because there is “vocabulary” beyond words – or some fun ways to teach words without spending any more time than you already do, try my new graphic ebook, available for the iPad, Kindle and Nook.  The feedback is good, so I think you’ll love it, too.

Here’s a story.  Years ago, my neighbor, Betty, who was 89 or 90 at the time, could no longer get out on her own and had more or less stopped talking.  So I did what I  hoped would cheer her up.  I brought my dog, Dexter, to visit her.  Betty didn’t have a dog of her own, but she loved dogs and when Dexter and I dropped by, she seemed very pleased.  Sometimes he’d get into bed with her and with Animal Planet on the TV, it was perfect just to sit by and watch Betty feeling good.  But the most interesting thing that happened was when Dexter helped Betty to walk.  And how he did this is anyone’s guess.

With a lot of help from the nurse, Betty got to the living room.  It was a very wide room, the dining room table on one end and couches and chairs on the other.  The more Betty could be inspired to walk, the better, but it was difficult for her and she didn’t want to do it.  The first time we were there at walking time, Dexter stood in front of Betty and walked slowly from one end of the room to the other, turning frequently to make sure Betty was following him.  And following she was.  There was no other encouragement needed, no cajoling, no promise of cookies afterwards, no nothing.  When Dexter got as far as he could go, he stood aside for Betty and then got in front of her again and walked back in the opposite direction, turning, turning, turning to make sure Betty was following along behind him.  It was difficult to get Betty to go back and forth once, but with Dexter leading the way, there was no stopping her.

How did Dexter know what to do?  How unusual was his behavior?

Here’s another story.  I met two friends who were visiting New York City at the Circle Line dock and we had to walk several blocks to a restaurant for lunch.  Both friends were blind and were being led by their guide dogs but they didn’t know the city and neither did their dogs.  The husband suggested I go ahead and lead the way.  The guide dogs, he told me, were trained to follow a “lead dog.”  So Flash, who was my service dog at that time, and I walked ahead, turning back to make sure that my friends were keeping up.  Every time we stopped, the husband would tell his dogs “follow” to get us started again.  And from the very first time, Flash got the drill.  He didn’t wait for me to start out.  When he heard “follow,” he led the way, turning, turning, turning, to make sure the two Goldens were keeping up.

We communicate with our dogs by asking them to come and sit and lie down, to drop the sock, to take the ball, to stop barking or give us a kiss.  And we communicate with our hands, softly petting them, with our body language, and with our eyes, telling them which fork in the road to take or that we love them to the moon and back.  We communicate, as they do, with our breathing patterns which tell them we are pleased, we are in pain, we are scared, we are sleeping.  And we communicate in more mysterious ways as well, some of which we don’t, at the present time, fully understand.

Communication is the key.  It’s everything.  It’s what makes a pet dog the best companion ever.  It’s what makes a service dog know what to do and when to do it.  It’s what makes the bomb dog find the bomb and the search and rescue dog find the missing child.  It’s you being open to your dog and your dog being open to you and it goes way beyond, “Here, boy, come!”

My new graphic book, Dog Smart, The Art of Training Your Dog, is all about communication, how your dog does it, how you can do it most effectively, how it works in training, in playing games, in teaching tricks and in living the best life ever with the dog you both love and understand.  You might think this book is worth it’s weight in gold.  But, in fact, it has no weight.  It’s an eBook.  And though it might be worth a fortune, it only costs five bucks.  Well, $4.99 to be exact.  Why a book all in pictures?  Because one picture is worth more than one thousand words and reads much, much faster.  Now that’s communication.

If  you need a service dog whose job will be to react to something happening in your body – pain, low blood sugar, an oncoming seizure, a coronary “event,” the inability to move – it works well if you are able to train the dog yourself.  After all, how would a healthy person get the job done?  What would the dog learn to react to?

The best way to help the dog to understand what her job will be is to start with a young pup and have her with you 24/7.  When I brought Sky home from the North Carolina farm where she was born, I kept her with me as much as I could.  I had applied for her credentials before I even brought her home so that I could start taking her on the bus, to restaurants, into stores etc right away, getting her used to all the places she’d have to go with me when the job became hers and getting her used to our partnership which tapped into her natural mindset – the pack takes care of its members.  Thus, she began to wear a service dog cape, at least part time, when she had yet to grow into it and into her future job.

Starting early lets the dog become accostomed to new things at the age when that’s easy.  I keep things as unstressful as possible during the fear period, approximately 8 to 10 weeks of age.  But if you watch your dog, you will see when she can handle change and when she can’t.  I had no problem picking up my puppy when something overwhelmed her.  I’d carry her inside my jacket, the way her breeder, Denise Wall, had done down on the farm.  Denise called it coat cuddling and knew that for the two dogs flying to their new homes, it would be a great help in the airport.  And it was.  But it also helped when Sky saw her first New York City dogs, two dachshunds wearing coats.  She turned around and asked to be picked up.  She loved the dogs on the farm and Flash, the dog she came to live with, but dogs in outfits?  Not so much.  Of course, over time, that changed.  All the things we practiced when she was young became easy, became second nature.  In a short time, she would ride the bus, lie down near the table in a restaurant, navigate the Eileen Fisher store on Fifth Avenue, wait on line at the bank, all as a normal part of her day.

Also normal was that we were together a great deal of the time and so we came to feel each other’s moods.  That is the beginning of a dog knowing when something’s wrong, or, more miraculously, knowing before something goes wrong.  So starting with a pup and patiently helping her to know that when she notices that you are not well that this is indeed her job is one way to begin training your own service dog.

For basic obedience and beyond (good manners, games, problem prevention, even a few well chosen tricks), my new ebook will do the trick for you.  Here’s some great news:  my friend, Maxine, downloaded the free Kindle app and then bought the book and downloaded it, in full color, onto her computer.  Then, opening her black and white Kindle, she found the book there in black and white.  You can’t download directly to a black and white Kindle, but you can get it on your b & white by first downloading the free app and then the book to your computer.  Dog Smart will give you all the basics.  If things are going well and you need the specifics of training your own service dog, that can be gleaned from the memoir I wrote with Denise, Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?  It’s the story of how her dog, May, learned her place and her job on the sheepfarm where the pups were born.  And it’s the story of how Sky learned to be a service dog.  Everything you need, in just two books.  Ain’t life grand!


When I was fifteen and got my first summer job, relief switchboard operator at the Ocean Breeze Hotel, I began to smoke so that I would look and feel older and could hang out with all those cute busboys.  Now when I want to feel older, I can just look in the mirror, or better yet, I can walk over to the Apple store on West 14th Street where little kids if 7 or 8 are doing things on iPads I don’t know how to do and where even the people who work there look like little kids to me.

But not so fast with the age thing!  Sitting and waiting for my husband who had schlepped his desktop computer to the Genius Bar today, I found myself smiling.  Sure, part of it was that Sky was waiting with me, sitting up on the window sill and offering kisses.  But the other part was that my new book, Dog Smart, is available on the iPad.  Me, my writing, my drawing, on the iPad.  It made me almost burst into song.