One recent guest was Michelle Douglas, the president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). The APDT recently published (www.apdt.com) a position statement on “dominance” in dog training. Here’s an excerpt from the APDT’s statement:
“Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an “Alpha Wolf” that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs are very similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for “dominance.””
The statement goes on to say:
“In fact, the vast majority of dogs and owners have wonderful, mutually-rewarding relationships — even if the dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, eats alongside the owner, and does many other things erroneously labeled ‘dominance.’”
The APDT encourages dog owners to find trainers who subscribe to this philosophy of dog training.
Part of the pleasure of owning a dog is having a playmate. None of my guests has any more fun with his dog than Bob Worley. Bob has a magnificent vintage BMW motorcycle with a gorgeous sidecar. His rescued Golden Retriever, Max, loves to ride in the sidecar. He is known in Texas and California as “Max, the Motorcycle Riding Dog.” Bob and Max make friends everywhere they go, and Bob hands out Max’s personalized “business card,” so their friends can email the digital photographs they take. Bob says, “If I can’t find Max, I know where to look; he’ll be in the garage sitting in the sidecar.” Bob has found a great way to make Max truly happy.
One measure of any relationship is “trust.” Imagine being in a situation where your life depends on your dog doing the right thing. Several of my guests often have to depend on their dogs. Tom Sullivan, a person who is blind, and author of “If You Could See What I Hear,” talks about several close calls, in traffic, when he thought his guide dog, Nelson, had made a mistake. He learned how important it can be to “trust” Nelson, who, of course, is trained to keep Tom out of trouble.
Two other guests on the show, Gordy Leitz and Owen Keefe, are K-9 police officers in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. It’s rare that they get into life-threatening situations, and the last thing they want to do is risk their dogs’ lives, but there have been times when they felt that their personal safety depended on their dog doing the right thing at the right time. Again, these dogs are meticulously trained for exactly these moments.
Being in a “relationship” with your dog means being “connected” to him or her, which sometimes means that the dog calls the shots. Obviously, you have to be the ultimate authority, but dogs appreciate getting to make some decisions, like when to play, which direction to walk, and when to smell the roses.
Ted Kerasote, author of “Merle’s Door,” has a lovely way of letting Merle take charge at times. Ted says, “I take ten minutes to read the morning paper, so why shouldn’t Merle have time to “read the news?” By “reading the news,” Ted means “sniffing the world out there” on their shared morning walk. Sniffing is a dog’s way of experiencing its world — of “reading the news” in its own language. Next time you take your dog for your morning walk, don’t yank on the leash when he or she starts to sniff around. He or she is figuring out who passed by yesterday, what other animals have been around, and what strange odors are wafting through the morning air. You’ll be amazed at how your dog appreciates having time to “read the news.”
Kyra Sundance has as much fun with her dogs as anyone. She makes public appearances with her “stunt dog” team all over the country. Her acrobatic performances are fun to watch, and you can tell that her Weimaraner, Chalcey, is having a terrific time, too, as he jumps through hoops, between Kyra’s legs, and over her back. Kyra has written several books of tricks you can teach your dog, including “101 Dog Tricks” and “51 Puppy Tricks.” Done correctly, teaching your dog tricks can be a terrific way to spend time together. Kyra’s motto, by the way, is “Do more with your dog.”
One of my favorite stories about enjoying life with your dog is Jeff Pokonosky’s tale of swimming the Alcatraz race with his dog Jake, a Labrador retriever. Jeff rescued Jake with the help of the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles. A swimmer, Jeff decided to bring Jake into his world of swim training and racing. After preparing for months and pulling a few strings, Jeff entered himself and Jake in the Alcatraz race, a swim from famous Alcatraz Island to the California mainland near San Francisco.
When the race started, a few swimmers passed Jake and Jeff, and Jake, not wanting to be passed, shifted into high gear. Jeff had to grab Jake by the tail and leg to hold him back so he wouldn’t “burn out.” Jeff and Jake finished in the first 20% of swimmers, and Jeff got a thrill out of hearing all the other racers, when they finished, ask, “Did I beat the dog?”
Few people have worked as hard at putting themselves into “the mind of a dog” than Dean Koontz. Dean has published hundreds of books, and he often writes dogs, as characters, into his stories. He has also “ghost written” several books for his Golden Retriever, Trixie. As a guest on the “My Doggie Says…” show, Dean said, “If you have a dog and you treat it, not as a pet, but as a companion, it’s amazing what is going to happen in that relationship.”
Dean goes on to say, “I used to walk Trixie past places I had lived by for years. She would be interested in things I thought were mundane — not just scents, but also sights. She helped me ‘slow down’ and see the magic in things that had become ordinary for me. When you let your dog into your heart that way, it’s amazing the relationship that can develop.”
A keystone of my very close relationship with Callie, my Golden Retriever, is our daily soccer game. When Callie first arrived at my house, at eight weeks old, she saw an under-inflated soccer ball in the back yard, and she crouched down behind the ball in a clear invitation for me to play with her. I kicked the ball, and Callie trapped it under her tummy. Now, Callie has graduated to doing “nosers” — “bonking” the ball off the end of her nose so that it shoots across the yard like a bullet. Callie invites me to play soccer every day — by gazing in my eyes, walking toward the door, and looking back over her shoulder to make sure I’m following. My soccer with Callie was her creation — her idea and her invitation every day. I can see in her eyes how much it means to her, and I feel terribly guilty if I ever have to say, “No, Callie, I can’t play right now.”
You will enjoy your dog much more if you work at building a closer relationship with it. Focus on the “dog bonding” concept, and look for ways to tune into your dog, get into a give-and-take relationship with it, and help it fulfill its doggie personality.
Every week, the “My Doggie Says…” show closes with the following reminder: “Pay attention to your dog; listen to what it’s saying; do something about it and remember Jamie’s* First Rule for a Good Life: ‘Don’t bark if a wuuf will do the job!”
* The heroine of the book “My Doggie Says… Messages from Jamie.”