Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog has dreams. I live in the here and now. She dreams of snow, I just enjoy it when it happens. I had no idea that a dog could “yearn” but she does.

Don’t accuse me of projecting my feelings onto my dog. I don’t. I’ve watched her. She has a hole in the yard which is on the north side of the fence and in the shade of the lilac hedge. It’s the last place snow melts. She has dug it to be almost a foot deep. When it snows, she shovels snow into it. She lays in it, not realizing her body heat makes the snow melt.

The moment snow starts to fall, Bear knows it and wants OUT. She just stands in it until she’s sure it’s happening. Sometimes (depending on the time of day) we go for a walk in the falling snow. In Bear’s world, falling snow isn’t silent and it has a particularly sweet aroma.

In summer, that spot is her favorite spot in the yard. It’s where she dreams of snow.  

“A few more months, Bear.”
“I’ll wait here.”
“That won’t work, sweetheart. Come in and get a cookie.”

Training Dogs

Since I got my first real dog (real meaning I was an adult and I got to keep it for its whole life!), Truffleupagus, in 1987, I’ve had something like 26 dogs — not all at once, though.


Truffle and me, 1988

Truffle and me

Dog training is a skill, and I didn’t always have it. Now, I have a pretty good idea of what’s involved when I get a new dog. I’ve learned that sometimes I need expert help, and twice I have sent my dogs to “boarding school.” One of them was Dusty T.  (T for “traumatized”) Dog, the other was the beautiful wild thing, Cheyennie T. Wolf, a smart, willful, humorous three-year-old Siberian husky who’d lived in a backyard all her ilfe.

I have never trained a dog to do anything fancy like agility or even go precisely through movements of a dog show. My dogs have all been taught to be companions in the house, to go on hikes and walks, and to have decent manners with my friends. They’ve been trained to be nice to children and (mostly) not jump up on people, something that’s necessary when you have big dogs.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Different breeds have different needs. Sometimes the things they have been bred for are at odds with what humans need. Dogs like Siberian Huskies have been bred for centuries to do specific things that aren’t always in line with human expectations (unless you live in Siberia, have a dog team and need furry babysitters). Breeds like golden retrievers, Aussies, Labs (and Bear) watch and observe you to see what you would like and then do it. Study up on your dog’s breed and tailor your training to that. Here’s the list from the American Kennel Club.

I have not had terriers, non-sporting dogs or toy dogs, but I’ve had herding dogs, sporting dogs, a hound (beagle), working dogs (huskies) and now I have a mutt (Doberman/Lab and a livestock guardian dog (Akbash). They present different challenges in training. Some of the easiest dogs to train are mutts, dogs whose ancestry is a mystery.

  1. Walk your dog and if you can’t, get a breed that doesn’t need to be walked. Cesar Milan is right that walking a dog establishes a bond between the dog and the owner AND it tells the dog who the pack leader is. I believe in leashes, but not everyone does. Some dogs (like Dusty) can actually be trained to stay beside you and in your control when they are off leash, but this training takes time. Leashes help keep your dogs safe.

    Leash training can be difficult or easy depending on the breed, age of dog and the amount of patience you have. Ideally, you’ll have a golden retriever puppy who will arrive at your house and hand you a leash (ha ha).

    I took Truffleupagus to school so I could learn how to train her. The school used choke collars. The way a choke collar works is when the puppy pulls, you pull directly up on the choke collar. This is supposed to communicate to the puppy that you don’t like what it’s doing. For this to actually happen the collar has to be on properly and the person has to be attentive and demanding. Honestly, they never worked for me with Truffle or any other dog. But the IDEA is sound.

    In the meantime, other devices were invented. Because I’m a little person with big dogs, I use a Halti brand of gentle leader. These are very useful. For training, the dog is stopped in a body-part it understands; its nose. For just walking a dog who is not a champion on-leash heeling hero (such as Dusty T. Dog) the Halti prevents the dog from pulling (except maybe in extreme situations like a C-A-T or something).

    How you train your dog depends on you. Bear is a breed who cannot go off leash ever. This kind of messes with her instincts (which are also why she can’t go off leash). She wants to track, guard, protect and what that means on a walk is if she smells something she must find it or I am in danger. Dogs like Bear wander the hills with their sheep all on their own for days. Bear doesn’t have that possibility so we compromise. Most of her leash walks are random wandering around places where she can smell and track to her heart’s content — but she wears a Halti. Today we covered a couple of miles on one tiny part of the golf course where roam raccoons, badgers, elk, deer, feral cats and other dogs. She needs this and a mile is a mile.

  2. Spend LOTS of time training your dog but keep training sessions short. From your dog’s perspective, basic obedience is GREAT. It’s FUN. You’re there with the dog, it has your undivided attention, it’s making you happy (it wants to!) and it knows this because you’re giving it pats and treats. Training sessions should start with puppies and continue for the dog’s whole life. From the dog’s perspective, it’s not training, it’s sharing a special moment with you. It reinforces the bond between you and teaches your dog what makes you happy.

    It’s important that a dog (even a Siberian husky anarchist from hell) learn sit, down, stay, stop, wait, come.Treats are a dog’s language for “good dog” but so are pats and toys. You can teach your dog to accept all of those as rewards just by switching them around and not being predictable.

    Bear loves to heel at the end of a long ramble of smells and snow. She will position herself under my left hand and walk close enough to me that I can pet her as we go along. It’s all she wants and it makes both of us happy. Her behavior has reminded me how MUCH our dogs want to be near us.

    Bear went to puppy school and we learned the routine for performing at a dog show. She LOVES it. I practiced with her at the local high school parking lot and still, three years later, if I turn into that parking lot on one of our walks, Bear immediately shifts into her obedience routine. We usually do it two or three times a week. Obedience is not fascism.
  3. Don’t be afraid of electronic training devices that “hurt” your dog HOWEVER you should try to avoid hitting your dog. Cheyennie T. Wolf was incorrigible, having spent the first years of her life in a back yard ignored. My trainer had to resort to an electric collar to get Cheyennie to stop counter surfing, pay attention on a leash, and not run away. Within two hours of the collar, Cheyennie didn’t need the collar any more. The point of this kind of training aid is that it’s temporary. After that, whenever Cheyennie wore her training collar (I put it on her without ever turning it on) she got incredibly happy because she knew she was going to get undivided attention and treats and she was going to do things right.

    Hitting your dog is a bad idea, but sometimes it happens. Hitting a dog with a newspaper or something soft or occasionally because you’ve had it and can’t take any more, well, it happens, but your dog doesn’t know why it’s happening. Punishing a dog after the misbehavior is meaningless because a dog doesn’t have the same concept of time humans have. You want corrections to coincide with misbehavior.

    This is a “sentence” translated from dog immediately after a dog is corrected for doing something wrong RIGHT THEN — “If, I, the Dog do this, this bad thing happens.” Dogs do understand cause and effect at that level very well. If you’re very very very angry with your dog, go take a walk yourself until you calm down.

    Crates should never be used for correction or punishment. If you put your dog in its crate because you need a break (totally cool), make sure the dog thinks it’s being good by going into the crate.
  4. Two dogs are easier than one. Dogs are pack animals and they need company.
  5. Housebreaking is not difficult. It’s more difficult for some breeds than others, but I’ve usually been able to housebreak a dog in a day just by consistently taking it outside several times. I’ve taught most of my dogs to pee on command. Pooping is really up to them, though. If you have a multiple dog household, they will teach each other where to go and they will often go as a pack. When I had five dogs, it was hilarious to take them out on a rainy night to pee. They would form a circle, each dog facing outward, and pee in unison. (Truffle, Molly, Kelly, Lupo and Ariel)
  6. Crate training is good. Using a crate is not putting your dog in prison. It’s giving them a den of their own in which they feel safe. Crates are also VERY useful for housebreaking because most dogs (past the early puppy stage where anything can happen) will not poop or pee in their den.
  7. Get your dog from a shelter or foster. The ONLY bad experience I had with a dog I owned was with a yellow lab I bought at pet store. Daisy — known as Big Puppy — was overbred. When she was two years old, she killed Cheyennie T. Wolf who had, until that horrible nightmarish moment, had been Big Puppy’s mother. Big Puppy knocked out Cheyennie’s canine teeth and then ripped open her neck. The emergency vet wasn’t able to save my husky. A week or so later, Big Puppy went for Lily T. Wolf in the same way.

    One of the saddest days in my life was the day I had to take my beautiful dog to the vet to be put to sleep because she was a murderous bitch, literally. The vet and I both cried as we killed that beautiful young murderous creature, then the vet asked where I got my dog. I told him and he said, “I see it a lot in purebred dogs. Her father could have been her brother and her mother could have been her sister. We never know. I wish they’d shut down pet stores. It’s the only way to stop puppy mills.” He was ferocious, passionate on this point. As it happens, the pet store where I got Big Puppy was shut down the next year.
  8. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to train a dog. It mostly takes patience, consistency, frequency and a sense of humor. It helps a lot if you’re willing to develop a friendship with your dog, get to know it and don’t feel you need to dominate it into cowering submission. Dogs and humans have worked together for eons in a very successful trans-species partnership. Your dog knows this as well as you do.

Take Two — Empowered Dogs


I had kind of a bad day yesterday. It involved a stupid man on the golf course not knowing how to act around a woman with two large dogs, one of whom is barking his head off. Ultimately, the man walked about 4 feet in front of me (for no reason as it’s a GOLF COURSE which means acres of empty space). I felt he was baiting my dogs, but maybe he was just stupid. I got pulled down. The guy passed and said, “Hi.” He was a guy from my generation and I have to say that my experience with these guys has not been mostly positive. Sorry. I was finally able to get up, but I’d landed on my shoulder and it hurt. I continued on, grumbling, “Were you born an asshole or have you practiced your whole life?” Grumble, grumble. He wasn’t even actually PLAYING golf. He was going from hole to hole, getting his ball in the hole, pulling it out and going to the next one. Reliving his disco days, I guess…

We got to our alley and there was a Dachshund. Well, I couldn’t go down there. I turned to go down the street and saw a kid calling his dog. “Are you looking for your dog?” I asked while Dusty barked like a fiend. He was pretty wound up. “He’s in the alley.” I told the kid who headed across a yard into the alley. His little brother showed up, also calling the dog. I told him to head the dog off at the pass, so to speak. Just then, the dog darted out from between two houses, into the street, caught sight of Dusty and Bear, and in true Dachshund fashion, bared his teeth, put fire in his eyes and charged us. The picture is ridiculous — a 8 inch dog charging two dogs that stand more than 24 inches tall — but it wasn’t funny. I wasn’t going to be pulled down again, and certainly not on a hard surface.

I let my dogs go.

I learned what Bear will do when she’s charged. She will chase the enemy down, throw it on the ground and wrap her mouth around its neck all quite calmly. Dusty will warn the enemy; Bear will kill the enemy. The dachshund might as well have been a bear. Dusty, however, came when I called him and that got Bear’s attention long enough for the owner to get the dog in the house. She and the kids were all apologies. “He’s not a very nice dog,” said the owner.

She explained that the dog had leapt out of the car when she got home from picking the kids up from school. Bear saw a cat and thought that might be fun. I yelled at a kid to grab Bear’s leash. No one was hurt.

Well, I was hurt.

I hobbled home, proud of Dusty and amazed by Bear who is normally the paragon of gentleness. I’m very glad she’s my dog. I thought, “People should leash their dogs, even when they just take them to pick up their kids,” but I’m a leash fanatic. Quietly. The leash empowers people to control the forces of nature that lurk within the canine mind.

Today I took Bear on a ramble back out to the golf course and beyond. We’ve just had a storm and the mountains are white, and the sky is wild. Our walk was peaceful and beautiful, and best of all (maybe) is that I am now empowered to walk a lot faster without even knowing it. What felt like a slow, Bear walk saunter was done at an average speed of 2.5 mph. I wonder what we could do if we tried?

Around Here, It IS all Black and White

Me 05:05:2018

Dusty T. Dog is an all black dog, Dobie and Lab, with short fur, “dog-ear” ears, and brown eyes. His adopted sister, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog is a white Akbash dog with silky, long fur and blue eyes. Akbash is a livestock guardian breed that originated in Turkey. Dusty is high-strung, nervous, scared of many things. He has a loud, fierce, hysterical bark that sounds aggressive, but Dusty is a lover not a fighter.  Bear is consummately chill. Her bark is loud, deep and scary, with no notes of fear. In a clinch, I think Bear would kill and Dusty would run. Dusty is hesitant, Bear is confident. Dusty is very obedient and needs no leash to stay at heel. Bear was very easy to train, but if she catches a scent, she’s gone. It happened only once, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

We look pretty striking when we go for a walk together, Dusty on my left, Bear on my right, little white-haired lady in between. This photo was taken two days before my hip surgery. A few things strike me — one, it’s May in the San Luis Valley. Looks like winter. In town, however, trees were bursting out their leaves and blossoms and when I came home a few days later, the mock-crabs all over town were gorgeous. I’ve lost about 20 pounds since this photo which is a very good thing for my arthritic knee. I DON’T want knee surgery. I’m really done (I hope).

Seems like it was a short summer. For the first time that I can remember I’m sorry to see  summer go.

Another contrast.

Old Dog

Dusty is suddenly old. He was a young 13 two weeks ago and now he’s an old 13 (which is to say, 13). Dogs his size and the two breeds he seems to be made of have much shorter average lifespans than that. He’s restless and frightened at night. He can’t see. He’s scared (his basic nature) a lot of the time.

Tonight he’s kept me awake at night pacing on the hardwood floors, panting, looking for me. He has challenges controlling his bowels that he never had before. I don’t want to drag this out, either.

I know where this ends. I know it’s considered wrong to jump the gun. We have to wait until he can’t move under his own power and is urinating and pooping everywhere. I hate this dilemma. But we’ll visit the vet this week and see if there’s relief for Dusty’s nighttime anxiety.

Then we’ll see. He’s been a hard dog to love since the beginning, but I do love him. His early puppyhood trauma left him scared and aggressive (sounding). He was hard to train and ultimately needed a professional to see that he was properly socialized and calm enough, in general, to ride in a car or go for a walk. I also don’t think anything or anyone has ever loved me as much as Dusty does.

I’ve drugged him (mildly) hoping we can both get some sleep now. I’m very tired from my trip to Colorado Springs. I slept badly Sunday night and went to bed early tonight (9!) and went right to sleep, to be awakened by Dusty pacing and generally freaking out.

Anyone who rescues a dog from a shelter (which I highly recommend) could face a challenge like Dusty T. Dog. Some dogs are just easier than others.

He’s lying here at my feet, finally calm. I don’t know if it’s the drugs finally kicking in or whatever was disturbing him has stopped. It might have been the sprinklers (which switched on about the time he started pacing and I have now turned off) or maybe it was a bad dream. There’s no question in my mind that dogs have more access to our thoughts than we to theirs.

He’s finally asleep. Dare I? ❤


When Dogs Get Avid

Overall, my dogs are pretty calm. But they have their passions. Bear, as everyone knows, avidly loves snow. Mindy loves food. Dusty T. Dog loves me. Right now we’re visiting my friend in Colorado Springs who also has three dogs — two of them equal one Dusty. It seems like I brought up a herd of small horses to hang out with her dogs.  All six of them bark with passionate avidity at the mailman and the trash man and anyone who walks by with dogs.

Dog Avidness is pretty avid and can be scary. It can be accompanied with bared teeth and loud barks. Bear is currently perched on the highest spot in the living room watching for enemies outside.

All six of these guys are avid about rawhide chews, running out the dog-door at my friend’s house, and playing with each other.

Dusty’s Harmonious Memories

When I had a bunch of Siberian huskies they, naturally, loves to howl at the right times. They knew when those times were. A siren, coyotes in the distance, Eminem (yeah, truly), and once the Evil X. The thing is, they find a pitch and they all howl in harmony.

Lily and Cheyenne

Cheyenne T. Wolf (front) Lily T. Wolf (back)

Dusty T. Dog really wanted to be like his husky sisters/moms and from the time he was a puppy, he tried to howl with them. He did pretty good for a dog of undetermined parentage but certainly not husky.

Sometimes now I’ll play a video of huskies howling, or wolves, and sometimes I’ll just hit a howl pitch, and Dusty will tip back his head, make a “howl” mouth and do his best. We howl together for old times sake, saying “We remember you!” to our huskies in Husky Heaven.

This is Cheyenney T. Wolf’s favorite howl along song by Eminem.

My Dog Dusty and His Story

Daily Prompt: The Luckiest People  January 18, 2014: Who was the first person you encountered today? Write about him or her.

The first person I encountered today was Dusty T. Dog. He’s not a person but he’s not a non-person, either. He’s 90 pounds, black, sleek, somewhat neurotic, affectionate and right now he’s after my coffee. He’s waited ALL NIGHT to see me again (and for the coffee). He’s a decent hiking companion. I’ve had better, but I’m not the hiker I once was, either.

How did we meet?

The Evil X was living here and my right hip was in the throes of advanced arthritis. I would have surgery soon. We went to the pound looking for a labrador retriever — why, I don’t know. I’ve been a snow dog person since Molly the Malamute/Aussie. They fit my personality and life style and who DOESN’T enjoy looking at INCREDIBLY beautiful animals? I had three Siberian huskies at the time I adopted Dusty. I even considered an alternate name for Dusty; that was “Hole in the Head” — that was about as much as I needed another dog.

At the shelter there was a seven month old puppy, lying on his stomach, looking out from the bars of the cage. X saw him first and called me over. The puppy immediately started to paw at the bars and try to talk to me. I  went to the keepers and asked to see the pup.

“He’s no pet, ma’am,” said the large, uniformed Animal Control Officer behind the desk. “We picked him up off the freeway out by Alpine. He’s been here six weeks. We’ve tried everything, but he’s never going to be a pet.”

“I live out there.” I was thinking aloud. “I’d like to meet him,” I said. “I’ve had a lot of experience with dogs.”

“OK.” He tossed his keys to a fifty-something volunteer, a lanky, attractive woman with reddish gray hair. “This lady here wants to meet number 4320.”

“Really?” she asked in complete disbelief. “He’s not, he’s…well, OK. Wait here. I’ll go get him.” I stood at the end of the row and waited for the woman and the pup.

He couldn’t walk on a leash. He was clearly absolutely and totally terrified. His tail was between his legs, he walked hunched over, he looked around constantly, furtively, his ears back and flattened against his head. “Good God,” I thought.

“Hey boy,” I said. He flopped over on his back and pissed into the air. The keeper had already jumped back.

“See what I mean? He can’t be a pet. He’s been brutalized. He’s so submissive he’ll be aggressive and terrified his whole life.”

“He’s not aggressive. The opposite.”

“He’s a pup. When he matures, watch out. Do you still want to ‘meet’ him?” Meeting meant going into a small enclosure with the animal.

“I do,” I said.

“If you don’t mind, I don’t want to leave you alone with him.”

“OK. Let me take the leash.”

“I can’t do that, ma’am.”

“Ma’am?” I thought. “Oh well.”

“Take a seat in there and I’ll bring in the dog.” I entered the chain link “room” and sat down. Dusty came in.

He sat down beside me. He put his paw on my leg. He stood up part way. He laid his head on my chest and he started to TALK. He yowled, and howled, and whimpered and made every possible dog sound except bark and growl, pouring out his heart, telling me his stories. When he finished, he sighed deeply and closed his eyes, his head still on my chest. The keeper looked amazed.

“This is my dog,” I said to the woman, resisting the temptation to add “ma’am.”

Dusty wasn’t easy. He was so happy to have a HOME that he would not go out of the gate or get into the car, even to go hiking. He LOVED his gorgeous Siberian husky sisters, and for training a lonely dog to be part of a pack, there are no better teachers. When I came home from school in the evening, Dusty urinated on my feet because I was HIS.  (I always wore flip-flops to come in the yard.)

A couple months later, when I went to get my hip surgery, I sent Dusty to be professionally trained by a woman I knew would love him and do everything she could to socialize him — Dusty went to summer camp! He hung out with other dogs, went to the beach, went along when the trainer rode her horse, went to the store, everything normal dogs born into loving families get to do. He learned how to behave and to take pride in behaving well. She taught him to walk on a leash with me so we could take walks while I was on crutches and she taught him to help me up if I fell.

Dusty is definitely not everyone’s dog. He’s fierce along the fence when strangers go by, but to anyone allowed through the gates, he’s a welcoming and affectionate host. He’s a good friend on a trail, but still afraid he’ll be left behind, he won’t drink at all on a hike. Though I keep him leashed, I know that I don’t have to be afraid of him running off or running after, though he’s been tempted by covies of quail a couple of times.

And, though he looks like one, he’s not a lab. He’s taller and more slender; he’s afraid of water and has never chased anything! I suspect, from his size, shape and bark, he’s  Doberman, Dane and German Shepherd maybe, in his distant ancestry, a lab gave his grandmother more than a passing glance.