3 Tips to Manage Summer with Your Service Dog

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved


Summer can spell disaster for a service dog if you don’t take a few precautions to insure their safety and well-being.  Heat and Hydration are two huge issues that many people over look for themselves so I want to bring these to attention first.   Even short coated dogs are still wearing a fur coat and all dogs “sweat” through their feet and tongues. So when you are walking on a sidewalk and see wet doggy footprints and your dog’s tongue is hanging fully out of his mouth and is bright red, you have a dog that is overheating. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I have stopped people with dogs to point this out and they seem oblivious to such obvious signs.  Should you see these signs, stop walking, seek shade or a cool place, and get your dog cool – not cold- water.

SS_WV_July2016_ - 219Hot sun on black pavement can create a situation where your dog’s pads can get burnt.    The same for very hot sand at the beach.  If you have to walk your dog out in these places you may want to try protective boots for their feet.  I carry an umbrella to protect me and my dog from the sun too, if you do this make sure to have one big enough to cover you both.  Also if you put boots on the dog don’t forget to take them off as soon as you can. Remember that dog’s sweat through their feet and the boots will not allow for cooling.

About water during the summer, the key is to keep it cool and not ice cold.  I remember one person at a dog show on a very hot day feeding their dog ice cubes and icy cold water to keep him cool and the dog was very sick that night.  They will be panting very hard but cool them gradually and don’t force ice down them. It is much better to put cool towels over their neck to bring the temperature back to normal.


Try to walk in shady areas when you can.

Many people forget to swap out their winter service vest with a cooler lighter one for the summer.  I suggest a harness with straps rather than a cape that will trap heat.  If you like the cape look and want to keep it, try a cape made of mesh material instead.  Depending on your dog’s tolerance of heat you may just opt for collar tags and no vest. Remember the ADA does not require a service dog to wear a vest.


Be aware of pavement temperatures!

A few other suggestions are to keep your outside walking errands to early morning, early evening after the sun goes down or of very short duration.  Avoid things like outdoor concerts or events that are in full sun with no shade or on hot streets.  If you must go, try and plan breaks where the dog can cool down before you continue.

I let me dogs spend a good deal of time outside at home so they acclimate to the weather outside. They have access to shade but learn to adapt to the temperatures with less stress.  By keeping them fit and trim they can also deal better with the heat.  Fat overweight dogs of any breed or age cannot deal with the temperatures outside as easily as a lean fit dog.

This summer promises to be a hot one, take care with your dog, whether service or companion, so you both can enjoy the time you have together.

Dog Manners Matter– 5 Tips to Improve Your Public Appearances

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

I am seeing more and more so called service dogs appearing in public with very poor manners and feel the image they are giving service dogs is not a positive one. So I felt for this month’s blog I would offer up 5 tips for making the image you portray in public a little more positive.

One issue for many dogs living in our urban culture is controlling the urge to rush over and greet another of their species when they pass on the street.  Dogs are sociable and they love to greet new dogs, sniff butts and get the latest scoop on where the other guy has been.  Humans often handle these urges in the wrong manner causing their dog to become more dog reactive in many cases.  For service dogs in particular, they need to stay focused on their job and must exhibit exemplary manners at all times so there can be no interaction with other dogs in public while “on the job”.   To teach your dog to be less reactive you need to practice around other dogs.

a group of service dogs prating manners in a store

Practicing in public with other dogs is important

The best way to do this is pick a dog friendly store, such as a pet shop, and find a few willing friends with dogs to help.  Everyone goes into the store at different times and mills around, passing each other often as they go up and down isles.  I have my students periodically sit their dogs while they pretend to shop and the other dog passes by.  The SD should not move or attempt to interact with the passing dog. If the SD tries to interact, the handler should try to preempt the move by asking the dog to “watch me”.   If the dog is properly trained to look up at the handler on this cue, then they should look up thus missing the dog walking by and maintaining the sit stay.  If your timing is not too good it might take a bit of practice on your part to get this down but it is one worth practicing.  Soon when your dog sees another dog approaching he will be looking at you and not the other dog.

Eating out with a dog can be a challenge too. When you go to a restaurant or bar try to find a table out of the way or in a corner so the dog can relax without being near a lot of foot traffic.  Some people carry mats so their dogs can have a “place” to stay on. This is great for several reasons; it reminds the dog not to move from the defined place but also keeps him clean from dirty floors. Training for this can be done then at home by putting the mat in various places in the house and practicing longer and longer stays on it.  If the dog moves off the mat, replace them there firmly but with no anger and no second command. Start out with short stays and work up to longer stays, always vary the amount of time when training.

service dog resting under table on place mat

showing a good stay on his place mat.

Shopping carts seem to be an issue with many dogs I witness in public. First off I don’t believe the dogs should be riding in the cart. Even my Chihuahua Boo when we go shopping at the nursery for plants does not ride in the cart. He maintains his position by me as we peruse the isle for new additions to the garden.  This is just an exercise you need to practice and that practice should be in public.  I find stores with cart collection spots outside in the parking area, go by and grab one and practice in the parking area as well as on the sidewalks outside the store.  It might take several weeks of practice before the dog gets comfortable walking with the cart but with repetition, praise and an occasional treat for a job well done they will soon get the idea.

Walking in crowds where people have shopping bags swinging about is a situation where I have seen dogs bolt, bark or worse snap at the offending shopper and their bags.  Training a dog to be non-reactive in this situation is a matter of conditioning.  I will start with many shopping bags on the ground spaced just far enough apart that we can walk through them. I will weave around while having the dog heel beside me but will also practice stops where the dog has to sit with the bag actually touching them.  When they are confident with this I will have friends come by and pick up the bags and now walk about the area as I weave with the dog between them.  As the dog becomes more confident I will add in the final test and that is to have all my friends and myself and the dog squeeze into a small space about the size of an elevator.  You can make that space with barriers if you don’t have an empty closet to practice in or an elevator handy.  The idea is the dog is just go with you and not be bothered by people and shopping bags.

brown dog sitting next to shopping cart

Learning to be clam around carts takes practice

The final tip for those seeking to polish their SD performance in public concerns jumping on people. I know everyone is proud of their dog and it is great that the public wants to pet your dog but once you allow this your dog will expect to be the center of attention in public. That is opposite of what we want and need from a SD. A well trained SD should be ignoring the public and focusing on their person. They have a job to do and cannot do it if they are greeting the public.  Be firm with people not petting your dog; explain he is working and needs to focus on his job.  During training I use every situation I can think of to set the dog up with people distractions.  This might include children at the playground, people calling the dog, people rushing up to the dog and speaking in an excited high pitched voice.  I ask my helpers that if the dog gets to them before I can divert him, they should turn around and ignore the dog as soon as he approaches. At that point I call the dog back to heel and ask for a “watch me”.  This is another point of manners training that just takes a lot of repetition to get the dog to ignore whatever the other people are doing while he is on duty.

Service dogs are allowed special access where other dogs cannot go and feel if that is the case they should have exemplary manners above and beyond the annoying untrained pet dog. I hope if you are training or have a SD you will continue to train all the time perfecting those manners so everyone admires your team and you set the example for others to follow.

Whats in a Name?

by Debby Kay, all rights reserved

Several things have happens in the past couple of weeks that suggested I write this months blog about the meaning of names, in particular breeding names. I get many phone calls each week about puppies and choosing a dog for certain jobs and as a result I hear a good many stories about calls to breeders, kennels, and pedigrees.  One of the more common comments I also hear is “…its all so confusing!”

A kennel name can be one of two things.  The most common thing you will see today is for a person(s) to set up a kennel business which has to have a proper name to operate under and obtain a business license.  Then you can have the breeder who has chosen a special word, either contrived or one that has a special meaning to them that is used as a prefix when registering a dog or litter of puppies. The business name and prefix may be the same, but often they are not. Some people will use their own last names for this purpose.  As long as your name is unique this can be a good way to promote your breeding. The whole idea with a prefix when breeding is to identify where a dog comes from, so especially when reading a pedigree someone who is familiar with the breeding kennels for a particular breed can tell what to expect from a particular pedigree.

A prefix on a dog’s name should stand for something; the values and ideals of the breeder. Every breeder has their own interpretation of what makes up the ideal of the breed they are working with. That viewpoint is a very individual and personal thing which is why breeding names are not used again when a breeder passes away or decides to retire.  This is not always something that is covered by the laws, it is done on an honor system.  In today’s climate I often see people snubbing this age old tradition while seeking to cash in on someone else reputation. Not cool and in my book a red flag.FiKissesPup

For those people who are buying puppies or dogs all this can be difficult to sort through.  It is helpful to find people who are happy with the dogs they have bought from the kennel you are checking out. It gives you a chance to see if they had a positive experience as well as check out the dog and see if that is what you are wanting.  Make sure also that the name(s) on the business license are the same as the breeder’s name on your dogs registration papers.  Check the paper trail. Not difficult to do and worth the small effort as in the case a year ago when a person thought they were buying a puppy from an advertised kennel and the breeder was someone else altogether, not the kennel owner who was making it appear that they were selling the puppy from their own kennel stock.

The other thing I hear a lot is people looking for English Labradors or American Labradors. Well folks the truth is there is one breed known and registered, it is the Labrador Retriever.  These contrived terms are mere marketing ploys and are NO GUARANTEE that you are getting something in particular.  In other words those adjectives mean nothing at all.  There are many styles of Labrador Retrievers just tell someone what you are looking for, look at the photographs they post on their websites or send you, and then finally look at the parents face to face to be sure this is the style you want. The pups will generally be very similar to their parents.  If you have tall thin boned lanky parents you will not get a heavy boned block headed puppy from that breeding. I’m not saying like begets like all the time but the trend in a breeding is to be similar to the parents and extremes from their style is not something that is likely to happen.

Take your time shopping for that new puppy or dog, do your research and ask lots of questions.  If someone is not interested in answering your questions you should take that as a hint and go elsewhere. There are many breeders out there, it may be difficult to filter through them but this is a lifelong partner you are bringing home, take your time it will be worth it in the end.




Adventures from South Africa

By Debby Kay © 2017 All rights reserved

As our Land Cruiser slowly inched across the rocky terrain the sun began to rise to take away the evening chill.  Soon the driver stopped by a daunting cliff making like a natural rock terrace overlooking the reservoir.  This was the main water source for all the animals for miles around.  Carefully they filed in to get their fill before heading out forging.  It did not seem like there was much here to support life yet hundreds of animals, many of them quite large, called this home.

Our guide laid out a cloth, mugs of hot coffee, and tins filled with fresh baked muffins and cookies.  Even my dull sense of smell was aroused with the waifs of blueberry and warmed raisins. I was not the only one however that took interest in the feast before us.  From the crevice of a boulder emerged an elephant shrew, so named for their proboscis like extension of a nose. eshrewsmThe shrew was nervous about the human presence but we all held quite still and soon he got enough nerve to come closer to the bit of crumbs the guide had tossed on the rock. Using his “trunk” he carefully sniffed the crumbs before snatching them up then scurrying away.  As if a signal, a chorus of several different species of birds soon appeared to get whatever the shrew had found so inviting.  The parade of marauders made for pleasant entertainment during our coffee break.

After cleaning up we began to trek down through this mountain gorge to the other side to an overhand of rock about the size of a midsize sedan.  At this spot the sandstone had cleaved in such a manner that it made a curved semi cave like shelter with large boulders to either side as further protection from the wind and weather.

As I took that like step then looked up, before me was a mural of 10,000-year-old bushman cave art.  We studied the figures one by one as our guide talked about the lost culture of the nomadic hunter gathering Sans tribe of bushman.  Here was the story of a hunting party and some of the events surrounding it. These people traveled with the migrating herds and changing seasons over a large area of southern Africa. They had learned over time all the natural signals for the coming of rains, the main signal that young will be born and there will be an abundance of food.  As the tribes moved about on these migratory routes they seemingly had favorite caves they frequented where murals were left to mark their passing.img_6375

Over my limited days here I looked at other cave drawings and learned more about survival in this forsaken land of extremes. The strategies adopted by the smallest of carnivorous insects, birds, plants, even the endangered fish of the area were all evolved to fill a niche that somehow maintained a rich diversity of life in spite of the semi arid conditions.

The area where we were studying the cave drawings was also home to a preservation program for the nearly extinct and quite rare Rock Mountain Zebra.  These stunning creatures live in small family groups with one stallion and a handful of mares.  The battles between stallions can become quite brutal and we saw one fella lose a tail over his fight to keep his ladies.  These sentinel males will stay in the background always alert to danger and will run at the back of the herd as protection against any attackers.

Weaverbirds caught my attention with their lovely woven orbs of a nest decorating the trees as iimg_6362f for the holidays.  The males will spend days preparing just the right home in
hopes that a rimg_5975eceptive female will approve it and allow him to mate.  It seems the skill is learned and they will get better at it as time goes on, in the meantime a male lacking sufficient skills might be a bachelor for several seasons until he gets things right. This whole ecosystem is harsh and unforgiving, anyone who lives here fights daily for existence but they have learned to use the strengths of others to increase their chances for survival.  I spent the hours I had here watching in awe at all these dramas unfold.  As I learned and studied life both present and past in the area I was reminded how the lessons of the Bushman’s land echo the lessons of our own struggles in modern society.

I would not be true to my nature if I traveled and failed to observe and report on the indigenous dogs of the area.  I was particularly keen to learn about the native dogs of Africa where many modern breeds that I judge at shows claim as the continent of their origins.  As it turns out there is a dog here known all over the continent as the Africanis who until relatively recently was left to evolve without the muddling of the gene pool by humans.  These dogs I learned evolved from the primeval Levantine wolf stock and were untouched by human manipulation for over 7,000 years. They are what I envision as the dogs that early humans formed a hunting pact with which transformed both the canine and human’s survival to today.  I regret I was not able to go out with the local tribesmen on a hunting party however I was fortunate enough to add a rare book to my collection documenting several decades of study of the Africanis by a well-known African canologist[1].

img_6427The thing that will strike you about these dogs is the how remarkably well built they are. There are no poor gaits, any poor structure has been weeded out long ago as evidenced by the perfect, effortless trotting I watched from every dog that I saw.  There is more uniformity than you might think for a race that nature selected.  The sizes do have some range to them but that is more dependent on the region where the dogs come from and appears to be an adaptation to that local environment. As I have noticed with other breeds in colder and more mountainous environments the dogs here have shorter and heavier of bone with denser coats to ward off the cold relative to the plain dwelling dogs.  The plain dwelling dogs are normally of the racier body build with longer, thinner legs.  Ear types will vary but the large prick ear seems to be the most dominate.  If there is any pressure from humans on the selection of breeding stock at all it will be against those dogs that molest stock that the tribes might tend.  The dogs are expected to tolerate the stock and leave it alone. Their job of hunting is quite specific and any dog that persists in pestering stock is taken care of without reservation.  Food is scarce and sacred in this harsh bush country and stock is precious for survival.

The main purpose of my trip was to help a new charity get off the ground in medical alert training of dogs.  As it turns out one of the dogs that will be entering the diabetes alert program here is a rescued Africanisthumbnail_fullsizerender I think she might do quite well, her nose never quit sampling the air the whole time I was evaluating her for training.  I was able to look at several other Africanis at a local rescue shelter that I also felt had potential.  I will be very keen to learn of their progress as training proceeds with the local trainer.   My month in South Africa has been a wonderful blend of work and study with a splash of sightseeing, wine sampling and beach combing.  I’ve come away with an even stronger conviction that the dogs we so love, that help us daily with their special skills are a precious gift from nature.  They very well could have chosen to not partner with early humans and I am sure as I saw from the Africanis, they would have done quite well.  Certainly much better than humans left to their own.

[1] The Story of the African Dog by Johan Gallant, University of Natal Press, 2002

The Dog’s Gift

By Debby Kay ©all rights reserved

As I sit to write this my last blog of 2016, there are many things happening around me that have caused me to reflect on what I value most in life. There is an abundance of talk about what gift to buy Uncle Fred or so and so friend and it got me thinking what is the best gift we can give during the holidays to those who matter most to us ? As I pondered that question my Chihuahua Boo snuggled a little closer to my leg to get warmer; that was my answer.  The gift our dogs give us is the best gift we can give others.

The gift from our dog’s is really complex from my viewpoint. There is the obvious love they lavish on us regardless of our sex, age, race, financial status, mood or temperament. Beyond that though as I share hours with my dogs doing many different activities I have gleaned how patient they are. Ranger will take many minutes to carefully examine a spot on the grass trying to decipher all the wonderful smells and their meaning. It is all important to him, he does not want to miss any detail of the information left by the previous dog.  I note to myself that I need to be more attentive to all of the words in the messages left for me so I get the full meaning of what is being conveyed.
Boo will sit for long stretches of time on the front porch waiting for the seed stealing squirrels to appear at the birdfeeder in the flower bed opposite the porch. He is still as a statue. He holds his position until the squirrel is at its most vulnerable position and then he explodes forward like a heat seeking missile to its target.  After the squirrel is successfully run off he returns to me seeking my approval. He reminds me that we all need to be recognized for a task well done.

chilbrookruebanjamesI could go on with many more examples about all the finer things I have learned and observed spending a lifetime with dogs. I think however Alexandra Horowitz said it best in her new book Inside Of A Dog;

“The more we learn of animal’ abilities, the finer we have to split the hair to maintain a dividing line between humans and animals. Still, it is interesting to note that we seem to be the only species spending any time studying other species—or, at least, reading or writing books about them.  It is not necessarily to the dog’s discredit that they do not.

 What is revealing is how dogs perform on tasks that measure social abilities we thought only human beings had. The results, whether serving to show how alike or unalike dogs are to or from us, have relevance to our relationships with our dogs.  When considering what we ask of them and what we should expect from them, understanding their differences from us will serve us well.  Science’s effort to find distinctions illustrates more than anything else the one true distinction: our drive to affirm our superiority-to make comparisons and judge differences. Dogs, noble minds, do not do this. Thank goodness.”

As you prepare the last minute things for celebrating the season in your own tradition, I hope you will consider your dog for who she or he is, a dog; noble, kind, generous, patience and full of boundless joy. They are our best reminder of what the season is all about and our models for how we should treat each other.


If you have time, I urge you to watch this very well done movie on one aspect of our relationship with our dogs that is often misunderstood.

Tough Love: A meditation on Dominance and Dogs

Have a safe and happy holiday!



Moon Dogs

by Debby Kay  ©2016 All Rights Reserved

Its been exciting this month with the rare occurance of the Super Moon, a time when the moon is so close to the Earth it appears brighter and larger than ever. Over the years, I have heard and read many folk tales of strange things happening in conjunction with phases of the moon. In fact, the word Lunatic that we commonly think of today as an insane person is derived from the Latin luna or moon. Originally, a lunatic was not considered insane; rather it referred to someone whose state fluctuated with phases of the moon. Moon dogs then for purposes of this article are dogs whose states fluctuate with phases of the moon.

Ancient people observed that the menses of the livestock and the women of the villages usually fell in step with the lunar cycles.  When I checked my records against my moon charts, I found that my last three litters in fact were whelped within a day of a new or full moon. This peaked my interest even more.  Checking some birth records of livestock on our farm revealed the same results.

I have used moon charts extensively in all my horticultural ventures. Everything is planted, harvested, weeded, maintained and prepared in accord to the best moon phases.  All our vineyard activity is planned around moon phases. This ancient tradition might seem a bit excessive and even silly however; my experiences have convinced me there is much wisdom hidden in the tradition to make it worth 3litters2016_034my while.  This past growing season in our area is a good proof of point.  Our crops and vines flourished while the neighboring vineyards and farms lost heavily with a late summer dry spell.  The only difference we could determine was our planning by the moon cycles. What does this have to do with our dogs you might ask?

The point I am making here is that the moon exerts a very strong influence on all things natural on our Earth beyond the obvious ebb and flow of tides. Our dogs are not exempt from the influence of the moon either.  Beyond the estrus cycle relationships, I have mentioned there are other states of dogs effected by the lunar cycles.

The first case study to consider is a 3 years neutered male who started having seizures within a week of his visit to the vets for vaccine updates.   The owner was concerned about the dog and returned to the vet to get anti-convulsive medication for him.  This seemed to help for the most part, however several days each month, his seizures would suddenly start up again. The medication at any dose did not help on those days.  When the dates of the behavior were compared to the new and full moons, there was a direct correlation.

Case study 2 is a nine year old retired show champion whose owner reported as getting super sensitive and fearful every so often for no apparent reason.  For 2 or 3 days, the dog would hardly leave her crate in early evening until later morning.  Again, when the times were compared to the moon cycles there was a correlation.

The third case study is my own 15-year-old Spayed female who for 3 days a month becomes incontinent.  She regularly gets acupuncture and homeopathics for the problem, which is common in older spayed females.  This treatment seems to control it except for  3 days before and 3 days after a full moon.3litters2016_171.jpg

Recognizing the problem is the first step toward helping your dog to adjust.  In the case for my own dog, it was recommended that I use the homeopathic Berberis vulgaris 30C morning and night on the days she seemed most affected.  This worked perfectly and I was able to control the incontinence successfully.  Berberis is made from the bark of the Bayberry and has a long history with Native Americans and ancient Europeans of being used to help those effected by the moon.

I have run across several other interesting studies related to the effect of the moon on illness and behavior in dogs but the most oft cited of these asked a simple question: Do animals bite more during a full moon?  The authors of this study took records from a local hospital and compare it to the moon cycles. They reported, “There were 37 full moon days and one blue moon day (see box) from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 1999. In all, 1621 new patients had been bitten by animals (56 cat bites (3.4%), 11 rat bites (0.7%), 13 horse bites (0.8%), and 1541 dog bites (95.1%)). The highest numbers of bites were on or around full moon days.”

The moon plays a much greater role in our natural world then perhaps we give credit. Certainly when considering treating any disease, behavior problem or breeding, you may want to consider checking your moon charts first.  You may find as I did a fascinating correlation to the moon’s mystical powers.


Chilbrook Winter Moon


 Do animals bite more during a full moon? Retrospective observational analysisBy Chanchal Bhattacharjee, staff grade practitioner,a Peter Bradley, consultant,a Matt Smith, general practitioner,b Andrew J Scally, statistician,c and Bradley J Wilson, house officera BMJ. 2000 December 23; 321(7276): 1559–1561.© 2000, BMJ

Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines by Stephen Cummings MD and Dana Ullman MPH; Penquin, NY ©1996

Dogs: Homoeopathic Remedies by George Macleod, MRCVS, DVSM, Vet FF Hom The C.W. Danial Co. Ltd; England ©2001

A Veterinary Material Medica by George Macleod, MRCVS, DVSM, Vet FF Hom The C.W. Danial Co. Ltd; England ©2001

The Dogs of Tibet

By Debby Kay copyright 2016 all rights reserved

It took me a while to fully realize that my plane had just landed in Tibet, a place that was so far from the reality of my everyday life that it almost seemed like a dream. But here I was in this mystical land of ancient customs and spiritualism not to mention some of the tallest mountains in the world.

I was in the city of Lhasa, one of the larger ones in the region. It was a wonderful mixture of old and new architecture and technology.  That is something I admire the Chinese doing far better than any other culture I have visited. They seem to have the ability to blend the two seamlessly and retain all the great points of both without compromising either.  During my trek around the area visiting monasteries, bazaars and people’s homes I was able to catch a glimpse of the local dogs, a rare sight in the big cities of the rest of China. People do have pets in China but they are a minority and you rarely see a dog on the streets in any of the towns.  Here in Lhasa, in a few stores and then on the outskirts of the city proper, you begin to see more dogs.  I thought it might be interesting to show a photo journal I took of these dogs and some of the insights I gleaned from our interactions.

The first thing that strikes you is that no dog is on leash. Not in the city or in the more rural areas.  It is just not needed.


No leashes in Lhasa

These guys have had total freedom to make choices from puppyhood and it really shows in their attitude. They don’t pester people, beg, growl, or in any interfere with people. They are just there, minding their own business and observing what is going on or interacting with other dogs. I only saw one dog that belonged to a shop keeper and one other that “monitored” by a single person who seemed to be keeping track of where the dog was as they scurried along the busy bazaar street filled with people. All the other dogs appeared to belong to no one in particular. This is perhaps where the distinction between strays and feral dogs is made. In previous studies I have read on dogs, strays were defined as those dogs who were free roaming but choose to still associate with people whereas feral dogs would have nothing to do with people and choose to keep away.[1]

The dog in this photo which belonged to a shop keeper we visited and bought a painting from, did not need to be told what to do, where to stay or how to behave. He just did all those things on his own and in perfect accord with the comings and goings of people into the shop.  Does it make you wonder if what


The Shopkeeper’s dog and guest greeter

you are doing to raise and train a perfect canine good citizen is wrong? Just what do these people do differently that makes these dogs such a pleasure to be around.  I think the key is in allowing them to be dogs. They are not treated or thought of in any other way. They are respected as being dogs with their own culture, this is something that I saw in the people in Tibet towards other people as well.  It was clear that many of the people from very remote parts of the steppes around Lhasa who had made the long pilgrimage to the Sera Monastery we were visiting had never seen a Caucasian before.  I was looked at with great curiosity many times. One incident that stands out in my mind was sitting on a bench and having a pilgrim join me. He stared at me for a long while and then finally reached out with his hand to touch me. I smiled at him and took his hand and shook it gently telling him I was pleased to meet him. He was simply excited at the interaction; he did not try to make into anything else. This was the same with the dogs. All the interactions were simple, straightforward and nothing was made beyond what it was.  The impact this simple interaction leaves on the dogs is what I saw in the way the dogs reacted round people, in other words with the simpler interactions there was a peaceful and pleasant mellowness in the dog’s behaviors.

Think about how you, your friends, and people in general react to the presence of a dog. There is all this fussing, overly attention bestowing behaviors and certainly a lot of chatting too, every time people get around a dog or puppy. Try taking a young cute service dog in training to a public place to work and you can barely go 5 feet before being swamped by people doting on the poor thing.  Is it any wonder dogs begin at an early age to develop excitable behaviors around meeting people?  Think about the most common interactions we see on the streets of dogs meeting other dogs walking. The usual reaction I see from people is they get tense, shorten the leash, and in anything but a calming voice, try to reassure the dog that the other dog will not attack them.  Is it any wonder where dog on dog aggression comes from?

When watching all the strays around the monastery

however, what you saw instead was dogs sleeping peacefully out of the path of the people, you saw dogs meeting other dogs with no aggression what so ever and you also saw that these dogs recognized certain individuals that would periodically offer them scraps of food. In one case I was observing 5 strays that were napping on one another in a pile when a familiar food source person walked by behind them about 8 feet away. The dog on top of the pile lifted their nose towards the person and in a split second the whole group was up and sitting politely by the old lady who produced a bag of scraps.  No one fought for the scrapes either, each dog waited their turn patiently for the bit handed to them. When the bag was empty the dogs disappeared. Not a word was ever spoken by the old woman. In another part of the monastery courtyard I saw a young woman feeding a mom and her pups and again witnessed patience and manners from all.

These dogs knew their place, had rules they followed, and exhibited a great degree of self-control. No one taught them those things, they were able to work it out themselves.  It is amazing to me the degree to which dogs can problem solve and learn when they are put in an enriched environment and allowed to make their own decisions. Seeing what these dogs were doing I am more convinced than ever that we often micro-manage our own dogs far too much and don’t allow them to just be dogs and to make dog decisions.  I know when the bestselling book Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote came out and he extolled the virtues of dogs having free choices to roam as they choose in his village of Kelly, Wyoming a lot of people were taken aghast.  But the more I see how the freedom of choice allows dogs to develop the depth of personality I was seeing in these street dogs of Tibet, the more I am convinced that we are often doing a great injustice to our dogs with the overabundance of restraints we put on them. China_2016_terrier in bazaar.JPG I realize we can’t let our dogs all roam free here but we can certainly take a hint from these guys and make some adjustments to how we interact and manage our relationship with our canine companions to increase their happiness.

Here are some take always I got from my interactions with the Dogs of Tibet to consider:

  • Allow pups to follow you without a lead in as many places as possible while they are growing up. The idea is to have a relationship with the dog that makes the dog want to be with you because you are a cool person to hang with not because he is tethered to you with a line.
  • When raising a puppy allow them to make their own choices without you interfering, for example, if they want to crawl over a log and it looks like them might fall off the other side, let them. Don’t say anything, let them experience things on their own.
  • Work on the relationship with your dog without bribes such as treats.
  • Try not talking so much to your dog, rather watch and learn their body language and learn how they talk to each other without words.
  • Quit petting your dog so much, I’m convinced dogs don’t like that as much as people think they do.
  • Don’t micromanage your dog or make your dog so dependent on you to make their decisions that it creates an unbalanced relationship
  • Install a dog door if you have a fenced yard so your dog can go there when they want. It’s not the same as being able to wander a wider territory but it will help to empower them to think and act in ways you don’t see when the dogs are dependent on the humans for everything including elimination habits.

I still can see the image of the puppy I met who was establishing his own routine and

allowed me to photograph him with nothing more than a glance.  He was full of confidence, knew what he wanted and yet was respectful of his co-existence with the humans of the village. He may not of had a fancy collar, soft bed to sleep in, or expensive handcrafted dog food to eat, but this was one happy puppy. Perhaps there is something to what the Buddhists here say about happiness.

[1] “Population Biology and Ecology of Feral Dogs in Central Italy“: L. Boitano, F. Francisci, P. Ciucci and G. Andreoli; in The Domestic Dog, Editor James Serpell; Cambridge University Press, 1995, 217-244