Lessons From Disney and the Cat


Charlie is growing up with our cat Annie, a 13 year-old stray we welcomed into our house as a kitten. Annie is “dog wise” and in recent years has become one of our best teachers for the dogs. She instills lessons of self-control. She makes no excuses for the puppies or dogs either. Her lessons are clear and to the point. When teaching self-control, she is always careful to make the lessons appropriate for the puppy’s age. We have witnessed this time and again.

At 19 weeks Charlie is approaching 40 pounds, so when he greets Annie with his increased size and bulk she makes sure he minds his manners. A slip on his part and her corrections are much more forceful than when he was smaller. Charlie is a quick learner though and approaches with respect by sitting, allowing Annie to make the first move toward him. Self-control is important in training dogs. People often forget and overindulge their puppies, which eventually can lead to behavior problems.

I am THE CAT, don't forget that.

Charlie showed much self-control in the midst of many temptations at the Canine Good Citizen test he participated in this past weekend. For a young pup, his focus was very good even if some of his turns were a little wide. He watched me and kept up with me as he was supposed to. What I’m very pleased to see in this puppy is his willingness to please. He really tries hard to do the right thing; not all dogs do. That trait sure makes training easier—and I think more fun for puppy and handler alike. It’s a trait we choose when doing breedings, and we try very hard to keep the trait in the lines. When this trait is coupled with a strong sense of devotion and a good measure of intelligence, you have a hard combination to beat for a top service dog.

I think it’s his good genetic start that gives Charlie the edge when it comes to learning his tasks as a working service dog. Far too often I read or hear about programs that get dogs from good kennels or breedings but those kennels are not selectively breeding dogs that excel at this type of work. I’m reminded of something that Doug Lipp, former head of training at Disney’s Corporate Headquarters, taught me at aseminar I attended. He called it “three rights that equal success.” He pointed out that to be successful, you need:


1. The right person for the job.
2. To give that person the right training.
3. To be sure that person gets the right treatment.

How true is that is for dog training, too? I follow this example for all the service and special task dogs I train, and I believe it’s key to the success I’ve achieved. It’s a simple idea that Disney used, and in my mind simple is always the best approach.

I’m sitting here looking at Annie and Charlie interacting again. I think if Annie could talk she would agree.