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.


Intelligent Disobedience

I’m not sure if it was the vest or not, but suddenly Charlie’s work took on a whole new demeanor when he donned his new duds. Did he somehow realize all these fun games have a very serious meaning? That these things are preparing him for a life as a service dog? I can’t say for sure if it was the vest or his just growing up—whichever, he sure is handsome.

Handsome isn’t good enough though for service dogs. They have to demonstrate through their training that they know and understand the tasks they are being trained for. Their obedience must be impeccable under all circumstances. They must live up to a higher standard. As if that is not enough for any dog to master, we go one step further and ask a service dog under certain circumstances to make a decision which goes against their training, which says, always obey the person’s commands. This is known as “intelligent disobedience.”

A graphic example of this concept is a dog guide leading a blind person down a street. The dog is taught to go in a straight line when given the command “forward.” The dog is not supposed to deviate from that straight line. But what if the straight line down the street would cause the person the guide dog is leading to walk into an open manhole? The blind person can’t see that hole, so what’s a dog to do? This is where intelligent disobedience comes in. An intelligent dog determines he has to disobey the command to go forward in order to keep his person safe; so he goes around the danger in spite of anything the person does or says.

Charlie has shown me this intelligent disobedience already at the tender age of 17 weeks. He is very devoted to me and realizes that when the odor of low blood glucose is present, his alerting takes precedence over anything else he is told to do. I’m very impressed with his persistence, too. I cannot ignore him; he will not let me.

“Good Boy, Charlie!” As his trainer, this is very satisfying. I know he will never let his future handler down.