Come, Sit, Play: A Primer in Dog Behavior


From the day my mother said yes to my incessant begging for a dog to this day, rarely have I been without at least one hound by my side. They come everywhere with me. When I accept a dog-client to stay in my house versus housesitting in theirs, they become part of my pack and also come with me everywhere. How is that determined? By how well they behave within my urban life.

Frequent visitor and friend 'Jack'

You can train most puppies or adult rescues in six months. It may seem like a long time in your busy schedule, but remember the effort you put in will reward you for a decade maybe longer. Or you may struggle for years, rehearsing the same commands over and over, with poor results until you give up, and the dog is kept home, in the backyard, isolated when friends come, fitted with hurtful gadgets because you do not have control.

I use positive methods. Rewarding what I want and mostly ignoring what I don’t want. I may give a verbal cue letting the dog know that what the dog did is not what I need, but I do not yell, intimidate, or threaten. My goal is to have trust, love, and mutual respect. For example I asked Baruch to move from the drivers seat to the back seat of our truck. She went to the passenger’s seat and looked at me. I said “uh-uh,” get in the back (the tone did not change) as soon as she went back,  I said YES. She circled her bed and plopped down. If she didn’t know what I wanted, I would have either helped her or made it  into a 5 minute training lesson, throwing treats in her bed in back, holding her collar, “ready, steady, go, YES!” Making it a game.

Make it a game. Dogs love games. And they can pickup on, and match your energy. Happy fun human = Happy fun dog ready to learn and try.

You do not need to be the pack leader. Let me make one thing absolutely clear: dogs do not want to take over the planet.

  • Know what you want from your dog.
  • Be clear, consistent and calm.
  • Make a plan before each training session and keep them between 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Be playful.
  • Enroll in a beginning class.
  • Positive does not mean permissive.

Some dogs have serious behavior problems. Those need to be addressed by a professional behaviorist. Not by a beginning obedience teacher. Not by your dog walker who is “so good with dogs.” Not by using hurtful methods because you are desperate. Call a licensed professional.

Books and people I recommend:

Control Unleashed.  Leslie Mc Dewitt MLA, CDBC, CPDT is a certified dog behavior consultant.  She teaches in the Philadelphia. She published a book describing her training, ‘Control Unleashed’. Greta Kaplan, CPDT, CDBC,  teaches Control Unleashed in the Portland area.

Patricia  McConnell. Any of her books and pamphlets, but for those of you with a rescue dog, definitely read her new book ‘Love Has No Age Limit’. Her blog and website.

Susan Garrett. She is a world renowned dog-sports trainer. You can find free tips/video clips and the very very best webinar on recalls. (the ‘come’ command). She’s positive, funny, has trained all breeds. Really a great trainer. Check out her books and videos too.

Here are my “can’t do without” commands: watch me, come, wait, down, sit, go to your bed. Just with those six commands you lives together can be so much easier. You can find classes to help you train all the basic commands. One word of caution: if your dog/puppy is small do not let  larger dogs overwhelm/scare/bully your companion. You are the one who has to step in to prevent injuries–always.

See you out back…

Tip of the day: try to remember to talk to your dog instead of pulling him in different directions. A simple “this way”, “stop”, “wait” is more respectful and a good way to build trust.




Boots on the Ground

Rain, mud and cold. Heat, take the fleece off. Pouring rain–too cold–fleece/hat back on,  and you’re wondering why you even bothered. What ever you do, keep those boots on your feet, and off your garden beds.

I concentrate on work that keeps my boots at the periphery of my cultivated beds, may it be roses or Swiss Chard. You want your soil to be as fluffy/aerated as possible. Roots grow easier, drainage improves and there’s plenty of oxygen to keep organisms in the soil thriving making weeding a much easier chore. If you walk on water saturated soil, which has a lot of clay in our region, you will compress the particles and they will not spring back, depriving the soil of oxygen.

Raised beds are a great addition to our Portland gardens, and a very good project for the entire family regardless of weather conditions.

Use non-treated wood, but don’t worry so much about what kind. Yes, cedar will last longer, but it is expensive while the much cheaper knotted pine boards last four years. I like mine to be 5′x10′x2′(tall). That way I can reach all my plants and I don’t have to walk too far to get around. Make sure you leave a path wide enough between beds so a wheelbarrow can go through.

Fill the inside with what you have on hand first. Leaves, straw, compost, old potting soil etc. For the rest I use 4 in1 mix: yard debris compost/steer manure/sand/top soil/. For the path I use quarter-ten gravel or straw or even recycled jute coffee bags you can find at coffee roasting businesses for cheap or free.

I buy all my soil/compost/rock/gravel and firewood at Mt Scott Fuel Co. on Foster and 69th. They are close and deliver on time (you can also pick up). They are a 4th generation small business and the lab test results on their products reliably come back clean of herbicides and other unwanted chems!

See you out back…

Tip of the day: Go to recycling centers for used wood boards. Keep an eye on your street, maybe a neighbor is replacing her fence. Use Fall leaves in your raised beds as well as old straw from Halloween displays.



Get Ready

Garden beds are not made of foam, coils, linens or feathers; well there might be a few decomposed feathers somewhere. You might have an arrival date for Spring but, unlike a friend coming to stay in your guest room, recently vacuumed, freshly laundered sheet tucked in and all the cat hair removed,  the seasons change when Earth is ready. There are no specific dates to do a task. Only approximations. This year is a particularly good example.

I have already worked in all the garden under my care. In Oregon we are at least a month and a half ahead of schedule. Get those boots out, and send your tools to be sharpened. I always go to on Division and 40th. The business was sold a couple of years ago and I still have had very good service since then although they do not know about the mechanics of my tools.

So keep to the sharpening and go to Al’s for tool repair: on 84th and Division. Ask for Lori tell her I sent you! Nice for us girls to talk to another female in the trades… They have lots of used mowers so you don’t have to break your piggy bank. By the way before you buy a push mower because you want to be good, because you remember doing your yard when you were ten, because you want your son to unglue himself from his computer, let me tell you: you will end up calling me to bring my gas-powered monster at least five times a year because it’s been raining, because he had a baseball game, because you were on vacation the last ten days and, well…you just plain forgot. If you want to be virtuous get a cordless electric with rechargeable battery–don’t be cheap and get one with an extension cord; I can hear the sound of a cord getting guillotined two miles as the crow flies. I am French you know!

Where was I? Yes, getting your tools sharpened. Have you ever used a sharp shovel? Let me tell you…AMAZING. You just don’t know until you try it like eating freshly dug-up potatoes vs store bought.

Yes it IS time to order your potato starts, and while you are waiting dig a trench 6” deep reserve soil on the side. As the stems grow you can back-fill until it is at ground level, straw the bed, water once in a while and wait until they flower. Stop all watering. That’s all folks. My fav. are Yellow Finns hard to find but oh so good.

Forgot to tell you AL’S is next door to the Division Portland Nursery!

Make sure you check your furries for fleas, and brush brush brush; the shedding starts any day.

See you out back…

 Tip of the day: when you dry your dog after an off-leash run, use a white towel. That way you can find any trace of blood which will lead you to an otherwise hidden cut or bite.