Rambling With Your Dog Will Solve Behavior Problems

I encourage all dog owners to go for a ramble. Find a space, a fenced in area, where he can be set free and just allowed to be a dog. Carry a batch of delicious treats with you. When your dog thinks to stop sniffing around, to run up and check in on you, slip him one.

loki and til 2.jpg

Do not call him. Do not talk too much. Don’t say anything. If he runs on ahead of you up the trail, double back and move in the opposite direction as fast as you can. Or, step off to the side and hide. Wait for him to come and find you. When he does, have a little party.

If you do this every day, you will find the level of trust between you growing more and more. There is great power in rambling with your dog. You will leave the responsibility on him to keep an eye on you. Once you stop nagging him, he will work harder for you. Dogs are pack animals and he wants to be with you.

If he is more interested in smelling the smells, and heading for the hills, instead of being with you, he is getting too much free food from a bowl at home. Carry his breakfast with you. Make him earn it.

As time goes on, you can use your ramble for short training exercises. The ramble is a great time to teach the dog to come when called, and teach him a long stay under distraction. There is no punishment, no pressure. Let him choose to obey.

Eventually, you will have a dog who feels better, who is less stressed, who is calmer and more confident.

And you know what? You will be, too.

loki and til.jpg

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Clifford and Horse Cognition

Clifford wanted off his picket line in the back yard, because it was hot out. I was leaving for errands. I took his halter off, freeing him, and walked away toward the barn. But instead of following me to the barn he stopped in the shade under the maple tree.

He knew a) Trudy was in the barn and b) her presence meant that in the barn, he wouldn’t get any grain.

“if you don’t want to go in the barn, you will have to stay in the dog yard,” I said.

clifford eye

He immediately went to the gate of the dog yard and put his head over it, waiting to go in.

“I will go get you some grain.” I headed for the pole barn. As I did, he hurried over to the barn door and peeked in. Upon seeing Trudy, he turned away and ambled back to the gate of the dog yard.

I took this to mean that for comfort’s sake, he preferred the one-stall barn over the dog yard. So he was just making sure Trudy was still in there, but he didn’t want to give up his grain! The grain won.

His comprehension of language startles me. I am starting to say things to him just as an experiment to see how much he knows.

Tonight, as the bugs were getting vicious, he was resolved to go to the barn, grain or no grain. So when I opened the gate to the dog yard, he ran up there. I had to go let him in the stall. He was excited to see a big pile of shavings and started flinging them around, circling and preparing to roll.

“Can I have that halter first?” I said. He looked at me, hesitating, still up on all fours.

“Can I have that halter?” I said again.

He came over and stretched out his neck so I could unsnap the halter.

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Loki Learning Recall, Day 2, Puppy Boot Camp

Unfortunately the rain interrupted our trip back to the Ledges today but during a break from the drizzle, I took all the dogs out in the back 40, where we resumed some lessons. Loki was pretty consistent about coming when I called him and I think he will only continue to improve.

At the end of our stint they all climbed up on the back porch for a group photo.


I took a bunch of videos for reference. As you can see, I do use a clicker but I prefer to click when the dog first starts toward me, rather than waiting for him to reach me. When he hears that click he knows the food is coming and it will actually speed up his recall.

Loki usually offers a nice sit at the end but I don’t require it. His job for now is to get to me and stop near me, preferably making eye contact. I hand out treats to the other dogs, too, which is a great way to capture his interest if he is distracted.


This next one is a really good example of how distractions will waylay him. At this point, although he did come to me, he was not really into it, and yes, Allie did get his treat.

That did the trick, because this next video is an example of a beautiful recall.

The next video is an example of how I like to call him when he is distracted. Notice his immediate response even though he didn’t really want to come away from whatever it was. He was pulled back again but did return for the food.

The next video is an example of how I like to call when they are deep in foliage, in another situation where it may be hard to pull them away. Unfortunately this video doesn’t capture my call. I always call the dog’s name only once. They get one shot, and if they don’t respond right away, another dog gets their cookie.

This is an example of the ultimate goal. When the dog hears his name, he does an instant about face and comes running. Perfect!

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Puppy Boot Camp: Loki Learning Recall

Loki is growing up! This former student is now a gangly adolescent puppy whose lucky parents are on a voyage Beyond the Sea. They took advantage of the sabbatical to boomerang him back to Aunt Nancy’s boot camp, so he can get his recall and long stay all polished up and shiny like new again!

I like to teach a recall on an informal basis. What that means is, the dog doesn’t have to do anything fancy other than drop what he is doing and get over to me, on the double, like now.

I don’t ask for a sit or anything when he gets to me. I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm. The concept of a square sit in front, as taught for obedience competition, is an entirely separate behavior.

I start teaching the recall when the dog is very young, and it all starts with name recognition. I use other dogs heavily for this. I make all dogs wait at the door. Each dog enters or exits when I say his/her name. I do the same thing when doling out treats. Coming when called becomes a natural extension of this.

Because Loki had already spent significant time at my house, and remembered the door rules, I wasn’t terribly worried about taking him off leash. I like to train off leash as much as possible. With a dog that is not 100% reliable, I will do it in a safe or fenced enclosure. Some people like to teach it on a long line, which is okay, but I prefer not to because the dog is still aware of the presence of the line. The line still serves as a physical reminder and doesn’t put the full responsibility on the dog. The dog has to be able to use his brain, physically apart from the handler.

In this case, I took Loki on a walk on a narrow trail with a river on one side, and cliffs on the other. Getting away from me would require some effort on his part, but he was not likely to do it because I was bringing his buddies along with us. Dogs, especially young dogs, are not inclined to leave the pack.

…Unless the dog is a hound, or really dumb.

Loki was ID’d through DNA as part coonhound, but he acts more like a high drive herding dog with an agenda. He also has wonderful food drive. Yay.

I walked him on the leash until we reached the area where the private homes ended and state land began. I unhooked all three dogs. I had done a couple of sits to make sure Loki understood I had food and was willing to dole it out.

After one successful recall, he took off.

Second try.

Third try.

Giving up.


He quickly realized that being on leash was a lot less fun.

We did a couple of photo opps, where he got to pose with Til and Jasper, and earned big praise and some treats.

loki jasper til.jpg

After we had walked awhile, and Loki was calming down some, I tried him off the leash again. Jasper was basically just mugging me for the food, and Til was doing his border collie stuff.

Once Loki figured out that this was a training exercise, he started getting more and more happy. He loves to train! This had the added bonus of squirrels and exciting smells. He was having the time of his life, and his recall success rate shot up to four times out of six. The other two times, he still came, but with a lot less enthusiasm, so I didn’t treat him.

I continued switching off, calling the other dogs and praising and feeding them.

The taking turns system works really well with dogs, because they are more stimulated when another dog is working and earning food.

I expect our next session to be better.

After that, as weather permits, we will start working with Loki in different locations.

loki jasper til 2.jpg


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A Friend At The End Of The World

When I first met Kerry she was 17 and married. Her voice had a high-end timbre that bounced off the walls with the power of a stage presence. Her wit was vicious with current events, and spun so fast I was left in the colors of our laughter. We were there, in Alaska, two young military wives.

I was in Alaska because I had dreamt of being there. I was a northern girl, a lover of trees and wild places. She was there because she was stretching out of the boundaries of her too-small New Hampshire lifestyle, ready to be done with high school, ready to start living. So she followed a boy.

She was the first person to get me drunk. It was 1983. I was 21. It was Boone’s Farm Tickled Pink. I will never forget the sound of her uproarious giggling, her eyes twinkling at everything I said that night.

She was so far ahead of me, even at her tender age.

Those years in Alaska were our first introduction into how cold life can be with the wrong man. But we also learned of the solace, the toasty comfort of a female friend; a real friend who becomes family when you are so far from home.

We were so different. She was quick witted, smart, loud, outspoken. I was quiet, and slow to respond, preferring to stir my thoughts instead. She loved cats. I ran a dog rescue. She loved shopping and theatre. I loved walking in the woods and seeing the moose.

She left before I did. She couldn’t wait to get out of there. I wanted out of the marriage, but oh, how I hated leaving the Great Land. I mourned for Alaska.

She told me later that she had described her life in Fairbanks, and in order to recreate herself, she’d had to melt herself down. She said, “Nancy and I melted together. And if it’s like a few of the parts got mixed up somehow.”

We lived together in Arizona, drove each other crazy, both too poor to support ourselves let alone each other. We dated guys that were roommates, and no better choices than the haphazard husbands we’d left in the north.

The desert was not for me. I last saw Kerry in 1987. As people do, we fell out of touch.

And then came the internet.

In 2009, or around then, I received an email with the subject line, “Are you the Nancy Bailey from DeTour Village?”

She had met a man who was backpacking in Arizona, and she married him and moved to Australia! What a life this woman has led, from one side of the planet to the other. We stayed in touch through Facebook. I could still hear that clear, bell-like voice, with the slight New England accent through every message. She seemed very happy with Paul. Her photos were rife with pretty friends, big smiles, delicious food and exotic places.

She was aghast at the terrible things that happened to me. My book deal gone bad. My home foreclosed. My parents dying, first one and then the other, while I struggled to care for them. The vicious way my siblings treated my sister with Down syndrome, Amanda.

Then, her husband was stricken with cancer, and she barely had time to recover from the news, before he was gone.

On the night of Jon’s memorial service, I lay in bed chatting with her on Facebook about the way my siblings had abused Amanda that day. Suddenly, she typed, “What’s your phone number?”

She called me. It was 3 am my time. Her voice, that beautiful clear alto chime came through shouting, “What the fuck? What the fuck? What the FUCK is WRONG with Ted!? I thought he was a nice guy!”

She launched into a tirade that was characteristically irreverent and hilarious. I laughed so hard my sides hurt.

A few days later I had a message from her. “What are you doing October third?”

She was coming home to America and had a four hour layover in Detroit.

When I finally found her terminal, she came running out to the van, throwing her carry-on in the back seat and grabbing me in a hug that was as big and genuine as her smile. When you haven’t seen someone in thirty years, you expect them to look different. But she is the same, exactly as I know her.

nancy kerry

We drove to a Denny’s and ordered up a couple of sandwiches.

She grabbed my hand. “You have done the right thing. For your dad. For Amanda.”

I nodded. “It’s just grief. I’m very depressed.”

“Shit! Hell, yes! After what you’ve been through?! Your parents! Amanda! Now you’re grieving Jon! And you have to grieve Ted! Oh my God, Nancy!”

I nodded. She was looking right into me, with the eyes of someone who had known me so long ago. And she had come all this way to tell me things that no one else, who has known me that long, will say. She had made this trip happen. For me. And her eyes were saying it all.

That is love.

“Do you think you will move to America?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know where I belong anymore.”

I nodded. “I understand how that feels.”

There was so much to say. But it took very few words to cover it. And while we could have kept talking forever, we didn’t have to. We knew this place, this warmth.

This melting pot.

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The Therapy Horse And The Cancer Kids

Clifford was mighty excited when Stayner showed up. I think he figured it was about a trail ride. On other days, when Stayner has pulled the “Silver Bullet” down the driveway, it has meant an adventure in the woods.

Even though he is 27 years old, Clifford is still a kid at heart. And with a horse, that can be a pain. He wouldn’t stand still to have his purple cooler put on. He jigged around on the lead line and didn’t want his mane brushed.

I asked Stayner to hold him while I ran to the house for something, and when I came out, I saw Clifford leaning on my friend with his hind legs yawning backward, pushing, pushing into the soggy ground. Stayner was pushing back against his chest, and not very successfully. The two of them were forming a human-equine pyramid.

“Is he leaning on you?!” I said.

“Yes. And this isn’t very comfortable.”

“Clifford! How rude!” I took the lead rope.

Clifford clambered into the Silver Bullet with no objections, and we were off. Along the way, I got an email from our nurse friend, Judy, that the number of cancer kids had been whittled down to just two individuals. The others were not well enough to meet us in the hospital parking lot on a fifty-degree day.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I will do it for two kids. I would do it for one kid.”

When we arrived at the hospital, Clifford had deducted that we were not going for a trail ride, but instead were up to a meet-and-greet. He was all good with that. Anything to break up the monotony of his pasture-bound, when-can-I-get-back-to-Drummond-Island horse life.

Clifford Halter.jpg

Judy met us outside and suggested we leave him in the trailer until the kids were outside so they could watch him unload. In the meantime, the Channel Six guy asked if he could pin a mic on me. I stood by the trailer, where he had a clear shot of Clifford looking through the side window over the manger. I answered the questions.

  • Yes, he really is housetrained.
  • He is 27 years old.
  • They can live into their thirties.
  • He is the only horse in the world who signs his own biography.
  • He is an abstract artist.
  • Yes, he likes to paint.
  • He is a Morgan horse.

Clifford at Sparrow 2

Suddenly, Clifford took a messy mouthful of hay, swung his head out through the window, and threw it in my hair. He went back for another batch, shoveling hay at me, and the gathering crowd laughed while the loose chaff fell all down my shoulders and fluttered to the ground, with bits and stems sticking in my coat sleeves on the way.

“He is ready to come out,” I said.

Stayner and I lowered the ramp and Clifford backed down, looking excitedly around the parking lot. His gaze came to rest on the hospital doors. “He thinks he is going in there,” I told Judy.

The first patient was Jordan, a beautiful girl about nine years old, in a wheelchair. She was covered with a yellow blanket that was so thin I wondered how she could be warm enough. Clifford and I walked over to her. “Hi!”

“They told me it was a mini horse!” she said.

I looked at Clifford and shrugged. “Not exactly. He’s not huge. But he probably looks pretty big from where you are sitting.”

She nodded. She whipped out her phone and started snapping photos. Clifford obliged her, posing instantly, gazing off into the distance like any proper movie star.

“He’s beauuuutiful,” she said.

Clifford performed some tricks. He did his little dance number. He nodded his head yes and no. He counted with one forefoot. He picked up his lead rope every time I dropped it, ad nauseum. Jordan was happy with her phone in her hand, like a tiny shield, but she laughed and praised everything he did, and just kept taking photos.

Behind her, wheeling into the parking lot, pushed by a couple of women in scrubs, was a hospital bed. A child lay under the thin blankets, which were snugged up under his chin. He was so tightly swaddled in the white linen the only thing visible was his head. But when he saw Clifford coming toward him, he immediately sat up, the thin blanket fell away, and the waif transformed into a smiling little boy.

When Matthew and Clifford came together, it was as if they were old friends. Clifford thrust his nose down into the boy’s chest, blowing soft warm breath, and Matthew embraced him, running his tiny hands over the long face.

“Do you want to give him a treat?” I said.

I knew cancer patients probably shouldn’t have sugar. So I offered him a condition. “You can feed him this twizzler. But don’t eat it, because it has been in my pocket. It’s nasty.”

I handed Matthew one piece of licorice after another, which he took and shoved toward the horse’s mouth, where it was instantly swallowed. Clifford behaved as if he were an attentive dog, watching for the next snack, and barely resisting the urge to climb up on the bed.

“More!” Matthew would say, every time a twizzler disappeared. I started breaking up the river of treats by handing him the end of the lead rope and saying, “Okay, but first he has to do a trick! Throw it, Matthew! Throw it HARD!”

He threw down the lead rope and Clifford promptly picked it up. He was rewarded with another Twizzler.

There we were, playing in the parking lot, a little kid in a hospital bed, playing fetch with a horse.


There were moments when Matthew grew tired and he would lean down, resting his head on his arm, gazing thoughtfully into the distance. I don’t know how old Matthew is. I guess around four. But in those moments, when his eyes became dreamy, I thought he seemed way beyond his years.

“Clifford is on your shirt,” he said to me.

“Yes that’s right!” I said, looking down at my shirt front. I had forgotten about it. “That’s Clifford on there.”

He lay his head down again, and again with the dreamy look. This was a lot of excitement for such a little guy. He was getting tired, I knew. I thought it was time to give Jordan another moment with Clifford.

But as I turned away, silently signaling for Clifford to follow, Matthew roused himself, pointed at the horse, and shouted, “More!”



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Horses — And Who Is This Therapy For, Anyway?

Unfortunately for Clifford, it is Bath Day. Not that Bath Day is ever good, but today we have some genuinely crap weather — rainy and not quite 60 degrees. Whatever happened to Indian Summer?

The one good thing about the cooler weather is that it has lessened his EPM symptoms and he is walking straighter — even galloping when he feels like it. I won’t say it’s normal galloping. It is more like a sort of bunny hop. It doesn’t slow him down much. The left hind is the one most afflicted. We have served him a dose of stem cell fluid and so far it hasn’t helped. Our next treatment is up and coming soon.

In the meantime, I manage the neurological stuff with plenty of vitamin E. I keep him fit and moving.

I would have not chosen to give him a bath today, because the water from the hose is cold. Oh, for a heated stall rack! Someday, when I’m rich.

He is grazing far out in the field when he sees me coming with the lead rope. His head pops up and he turns and gallops toward me. Normally when he runs, he jacks his tail up over his back and flies, with his front legs churning and his head turning wildly, rolling one eye at me and then the other. But today, he does a light, three-beat canter, ta-da-DUMP ta-da-DUMP ta-da-DUMP. He is facing forward, focused. He is leading off his right hind, compensating.

He runs up to me cheerfully and I clip the lead rope on. He is less cheerful when we round the corner and he sees the hose is already running, and his bath gear — shampoo, mane comb, rubber mitt, are all there waiting for him. Over the fence, watching with interest, is his understudy, Kerry.


Like always, I hit Clifford’s feet with the jet of water first, to warn him of the temperature before we proceed. He braces himself. Then the water sloshes over his back, and he flinches, arching himself into a u-shape, away from the cold stream.

As I wet him all down, over his legs, soaking his tail, spraying his neck and dousing his mane, I start to apologize.

I tell him I am sorry the water is so cold. I am sorry it is not a warmer day, and I have to do this.

“You have to be clean for tomorrow. We are going to see some sick little kids. You will know they are sick. You will smell the medicine.”

I pause, shooting a jet of water deep into his mane and then throwing down the hose and picking up the shampoo bottle. I squirt a long, white line into his mane and scrub it deeply through the coarse hair.

“You will know what is wrong with them. They have cancer. Like Grandpa did. And Uncle Jon.”

At that moment, I surprise myself with a sob. It catches deep in my throat and the tears flow. I stand there crying, apologizing to my dripping horse, as the cold water seeps into my socks.

He turns his head and rests his muzzle, ever so gently, on my shoulder. I feel his warm breath. He stands still, breathing on me, letting the water dribble into pools below us.

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The Age of Entitlement – And the Abuse of Women

The head-spinning events today involving the supreme court appointment have me looking up statistics.

White men in power. I think I have a case of PTSD.

One in four women in America has been sexually abused. This is just the women who have admitted to it.

I think it is probably more.

I am the one in four.

I didn’t tell anyone.

So many women have been sexually abused or assaulted, by men who are asserting control over them. We all know someone, or we are someone, who has had to recover from the inappropriate actions of some entitled asshole.

Not as many women have a family member with Down syndrome, who is being abused by men in power.


I have a sister who is being manipulated and controlled by white, entitled men.

And I am sick of watching it.

So, I’m telling everyone.

The residual effects of sexual abuse are many and varied. According to the University of Michigan, they include:

  • Shock and numbness
  • Loss of Control
  • Fear
  • Guilt and Self-Blame
  • Isolation
  • Vulnerability, Distrust
  • Anger
  • Disruption of Daily Activities

I can attest to feeling all of these, in both situations — the abuse I have endured, and the non-sexual, but just as damaging, abuse they inflict regularly upon Amanda.

Bullying by men in power is epidemic in our country.  What is almost worse is the complacency of their wives. My sisters, and in-laws, who are contributing to Amanda’s abuse are all white, entitled women. They are religious fanatics, and/or have relied on men for their livelihood, through marriage, alimony or child support from some privileged idiot. They have never built anything, helped anyone, or stood for anything on their own. They are accessories, existing to enable the male dominance.

Beyond wielding male body parts, there is a pervading mentality that if you work hard at some conventional job, get an education, have a bunch of letters behind your name or make a lot of money, it renders you somehow superior to others, and gives you certain rights and privileges over them, or to them.

Men who abuse women are common, whether the abuse is sexual or otherwise, whether they think they can help themselves to your body, or keep your sister isolated and figuratively beaten into a submissive shadow of her former self.

I have endured sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and death threats as well as physical and emotional battery, and much of it from my own brothers.

My sister Amanda is enduring the constant pain of being isolated, separated from her loved ones, degraded in language and actions and treated as less than a person, every day of her life.

The message, to her and me, is clear. “You don’t matter. You are inferior. We can make you toe the line. We can teach you a lesson. We can shut you up. We can take you, own you, grind you into nothing. You are insignificant.”

All this from entitled white males, a broken justice system, and vicious, cowardly women who do not understand what it is like to live a valid life.

I have drawn so many comparisons watching the hearings unfold, watching the legal system dismiss and demean this courageous woman, Dr. Ford, who has come forward to say, “This is wrong.”

I know her voice. I feel her pain. I think about my sister, Amanda, and I hope and wish for the rational voices of the victims, of the empaths, of those who have a conscience, to rise up and shout like a deafening thunder, to roll over the noise of the small-minded, to reach into the darkest parts of our society, where acts of secrecy and greed, malice and hatred cling to the bitter dregs who live there, and petty minds are shaken and laid bare for all to see.

It’s too bad that it takes so much courage to do the right thing. It can be so damn hard. When you stand up against a bully, you are making yourself a target. You have to be prepared for the possibility that no one will back you. You have to do it knowing there may not be any others jumping up and yelling, “I am Spartacus.”

Thanks to Dr. Ford, and Anita Hill, and all the others who do it anyway.



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Why My Sister With Down Syndrome Is Smarter Than Her “Normal” Brother

My latest installment of, “When the Witless Go To Washington” — or maybe, “You Can’t Outwit the Wittiest”? Or, “No One is Dumber Than Dan”? This actually happened.

As I explained in previous posts, our brother Jon died in August and the whole ugly clan went out to Washington to gather. My hopes to spend quality time with my sister Amanda were crushed, due to a bunch of non-reasons, the only actual one being that they are a bunch of bullies.

Dan asked Judy, Jon’s wife, to have me leave so they could visit. Obviously I didn’t know they were bringing Amanda.


They gave her some story and she outed them.   #DownSyndromeDoesntMeanStupid





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When Your Siblings Become Cartoons To Promote Human Rights


This is my illustration of an event that happened at my brother Jon’s memorial service on August 10. My sister Amanda has Down syndrome and we are both brokenhearted over his death. We loved Jon. I wanted to take her out for pizza to give her some relief. Unfortunately, even though she is my blood sister, and she is 47 years old, and she badly wanted to go, even NEEDED to go, I had to ask permission from her guardian to do so.

This is what happened.

There are a couple of embellishments — there were no darts present. Those are figurative. Ruthie did not say that I could not take her because I did not pay. She did use those words another time. That quote is from a prior conversation that I had with Ruthie, it did not occur on that day. The rest of the quotes are verbatim.

The whole story is in a couple of prior blog posts, because I am damned mad about it.

There is no reason for this cruelty to Amanda. If you are that sick in your mind and you can’t handle being her guardian, then don’t do it.

If I get enough likes about my drawings of siblings, the Ugly Americans, I might continue doing them. It is a great way to vent. Maybe it will give them a new perspective on how they appear to others.

….Yeah, right.

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