Clifford Paints Drummond Island



They say an artist is not an artist unless he is producing art. Clifford had not painted in about a month, and that was mostly signing books. The heat is setting into lower Michigan and it’s hard to be inspired. Mostly he just wants to stand around in the shade. Who can blame him?

I thought maybe he was getting a little tired of painting abstract watercolors. Artists often feel the need to expand. Maybe he would like to try something more representational. He had done a couple of portraits, including one of David Letterman (a loose interpretation). But how about a landscape? He could start off with something that wouldn’t be too complicated.

We selected a subject matter near and dear to both of us: Drummond Island. I got it started with a basic outline on a sturdy stretched canvas, painting the Saint Mary’s River an intuitive shade of blue. I blocked the shape of Drummond in with green.

Clifford was standing outside under the shade tree, swatting flies. I came out with his sponge, the canvas and acrylic paints in a little dish. I laid the canvas down in the grass so he could get a look at what I had done.

“I know you’ve never been on a plane or in space. So you don’t maybe understand that this is Drummond. But if I tell you it’s Drummond, now you know. And I got the outline done for you, because I know you’re new at this representational art. So I am just gonna let you go ahead and do your thing, okay?” 

I lay the sponge down on the canvas and told him to go ahead. He hesitated and then took a swipe with his nose.

Drummond became decorated with violet, bright red and yellow. I was trying to make a video at the same time, and he just kept bonking the phone with his nose. You could almost hear him. “Put that thing away!”

I realized then that he likes me to get right in there with him. When we do our paintings at the schools, I am always picking up the sponge when he throws it on the floor, or tapping it to encourage him to keep on going.


Jeesh. I always thought of art as more of a solitary type thing.

He stepped on the canvas a couple of times, which fortunately didn’t hurt it. As usual, he got paint all over his nose. When the work was finished I noticed that the purple is reserved for the shores and water line, and the yellow for the village and areas with more traffic. Our spots, Bailey’s Lake, Warner’s Cove, Huron Bay, our heart of hearts, is bright red.

I’m sure it’s all a coincidence.


It’s getting time for us to migrate. In the morning, he hollers at me to let him out in the yard while I water flowers and weed veggies. When it gets hot he moves back into the barn. The other horses stay out in the field. But he doesn’t like the heat.

I often wonder if horses become snowbirds like people do. If so, then mine certainly are. Traveling five hours north every spring, to return in the fall, over 24 years’ time has to just feel like normal life to them now. At least, as normal as life can be, on an island, with a horse who paints.


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Puppy Training: Name Recognition and Coming When Called

Silly Dogs

Molly the Goldendoodle puppy has been with me for ten days now. Over the past several days I have been working on teaching her to come when her name is called.

Coming when called is a progressive thing, taught over a series of stages, and it is very important that it not be combined with any punishment. I also do not approve of having the puppy “sit” or do any extra behaviors when learning to come when called. Tacking on an extra task just makes the behavior a chore, and that is the last thing you want.

Once the “recall” as we in the dog world refer to it, is firmly established, then other things can start to be included. But with a puppy, coming when called is all fun, all a celebration, all good stuff.

In some of these videos you will see me addressing her by name before asking her for a trick, but that is different from calling her in from a distance and then withholding a treat while expecting her to do something else. In each exercise, there is only one behavior required to get the reward.

I made a series of videos to show how the process began a few days ago. Here Molly is first introduced to her name.

Here Molly is learning that her name means something. All I am asking her to do is look at me when I say it. Notice that I only say the name once, and if she ignores me, I wait a good twenty seconds or longer before I call her again.

For this reason, I ask my students not to say their dog’s name for the first week when we start training. Most of them are very surprised when they hear this request. I do it not so much to condition the dog, but to make the owners aware of how many times a day they are saturating the puppy with its name. THIS is why your dog ignores you! We are constantly spewing verbal noise. In order to have a dog come when you call it, you have to use a verbal cue that means something. And the “something” had better be good.

Dogs are really language savvy. They are smart. They probably understand more language than we are aware of. It doesn’t take much for a dog to learn what its name is, but it takes some effort to make it a word that is worth responding to.

Once Molly is responding pretty reliably to these simple attention exercises, I begin to complicate matters by getting other dogs involved. With this exercise, I tag the name on to a simple trick. Every dog gets a turn. This exercise really clues the dog in to his identity. It has a couple of other advantages, too. The puppy learns that other dogs have names, and who’s who. The puppy learns that other dogs get treats too, and just like little kids, you have to be patient and take turns.

Patience at this point is not Molly’s strong suit! This exercise is an excellent one for her. The worse the dog behaves, the more they should practice whatever is stimulating them to be naughty.

Then I up the ante in the  name recognition exercise, by calling her from a short distance when she is distracted.

I dropped a few pieces of food in the grass and then moved away from her.

We ended our lesson on a good note, with a couple of little tricks.

Good girl, Molly.


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My Fight With Technology


Clifford the Movie Star

Clifford the Horse, future movie star.


Filmmaking is not what you think.

For one thing, film is now defunct. I have sat in the basement of the University of Michigan, helping a friend go through reel by reel of old classics, some of them early prints of the original film. Singing In the Rain. It’s a Wonderful Life. The Road to Morocco. We are wiping each frame clean of lethal mold as the reel whirrs and spins and the strip slides obligingly onto another spool, only to be packed away into the can, labeled and shelved for an indefinite era.

Meanwhile, just like Spielberg, Hallstrom, and Ridley Scott, the amateurs are switching to digital media. For the wannabes, sometimes even a phone can improvise a scene, for a piecemealed documentary or indie effort destined for Netflix or even just YouTube.

I am determined not to talk too much about my film. In a situation like this, it can get to be all talk and no action. Plus, I have been collecting footage for years. It started back in 2003. After a while, it gets to be old news. My love letter to a place called Drummond Island. My story about a horse named Clifford. How an equine changes from a sassy, crooked-legged runt to a road warrior who goes into classrooms and helps disabled kids.

And the answer to the greatest mystery: How you prevent a horse from pooping indoors.

So I quietly keep accumulating footage and time passes. I write the treatment, gather the interviews, working with one cinematographer after another. I have hours and hours of footage. Most of it is collected on a single external hard drive.

I am ready to progress into the editing phase. I know how to use the software. The issue is getting a computer that can handle the job. It has to be able to accommodate a really big file. Unfortunately, my work horse laptop has died. I have to find the replacement, but I can only afford a refurb: One that has been used and revamped. I want a Dell, like my old one. It is equipped to handle the editing process. So I get a decent discount through a Groupon offer. My old one was pink. This time I order a purple one. I get it for about a third of what I paid for my old one. I am on Cloud Nine!

The day it arrives is a great day. Finally I can begin the painstaking process of piecing together this culmination of years. I plug the hard drive into the new purple laptop. The computer sends me a signal that not one of the USB ports on this computer is functioning.

What follows is an excruciating series of episodes intended to solve the problem. Well, is there a problem with the hard drive? No. It’s the computer. There isn’t a single USB that this laptop recognizes.

I call Dell. They are sorry, even though Groupon has claimed this computer comes with a warranty, Dell does not honor the warranty because the computer is used.

A friend loans me a computer. Before I purchase the editing software, I try the free trial period offered through the site. When I attempt a sample edit, the computer makes a coughing, dying whirring sound, like the Millenium Falcon when there’s a malfunction in the hyperdrive.

I will spare further details about the various glitches in the series of computers. Suffice it to say that I am now on my fifth laptop in an attempt to begin the edit. This one is making me suspicious because even though it is brand new, it is a cheaper version of a more heavy-duty machine. It currently is not recognizing Word documents unless I load them through a flash drive. At least the USB works.

Time will tell.

It appears that with computers, you get what you pay for. In trying to do a big job, you really shouldn’t skimp on your tools. However, for some of us, there just isn’t a whole lot of choice. So, we do what it takes, knowing that no matter how much time passes, we will prevail.

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Timid Puppy Day 4 – Teaching “Roll Over”


“Roll over” is a great confidence builder for shy puppies as puts them in a vulnerable position for a moment — but nothing bad happens — and they recover on their own steam.

It is very easy to teach using the method of food luring. To begin with, start with the pup in a lying down position and use the food to guide the head backwards. This will throw the body off balance and pull it over on its shoulder. As the pup flops onto her side, continue to guide the head and then reinforce (with praise or a click) when she is on her back. Allow the puppy to right herself, and then treat.

The great thing about roll over is, as with the spin, you only have to train half the behavior and the dog does the rest on her own.

The roll over is easiest to teach when it is always in the same direction. Therefore, the puppy has to be positioned correctly in order to be successful.


Once the behavior is learned, the gesture can be faded to a slight hand cue or verbal cue. While practicing, it is okay to let the puppy have fun and play around. All the excess paw flipping and shenanigans will eventually disappear.

It is worth mentioning, though, that there is some controversy over teaching a dog to roll over, especially among the large breeds. The fear is that it will contribute to bloat or torsion, where the stomach flips. I understand the concern but this has never been my experience. All my dogs learn roll over as a trick and it is one of the first things I teach them. They roll naturally in the yard when on their own anyway.

For more information about puppy training, check out my book, 25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy.

25 Ways



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Bailey’s Boot Camp for Dogs – Timid Puppy – Day 3

puppy puppy

The timid puppy is getting less timid all the time, but the confidence- building exercises continue. At times (like at the farm store yesterday) older dogs can come in handy.

One thing that builds confidence in puppies, especially the toy and miniature breeds (because people tend to coddle and carry them everywhere) is to allow them to walk on their own four feet, and solve problems in their own way.

As example, this puppy did not want to walk up or down the stairs. We fixed this today by allowing my two chihuahuas to show her how it’s done. Here, Jack Johnson provides an example on how to descend. This is the puppy’s third attempt to go down stairs.

Meanwhile, teaching of simple tricks can help the puppy “learn to learn”. Food luring comes in handy for young puppies, as it is the genesis of hand signals. This puppy learns to turn in a simple circle by luring with a treat. The hand acts like a magnet that guides the puppy around.

Eventually, the hand luring is faded into a smaller gesture, and the puppy hopefully has the idea. The food will eventually be faded altogether, and the hand cue can be replaced with a verbal cue.

During these exercises, there will be an increase in focus as the dog watches for the cue. I haven’t been using the clicker because I am having trouble handling the camera and a clicker simultaneously. I am using verbal praise. It really doesn’t matter what I say, since the tone of my voice encourages the pup and she’s getting the food at the end of the behavior.

I will be able to fine-tune this trick with a clicker eventually as it offers a lot more precision for the reinforcement. So I can add perks like having her stay on her hind legs while performing this pirouette, or a sit at the end.


For more info on training puppies, check out my book, 25 Ways to Raise a Great Puppy.

25 Ways

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Bailey’s Boot Camp for Dogs – Timid Puppy – Day 2

I’ve always said that people with Golden Retrievers don’t know how easy they have it. These dogs train themselves. Poodles are pretty much the same. I would imagine that a cross between the two would be heaven for a behaviorist.

This puppy is 3 quarters miniature poodle and 1/4 Golden. She’s about eight pounds now and I expect may double that.

She has begun to reveal a playful and lively nature, and is as sweet and cooperative as her breeding suggests.


Today she overcame the dodging habit although she still has a tendency to back or scramble away when approached. However, she will come to me now when I put my hand down.

We went to the feed store and I bought her a harness and tried that on her. My intent was to walk her into the store, as she had followed me around the house and yard consistently.

But the harness proved to be a big deal. She just planted all four feet. Rather than carry her, or drag her around the store, I employed the help of Til, my border collie.

Sure enough, the prospect of going with another leashed dog did the trick. We walked up and down the store aisles and she had no objection of trotting along with us. She allowed petting by various people and earned a couple of cookies.

Now that she has experienced this, with Til’s help, in the future when she goes alone she will handle it much better.

I am getting the basic socializing and harness/leash stuff out of the way before I start getting too serious about house training and teaching basic obedience or tricks. These first days, I am just letting her be a dog, letting her see that it’s all okay and she is safe.

I wish that more people understood the importance of getting small puppies out of the house. It is so easy to prevent future problems with leash pulling and coming when called. You can prevent dog bites and dog fighting this way. Make the commitment to take your dog out of the house every single day. Have him ride in the car in his crate, every day. Do a leash walk every day. Have him meet three new people a day. Take him through automatic doors and on tile and wood floors and concrete. Take him on stairs and in elevators. Until he is four months old, work hard at it, and you will save yourself so much trouble in the years to come.

25 Ways

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Bailey’s Boot Camp for Dogs – Timid Puppy

It’s puppy season! It’s a busy time for those of us who train puppies, rescue and foster puppies, or who are breeders planning that next litter.

Timid puppies can grow up to be serious problem dogs. They have a tremendous propensity to bite, usually a reactive behavior due to fears and insecurity. Fortunately, timidity in a young puppy is super easy to fix.

mup mup.jpg

I was given this mini Golden doodle to keep for ten days or so and house train. Unfortunately for the new owners, this puppy likes to race and dodge just out of reach. She doesn’t want to allow herself to be caught.

Rather than just fix it, I decided to journal the process so that others who have similar issues can see some solutions.

  1. First of all, I do not free feed these puppies. I make sure that every bite of food is earned. I carry delicious treats with me when I work with them. A hungry dog is a motivated dog: Use it!

When a puppy is dodgy like this I kind of ignore it for the most part. I don’t do a lot of talking, wheedling or coaxing. I never say the dog’s name. Name recognition is taught as a separate exercise at a later time. A lot of talk is certain death! It is a sure way to condition the dog to ignore your voice.

I just sit calmly and tap the ground with my fingers. As long as the hand is lower than chin level, the puppy feels confident enough to mince toward me.

Naturally, these exercises all have to be performed within a safe and enclosed area. This puppy is very social with other dogs, so her contact with my dogs will be kept to a minimum. I want her to become people-social.

We started off on enclosed deck with solid floor so there would be little distraction. Puppy is pretty hungry.

2) Puppy did so well that I moved her into an area with more stimulus. She is starting to experiment with biting my hand in a play mode. Mostly what she is doing is sucking on my fingers. I am armed with delicious bits of chicken. I haven’t started clicker training yet.

She is very wiggly and excited.

3)  Once we had established a little bond, I started teaching her what the clicker means. This is the first stage of what I call Attention Training.

I click when the puppy makes eye contact or at least looks up toward my face.

This is outlined in my booklet, 25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy.

4) Our last exercise of the day was to take a walk.

There is a big, enclosed field in the back of the property. Puppies have a strong instinct to follow. So I walk pretty fast and it becomes her job to run to keep up with me. I don’t call her or talk to her or say her name. I just keep moving. Since she is timid, I become the security object and when I stop moving she will sit on my feet.

I can occasionally bend down and give her a treat, and reinforce her for sticking with me. But most puppies at the age of under four months will do this naturally.

Off-leash walking is a tremendous opportunity to instill this “following” mechanism in a dog’s brain. Beginning this type of walking early on can create a dog that will always stay with you, even off leash, who comes when you call, who can be trusted in all situations.

For more information on puppy training, check out my book, 25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy.

For more information on clicker training, check out 15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog.

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Book Sale! The North Side of Down – Excerpt

The true story of two sisters, one with Down syndrome, the misfits in a large, dysfunctional family. When their father dies, the two sisters find their lives quickly unraveling.

The North Side of Down is winner of the 2015 Medallion from the Book Reader’s Appreciation Group.

This work of nonfiction sells for $17, but this week you can get it for under $10.

Order directly through the publisher: and enter this discount code:
for a whopping $8.00 off the $17.95 list price.
Our lowest price ever!
Sale ends Friday!

North with BRAG


Polly was Dad’s red-headed niece, and one of his life’s greatest darlings.  She had a perpetual smile that squeezed her eyes into happy slits.  Her hair was a mass of tight curls and she kept it barely contained by pinning it up over her ears.  Her home had always been open to Mom and Dad and Amanda.  Nearly every trip to the Soo, whether it was for groceries, or doctor visits, or any type of business, involved a stop for coffee at Polly’s.  We parked in the alley behind her house and a walked through the yard to her back door, into the homey kitchen peppered with photos of grandchildren. She greeted us with a big grin, and hugs all around.  “How are you, Amanda?  You want some coffee?”

“I’m fine!” Amanda said.  “Yes please!”

Dad sat down and stammered, “I’ve been to – to the doctor.”

“Yes, what did you find out?” Polly was turning away from the counter with a steaming mug, and she set it down in front of Dad.

“They said I have lung cancer.” It was the first time I had heard him say the words, and he gasped, a sharp breath after they came out.  Tears suddenly began streaming down his face.  I felt a cold, stabbing pain go through me; an awful helplessness.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Polly’s eyes immediately flooded.  She came over and quickly embraced him.  “Well, we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

Dad took a napkin from her little ceramic holder on the table, and mopped at his face.  He looked calmer, I thought.  As I sat down at her table, I marveled at this woman’s ability to say just the right thing, to offer so much comfort in so few words.

She turned again, with a cup for Amanda, and I saw that her face was reddened, but she was maintaining an anguished smile.  Amanda was steadfast as usual, but her eyes leapt from face to face, assessing every reaction.

Polly cradled her mug, sat down and talked about her grandchildren, and how everyone was spending the fall, and how the little ones were doing in school.  She talked about how Frank would stop in now and then with her favorite donuts from Cedarville.  “They’re just the best.”  She nodded to Amanda. “They have that crispy little edge, eh?  I can’t get enough of ‘em.  It’s a good thing they make ‘em a half hour away or I’d weigh 300 pounds!”

Dad and Amanda laughed.  While I watched, they both relaxed visibly as Polly chatted on about how lawn mowing was over for the season, and how Frank’s grandson was doing in basketball, and how she had seen a late flock of geese flying south, finally, and wasn’t it strange that fall had been so late in coming, this year and last.  She talked about her childhood days on Lime Island with her sisters Bonnie and Maxine, and Dad absorbed this like one who has waited all day for a drink of water.

When we left there and I loaded Dad’s oxygen tank back into the car, I reflected on the gifts of a person who asks for nothing, who has no agenda, who merely offers companionship through small anecdotes.  This, I thought, was heroism in its simplest form.  I thought that anyone should be able to do this.  I thought Polly had the right idea.  There was so much comfort in little things; in normalcy.  It was a good example for me to follow.  Driving past the brown fields and naked trees, we were all feeling grim.  I knew attitude could make all the difference and I was firm in my resolution to meet this head-on.  With this in mind, Amanda and I continued our bickering.

“Way to slop up the coffee, there, Java Sucker,” I said.

Dad laughed.

“You should tell Nancy to stop teasing me, Dad,” Amanda said.

“You should give Amanda a spanking, Dad,” I said.

“You should pull her hair, Dad,” Amanda said.

“You should pop out her eyeballs, Dad.”

“You should run over her with the car, Dad,” Amanda said.

Dad had his customary smile and delivered his line, right on cue.  “You two get along.”

Perhaps as a result of our determination to maintain some semblance of normalcy, Dad was able to recover his sense of humor.  He was trying hard, I thought.  I remembered when he had his biopsy, we had waited an excruciating four hours in radiology pre-op.  I thought we might never get out of that room.  Eventually, we noticed a Black and Decker power drill sitting on a desk in the corner.  Dad nudged me, nodding toward it.  “I hope they’re not gonna operate on me with that!”

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Nerdy Talk About Horse Tricks

Horse tricks are fun, but they have seriously helpful applications.

(As an aside, first of all, I found out too late today that in order to get a proper video, I have to turn my new phone, which I call the Monolith, sideways. Oh well.)

Today I worked with my six year old Morgan, Kerry 7th Gen, on some stuff that I have been developing for awhile.

The important thing about tricks is that it teaches the horse to focus. A well-educated horse will become less reactive, by concentrating on the task at hand. The more a horse learns to learn, the more he is up in his brain and able to disregard stimulus that would otherwise be scary.

But reaching that educated point takes a lot of work. Here is an example of a completely distracted Kerry 7th Gen. He is looking across the street and although he is staying in position as I have asked, he is completely ignoring every other cue.

This is an example of how JR, as we call him, has a long way to go before he “graduates” to a higher level of expectations. By diverting his attention back to me, I am able to get him to perform the trick. Here he breaks the stay, but he responds honestly when I ask him to stop, and when reminded, he picks the whip up.


Clifford was watching the training and giving me little reminding nickers that he would perform each trick exactly as he was supposed to.

So, after Jr’s session was over and he was put back out to pasture, I went to Clifford and let him earn a couple of apple wafers.

Did you see how I handed him that apple wafer? It was supposed to be on my flat palm. My bad.

Clifford was too nervous to mimic aggression with the more dominant JR standing right next to him. So, I cut him some slack.


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Clifford Rocks the Charlotte Library

Clifford played host to some 60 little kids this morning in Charlotte Community Library. Director Sally L. Seifert, the Children’s and Young Adult Librarian, had seen to it that the place was set up to my specifications: Plenty of room for Clifford to move around, a big table for him to paint on, and a strip of masking tape along the floor as a visual boundary, for the kids to keep their toes back.

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017.jpg

He walked around and did his usual meet-and-greet, singling out a few particular kids with extra attention, maybe blowing in their hair or doing his fake side-swipe nipping motion. He was greeted with screams and laughter.

This crowd was pretty young; most of the kids were under ten years old. We talked about animals and what they like to eat. Clifford answered a lot of questions about his thoughts on the matter. “Do you want a peppermint? Do you want it now, or wait til we get home?”

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017a

He performed some tricks and then painted pictures and signed some copies of his biography, Clifford of Drummond Island.

We finished the program with the usual: A long lineup of posed photos!

This may have been the first time many of the kids had an opportunity to handle a full-sized horse, all by themselves.

We hope to spread the message that animals are sentient beings with likes and dislikes and thoughts of their own, especially about when they should have a snack!

Big THANK YOU to Charlotte Library for having us!

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017b

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017d.jpg

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017g.jpg

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017h.jpg

Clifford Charlotte Library 2017f



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