Puppy Boot Camp Day 6 – Proofing the “Stay” – and Help From Older Dogs

Lively Loki the Doberman mix puppy has had his world turned upside down over the past week, as he has moved into a highly regulated training regimen. Two days ago, we began working on “stay”, and today we employed it in some practical ways: On a hike on a Michigan trail. We did this with the help of Til, my 7 year old border collie.

Til Loki 5

First of all, we picked a trail that I am familiar with, and we chose to go early in the day so we wouldn’t run into a lot of other hikers with dogs. Puppies in training are best not exposed to a lot of other dogs on leash, at least not outside of class. It seems everyone wants their dog to meet mine.

At the risk of coming across as rude, I do not encourage dogs to meet on a trail. A dog should mind his own business and pay attention to his handler. Other dogs invite a loss of focus, and they run the risk of injury or even spreading disease. The owner may not be able to control his dog. There are just too many things that can go wrong when you interact with a strange dog, even if the owner tells you how friendly he is.

We managed to walk for an hour and didn’t encounter any other dogs. Yay!

Our mission was for Loki to remain walking politely on a loose leash. This was a good opportunity to let him see how it works in normal life: a nice long walk, maybe a little limited sniffing, lots to see, other hikers to encounter, and of course, squirrels!


Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Stop jumping up.

Stop biting.

Come when called.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Stop chasing cats.

When we started out, he was crowding and bumping me a little. I just began to walk crookedly, crashing into him, apologizing every time, but pretty soon he learned that I am clumsy and he should keep just a little space instead of hugging my leg.

Every new experience that you can give a puppy goes into his “Log Book of Learning.” If it is a bad experience, it may be one more thing you have to overcome. If it is a good one, it is one more stride toward confidence and good behavior.

Til Loki 6.jpg

On our walk, I carried the currently-essential pocketful of goodies — just a mix of kibble and broken biscuits. They were actually pretty low value treats (as opposed to cheese or cooked chicken) but since Loki hadn’t eaten since the night prior, I figured he would be plenty motivated. Plus, this was a relaxing walk, not a rigorous training exercise.

til loki 7

Along the way, we made various stops to work on short “stays,” wherein I posed both dogs on flat surfaces and took their picture. They only have to sit for a minute while I fumble with the camera.

This is one of the advantages of having an older dog to set an example. Loki has had only a few lessons in “stay” but because Til is willing to stay still, it encourages Loki to do so, as well.

til loki 3.jpg

Til also does not hesitate to climb up on rocks or benches when asked, therefore Loki follows happily.

These brief “photo stays” are a handy learning tool, which delivers the true meaning of the word (and hand signal) to the dog.  The stays are in different locations, on different surfaces, with food reward, and over with quickly. All good fun for a puppy on a new adventure.

til loki.jpg

And, there were the stairs. You have to climb three flights to get to the top of the ledges. But Loki handled them with aplomb.

Today’s log book has Loki one step closer to a reliable “stay.” A dog that can “stay” is more inclined to be grounded, and one step closer to breaking the constant jumping up habit. We are so busy concentrating on other tasks, that he doesn’t think so much about jumping anymore.

Grand Ledge Stairs.jpg

For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat


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Puppy Boot Camp Day 5 – Proofing the “Stay”

Loki does not like working outside. I am not really sure what the reason is for this. Yesterday he shut down completely, but was very enthused inside the house. Today I was able to coax him into a little session. It wasn’t too much torture as the temp is a balmy 65 here and sunny.

It’s really important to train your dog in different locations so that he doesn’t associate the behavior with the location. “When I say sit, I mean sit, even at the pet store. Sit, even at the ball field. Sit, even in the living room.”


Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Stop jumping up.

Stop biting.

Come when called.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Stop chasing cats.

He was relaxing on the deck after a morning of hard play with Jasper. He is good and hungry, having not eaten since the night before. I had brought Jasper into the house and Loki was resting on the deck alone. I managed to sneak out to the gate with him not knowing, probably because the neighbor was running his mower. I called him from the gate. He may not have realized where the voice was coming from at first, but then he did a beautiful recall from the back porch.

This is the type of recall worth building on.

Next we worked on a down stay, which he handled even though it was his first time ever doing it outside.

We like a nice, calm puppy, and in order to have that, he must get all his required daily aerobics in prior to the training session. I am lucky in that I have other dogs that will help with this aspect of his training.

The sit stay was more difficult. He was a little nervous (note the yawn).

His sad expression is due in part to the fact that he hates working outside. But it is also due to having to concentrate on the task at hand. He is working it out.

He got up and then heard my disappointed groan (which serves as a no-reward marker) and he tried to correct it by sitting again. Notice he doesn’t get a correction or get dragged back to the original spot. He just gets a groan and no click and no treat. We try again.

On our next attempt, he did just fine.

We kept the session short and sweet, leaving him with a “jackpot” treat on the ground. He got to go back in the shade and rest with Jasper.

This is just one more step in the long, long process of teaching a dog to stay. For a dog like Loki, it is a great exercise in self-control. For a dog with a compulsive jumping habit, it is a nice way to re-learn keeping all four paws on the ground.

For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat


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Puppy Boot Camp Day 4: Loki Beginning “Stay”

The “stay” cue isn’t hard to teach, although it is easy to nullify in short order.

The reason is usually due to a lack of proofing during training.

With this in mind, teaching “stay” is a long-term process that has to be done in stages. It can last for days, weeks, or even months depending on the duration expected and the conditions of the environment.

“Stay” is a great thing to teach because it comes in handy during unexpected times, and is a good exercise in self-control for impulsive pups like Loki.

Loki Moxie Sniff.jpg


Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Stop jumping up.

Stop biting.

Come when called.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Stop chasing cats.

Once your dog is lying down pretty reliably on cue, it is time to incorporate the “stay”.  I decided to train Loki from the “down” position because he is typically very animated and it takes more energy to break a down than it does a “sit.”

I teach “Stay” as if it is a dance. I back away one step, and click at the farthest point away from the dog. Then I return to give the treat. The dog knows the treat is coming so typically just waits.

From there, I build up to greater distances. I walk around the dog or back farther away. I generally walk backwards at first. At the farthest point, I click.

If the dog gets up at any point during the retreat, I am progressing too fast and must click sooner.

One rule of thumb is I tend to return to the dog rather than calling them out of the stay. I broke that rule in the video just to show that Loki is very animated and gets up easily.

Despite his high activity level, Loki has been a really quick study about this and even let me leave the room. I just go around the corner and back.

Hearing the clicker, the cats want to get in the middle of it, but he is already accustomed to that.


As an aside, on my list of to-dos for Loki is to help him learn to stop chasing cats. This has been done gradually but with no correction. By keeping the cats as an incidental rather than a focal point, he is becoming desensitized to their presence.

Loki Kitteh.jpg

For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 3 – Loki Learning Recall, Beginning Agility (And the Power of the Time Out)

It seems to finally be dawning on Loki that his life is about to change forever. He kind of shut down during his training stint today. He acted like he didn’t recognize any of the cues he has just learned — he wouldn’t lie down, turn in a circle, or even sit. His eyes just got all glazed over and he kept jumping around acting like a kid on too much sugar.

So, we did a time-out. I call it, “Packing Up My Barbies.” If it’s clear that the dog isn’t in the frame of mind to be able to focus, I don’t force it, but I don’t keep giving him attention either. He had already spent the morning outside playing with Jasper. So, back outside he went. He just lay on the deck contemplating life, poor little dude. I sense he is a little overwhelmed.


He spent about an hour just thinking things over, while I set up my set of pathetic makeshift jumps.

By this time he was bored and hungry enough to want to concentrate, although a little bit of the fizz was taken out of him due to the prior activity.


Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Stop jumping up.

Stop biting.

Come when called.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Stop chasing cats.

Thanks to the hula hoop action last night, his translation to these pole jumps went pretty smoothly. They started out at ground level. Again, he was hesitant so I clicked once for him just leaning over the pole. He instantly recognized the game and the word, “Jump!” and he stepped over the pole. I raised it in increments until it was about chest level on him.

I must add that dogs his age and younger have to be careful about doing too much jumping. The impact is awfully hard on their joints and can make them arthritic later. At sixteen months of age, Loki’s growth plates may have closed already; I’m not sure. So we are taking it easy.

loki jump.jpg

He was distracted by the pounding and buzzing of some nearby construction, so he kept wanting to wander off and look around. I just used it as an opportunity to practice the recall. He did come back every time.

Thanks to the hula hoop, he was even able to process me pointing at the jump and calling him over it to me. Loki’s new owner has an interest in agility, which would be a fitting career for a dog of his build and activity level.


This early jumping is all good practice for agility where a dog focuses on the task at hand despite the position of the handler. An agility dog can work from the right or left side indiscriminately.

This type of informal recall is the most powerful way to teach it. No leash involved. No yanking. It’s all free choice, and no tiresome, mandatory “sit” at the end. (One of my pet peeves! Why in the heck would you destroy a beautiful recall, on a dog who is just learning, by demanding a “sit” when he gets to you?! Throw a party when that dog gets to you! Forget the “sit”! Teach a joyful recall first, and then polish for formal obedience later. Even then, a “sit” should NEVER be demanded every freaking time the dog comes to you.)

Humans are cool. Humans are fun. Humans have snacks. “Hey, look over here!”

After our little recall and pole-hopping lesson, Loki was happy to get back in his “comfort zone” with his frozen treat, and is now snoozing away the afternoon.


For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 2 – Loki Beginning Trick Training

,June 2, 2018

Since he arrived on May 31, Loki has been saturated with new experiences, all crammed into a regulated schedule.

loki jasper posing.jpg

First thing in the morning, he goes out for about an hour, to play with the other dogs, run around and relieve himself, and generally get his ya-yas out.

jasper loki rassle.jpg

After that, he comes in for a training session. (The training, for now, always involves the clicker and food rewards. The food is a mix of his regular kibble, pieces of soft salmon-flavored dog treats, crunchy kitty treats, cheerios (the plain oat kind, not the sugary type), bits of cheese, and frozen peas.) Once his training session is over, he goes into the crate with his frozen Kong, to rest and chew and think things over.


Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Stop jumping up.

Stop biting.

Come when called.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Stop chasing cats.

On Saturday morning, he was introduced to a hula hoop that my cats and dogs jump through. He was afraid of the hoop at first. It is blingy, and rattles when you bump it. I began by clicking him for just approaching the hoop while I held it upright, braced on the floor. Finally, I was able to lure his head through it. It took about twelve repetitions of clicking him for just standing with his head through, before he finally took the brave step to put one foot forward.

Every time his foot touched it, the hoop would go “SHUSHHHH” and it scared him. But the sound of the click was an audible reassurance to help him overcome this.

For now, my dogs stay out of the picture while training, since Loki has enough to think about. But the cats, seeing the hoop out, began circling around hoping for some of the action. So I obliged them. They both hopped through, earning kitty treats. With his session thus interrupted, Loki had to watch the cats perform and eat treats tossed on the floor. He is smart enough to know that the clicks and treats were for them, and he didn’t try to interfere.

There is a strict rule with clicker training to never interrupt a session, to stick with one criteria at a time, and I think that this is a very good guideline. However, a dog is a lot more discriminatory than many folks might believe. Other pets can be very useful in teaching behaviors. For one thing, this act of interrupting the session is teaching him patience. He had enough interest in the food to watch intently. Also, since one of his problem behaviors has been playful aggression toward cats, this type of exposure causes a shift in his reactiveness to them.

When it was again Loki’s turn to go through the hoop, he stepped through without hesitation and earned his reward.

By the time the session was over, he was hopping through it.


Early coordination – preliminary agility

Beginning target training

Overcoming fear of objects

Overcoming fear of sound

Overcoming inappropriate predatory behavior

Establishing self-control

Expanding the learning curve.


With every new little trick, Loki becomes a smarter, more attentive dog. His synapses are firing as he “learns to learn.” Each lesson is a process in building a relationship. Humans are cool. Humans make great partners. There is a lot more to this!

For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat


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Puppy Boot Camp – Loki’s Journal Day 1

Loki is a maybe-Doberman mix who was rescued from a high kill shelter in San Antonio, Texas and bused to the Grand Rapids area. He was adopted by some friends of mine, perhaps due to his ears. Well, that’s why *I* would have adopted him. He likely appeals to them because he resembles an old dog they just lost. Aiden was a senior citizen dog and he was well seasoned. My friends had not owned a puppy in a couple of decades. Loki is about 15 months, a fully-fledged adolescent with sharp white teeth that love to chew on personal possessions, and chomp down on skin.

loki wag

So Loki is my newest addition to Puppy Boot Camp. I plan to journal his progress, in order to (1) reassure his new parents that we are actually doing something and (2) just in case someone is trying to rehab a lively rescued pup with similar issues. Training geeks who actually want to read these are probably already privy to many of these notions. But, you never know.


Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Stop jumping up.

Stop biting.

Come when called.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Stop chasing cats.

May 31, 2018 – Drop Off Day

Loki’s parents spent quite awhile here with him and it is evident how attached they already are. Thankfully, he is already crate trained, and pretty well on his way to being house trained.

I have two cats who like to hide when people come over. Loki had his paws full anyway due to there being four dogs here. The Chihuahuas seemed like fair game to him until he learned that either one would not hesitate to take him down — including little 8 lb Este. I was glad to see that a couple of snarling leaps at his face by both of them were enough to dissuade him from trying to make them a chew toy.

My border collie Til is more interested in playing fetch and herding cats than playing with a puppy. But Jasper the Labrador mix will show him a good time.

As soon as my friends left, I loaded up a couple of Kongs and placed them in the freezer. Like most adolescent dogs Loki has a strong need to chew so I will let him make the most of it in a safe way.

Loki has the nice habit of going to his crate to rest when there isn’t anything going on. He is just hanging out getting into the swing of things today. He got a loud correction for getting too rambunctious with the kitten. She hissed at him once and then he kept going back wanting to agitate her. I told him NO! and he shot like a rocket into his crate.

He takes me pretty seriously because my corrections are loud and sudden.

He has been outside a number of times and peed every time and then scouting the parameters of the yard. He hasn’t again investigated the height of the fence. He is never out there alone and there are always other dogs to distract him. He comes right back in with the others and they all line up for a cookie. I am giving him cookies inside my closed hand. I don’t open my hand until I can no longer feel his teeth. He is learning to be gentle.

The lining up for cookies is a ritual that can teach a lot to a dog. As each dog’s name is called, they get their cookie. The new dog learns the name of each corresponding dog. He learns that he does not always get to be first. He learns he has to wait his turn. Perhaps best of all, it puts even more meaning into the sound of his own name.

Loki has a typical habit of no body awareness, so I am bumping him and stepping on his feet. I like dogs to give people the right of way. No dog should ever be slamming into your legs or blocking you. It is a tripping hazard. So if he is lying down somewhere I pretend like I am walking there and I make him get up and move. By the time they get him back he should be conditioned to “yield the right-of-way.”

So far he has been very nice and snuggly but I haven’t provoked him to play or jump on me yet. I’m just letting him get used to things here.

He has been very good and appropriate with all the other dogs but Este isn’t taking any chances with him. She is putting him in his place and sticking really close to me. I think that is smart. She can only really see out of one eye, and she is aware that she is tiny. So far she is training him well!

Tomorrow I plan to take him out on a leash to the store or something and we will start working on coming when called. When he is a little more comfortable I expect he will start getting more wild so we will see how that goes.


June 1 – Attention Day

If I would stop training long enough to jot down my thoughts I might be able to organize a lot more information.

Loki had his first clicker training session this morning. The sound of the click scared him so I had to switch to my softer clicker. The dogs were all outside but of course hearing that clicker, the cats came circling around like sharks. That’s not a bad thing. (See 15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat.)

Traditionally, it is recommended to train one behavior at a time and focus on one subject (ie, don’t train the dog while you train the cats). But I find that many times with clicker training I can manage a bunch of things at once without disrupting the learning process.

In this case, I was trying to teach Loki to make eye contact. That’s really all I was asking. I call it attention training. I used a mix of his kibble, some soft dog treats, along with the junk food Party Mix Crunch that the cats like. I am glad that Loki is okay with all types of food and his food motivation is pretty good, even in the new environment. He is highly distractible by his environment. (Cats are like this, too.) Like most former street dogs, he is accustomed to things happening TO him, and around him, and doesn’t know he has control over some of his universe.

Therefore, I consider attention training the thing that will probably benefit him the most.

Making eye contact is hard work for him and he doesn’t yet understand that the connection is through the eyes. He looks up toward my face but if I move my face over an inch, he doesn’t track my eyes. He has that sort of glazed expression – no light bulb yet.

For some reason, once a dog learns to follow your eyes, the connection starts to get real after that and they begin to care more about what you think.

Since the cats were handy and eager to work, I made use of it by giving treats to all of them. I toss the treats for the cats sometimes and they chase after them. So Loki had to endure the sight of the cats running away from him. He did fine with this, while I said nothing. I even dropped a treat between him and Kitteh and they both looked at each other like the two chipmunks in that cartoon. “After you!” “No, after you!”

Obviously this takes all the mystery and fun out of chasing the cats and encourages everyone to get along.

Loki is a gentle soul and exhibited great self control. This is due in part to new and strange environment, part I-get-treats-as-long-as-I’m-good.

Once he had a pretty good idea of what the click meant, we worked on name recognition wherein I started walking around the house. He was pretty sure he knew where I was going so it gave him a good opportunity to charge ahead. Once he was looking away from me, I’d call his name. He ignored me the first couple of times and then it began to dawn on him that he would get clicked for responding to his name.

We graduated to outdoors with the other dogs around, and he ran down the steps into the fenced area. I called his name and he came back. I rewarded him with a huge “Good boy!” and a higher valued treat, a bit of white meat chicken.

We did three recalls like this but the third one he ignored. Ron was working on something in the garage and he became all involved in watching that. I quietly ushered all the dogs into the house. It took Loki a few minutes to figure out he was outside all by himself. When I finally opened the door, he came scooting in.

Lesson: Pay attention, or you miss out.

I want the dog to react instantly and with enthusiasm to his name, like, screeching halt when I call him. Stop whatever you are doing and come! We aren’t quite there yet. But he’s not had time to get hungry enough. He will soon learn that, here at boot camp, meals do not come out of the bowl. They are all in the frozen kong or following the clicker.

He is back in his crate now with the kong and resting in the AC while I get some work done.

So far so good!

2:55 pm

Loki is accustomed to a flexi lead so he has learned to pull very hard and go a distance away from the handler. I am graduating him to a traditional six foot leash.

We took Jasper and Loki to the farm store to buy horse feed, wormer and a salt block. Loki gets right in the car, no problem. He is a good traveler. We went through the bank drive through and the dogs got cookies.

Walking around the farm store he quickly figured out his job was to just stay on my left side. I change directions a lot and so he was forced to keep up. His mood was pretty subdued – he is not happy about having to give up the pulling, but he is learning very fast. During our store visit, I did a couple of extra trips around the building. I give him lots of praise and carry little treats in my pocket so I can offer encouragement. We stopped to look at the baby chickens, which he enjoyed. He also loves meeting new people. He is very social! Everyone wanted to pet him. He goes right up to other dogs too. I am not harping on him too much about anything, just letting him get used to the new leash walking routine.

When we got back, he hung out loose in the house for awhile, socializing with the other dogs and getting cookies. When I had to stop watching him, I put him back in his crate and gave him a bull trachea I had picked up at the store. He has a strong compulsion to chew, so every time I shut him in the crate I give him something that will help with that.

loki crate.jpg

For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat

Posted in clicker training, dog, empathy, puppy, training | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I Heart (Paint) German Shepherds

“Those who believe a dog has no soul, have never looked in the eyes of a German shepherd.”


I first heard that quote from Rosemary Risner, who bred one of my first German shepherds, Reva. I acquired Reva in Colorado and she accompanied me through many of life’s ups and downs through Arizona, California and Michigan. She took charge of my baby horse, Clifford, mothering him ruthlessly as he grew from a gangly two year old into a mature gelding. Reva is pictured ushering Clifford along the shore, on the cover of my book, “Clifford of Drummond Island.” (Read it for free on Amazon kindle) She was a helicopter mom. I am not sure Clifford would have been quite the same horse without her. Reva lived to be 15 and she died at Clifford’s feet, at our camp on the island in 2001, and is buried by the sawmill across the road from his corral.

Since then I have had several other shepherds but lost my last one, Cajun, to a twisted intestine in 2008. So now I am shepherd-less for a decade! Hard to believe. I imagine this matter will be rectified very soon.

Cajun von der Zalens

Cajun von der Zalens

In the meantime, I keep on painting them.


Xandra, acrylic on Canvas

The German shepherd lives on in my heart like no other breed of dog. Loyal, imposing, versatile, willing, courageous and funny, they are the best of the best when it comes to dogdom. To me, they will always be family.


Tito in Snow, acrylic on Canvas


Reba and Her Stick

Posted in acrylic, art, Cajun, Clifford, dog art, empathy, german shepherd | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Real Jesus

There was a time when the sight of the cross made me want to throw up. That’s how bad it was.

I have long been skeptical about the existence of God, due to the usual questions of allowing all the evil in the world. After all, what God would allow Donald Trump to be US President?

Come on…

Maybe God has a sense of humor, but at our expense?



Surrounded by a whole batch of family members as self-proclaimed Christians, some of them zealots whose Facebook posts are all, “Yahweh” this and “Yahweh” that, who pretend to be some type of authority on the subject while they steal from you, rob your parents, abuse your disabled sister and smear vicious lies about you all over the internet and among extended family members, well… That is enough to drive anyone far away from whatever their religion is.

I’m the misfit among these church-going, self-righteous evangelicals. I don’t go to church — oh, far from it. If church is host to people like this, I don’t want to be there.

Despite all my doubts and my horror at the activities of those who call themselves Christians, I have always really liked the idea of Jesus, his parables, his lifestyle, and the stories about him. He is, to me, utterly fascinating. But I picture the real guy — an untidy Jesus, tramping around in the wilderness eating figs. What about him was so magnetic that it caused people to leave their homes and follow him around? How could he speak to the masses with no microphone, and still be heard? Didn’t all that wine get him just a little tipsy now and then?

The best thing about him is his gentleness and the way he listened and cared for all people, hookers and little kids, while still having the strength to not abide hypocrites. The stories of his empathy — how he wept at the grief of Lazarus’s sister, telling him he was too late to save his friend, already three days dead. His tantrum in the Temple, throwing the money changers out who were exploiting the sacred ground of his father — I can relate more to that now than I ever have.

So, for those of you who have been raked over the coals by people who think they are Christians, who want to hold this over others and act like they are better than everyone, and their version of religion is the only right one, I had a revelation that I feel compelled to share.

I was watching a TV movie about Jesus and the actor said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but by me.”

This quote is from John 4:16 and of course we have all heard it a gazillion times. But the word that resonated with me was, “TRUTH.”

I am the way


and the life.

The idea of God as someone who IS the truth — the real truth — gave me much comfort. How can one find God through lies?  It seems to me that anyone whose life and values, stories and rants is based on lies, is not going to be right in the eyes of God. People who twist facts to justify their own bad behavior, no matter how much they “Yahweh” out loud, are not honoring themselves or God.

You can Yahweh until you are blue in the face. If you are a liar, you ain’t getting there.

This realization was sent to me at just the right time. Jesus was not placed here to use at our convenience. He is an example of how to live. Tell the truth. Be kind. Treat others as you want to be treated. Live with empathy and care for others. Help when you can. Drink wine. Wash your feet.

The truth is not subjective. Those of us who live by the truth; we are doing just fine. Hang in there. You are not alone.




Posted in empathy | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Thing You Can Do For A Friend When Their Pet Dies

I’m the Angel of Death. It is quite accidental but it’s turned out that way because I offer one of the strange comforts — is there is such a thing as comfort — when a pet passes away.

Speaking from experience, the loss of a dog or cat or horse or fish or…. can be as traumatic as (if not more than) that of a human. My dog Scorch, a mostly-black mutt, changed my life. He was the first dog that caused the light bulb to go off, telling me that dogs have a higher understanding of our language and are WAY more intuitive than we think. I’d had smart dogs before him. But he was in a league of his own.

Scorch smile

Scorch Smiling

Scorch died of lymphoma, following an excruciating six months of chemotherapy treatments that bought him just about an extra six months.

He was nine years old.

He died in 2005 and I went to bed for about a week. Since that time I have trouble uttering his name. Last week, I was getting a private tour of MSU Veterinary Clinic where he had his treatments. I wasn’t even really thinking about it, but when I walked into the area where the chemo treatments are given to pets, I burst into tears. The tears kept flooding up and out of me while the nurse stood there looking at me.

Talk about embarrassing.

“We all cry here,” she said. She was very kind about it but I haven’t gone back.

It’s 13 years later and I am still weeping for poor, magnificent Scorch.

This is part of what having a pet does to you.

sandys Lab.jpg

In this sense, they never really leave us.

I don’t know why pet portraits are so comforting. Or, maybe I do. It is, after all, another person’s interpretation of your dog. But in some ways, it makes their presence fresh, much as talking about your experience with a departed person does. The bereaved ask us to talk about their loved ones. We strain for new information, stories, news of them. These memories help to keep them alive and present as we walk into the future without the company of their physical being.


I joke that being a pet portrait artist is like being a playground bully: When someone starts to cry, I know I have done a good job.

But it is more than that. It is offering this little bit of soul back to those who mourn. Best of all, if it is a gift, it is a way to reach out to that person and let them know they have been heard, that their loss has not gone unnoticed.

It is a way of saying that the love lives on.

Posted in acrylic, art, art, acrylic, slate, equine, grief, friendship, dog, dog art, dogs, empathy, equine art, scorch | 1 Comment

When Doves Fly


Watercolor in progress by Nancy J. Bailey

The trill of the mourning dove is a sad sound to some people, but to me it has a calming effect, almost like an avian lullaby. The doves mate for life and there are two pairs that have been hanging around our pond for the past several years. They build a flimsy nest in the hedge in front of the house, and they walk around in the grass under the bird feeder searching for seeds, always together. They even drink together. They drink like cattle, with their beaks pointed downward, immersed into water, only raising up when they are done. They are among the few birds who don’t have to look up at the sky to swallow the water.

doves drinking

Mourning doves are migratory, but one pair of ours decided to stick around all winter, because I kept feeding them every day. Doves like to walk around and eat seeds. These don’t flee like other birds, sometimes not even flying away when I flung the seeds out. They would just waddle off across the snow in their shuffling gait, their soft brown feathers providing sufficient insulation even on the ground. They came waddling back when I went back inside.


I secretly thought of them as Ricky and Lucy. The couple who migrated were Fred and Ethel. One cold day, Lucy sat quietly on the ground, hunkering down on her red feet like a sad little church lady. I took a bath towel and approached her, talking to her softly. She took off in an attempt to fly, then plummeted to the driveway.

I flung the towel over her body and scooped her up. I put her in a cardboard box in the bathroom, near the heater and left it covered with a towel so she could stay in the dark.

I thought maybe she was dehydrated. I set up a birdcage for her and took out the bottom grate so she would have a flat surface to walk around, a piece of wood to sit on, and a scattered mix of seeds. I gave her a special treat, safflower seeds, which are a favorite of doves.

I took a syringe of water and carefully dribbled some into her mouth, and she did swallow it. After that, I left a bowl of water in her cage. She ate voraciously, her eyes were bright and she seemed to be in fine condition. She wasn’t alarmed by my coming and going from the room. I thought it was because she was so accustomed to me.

dove lucy

On the third day, she started walking in circles and her head was tipping to the side. I had to give up my idea of letting her go back to Ricky when the winter storm was over.

On the wildlife rehabbers submission form, I marked that I would like to have Lucy back. They assured me that they try to release birds, especially birds that have mates, back in the area where they come from.

I called a couple of times to check up on Lucy. She had recovered, but they were reluctant to let her go in the freezing, rainy February. Meanwhile Ricky was picking around the bird feeder alone. I felt bad for him, but knew Lucy was in good hands.

Finally, when the long, hard winter was beaten back by the pervading sun, there were three doves under my feeder. Fred and Ethel had returned from their winter in the tropics. A couple of days later, I looked out and there were four doves.

Had Ricky gotten hooked up already? What would Lucy think?

When I called the wildlife rehabbers to find out if I could come and pick her up, they said, “Oh. We released all the adults a few days ago.”

I was pretty upset that they hadn’t called me; after all they had promised to. But maybe it didn’t matter. The timing seemed just too coincidental.

The rehabilitation center was ten miles away. I don’t know where they released her. .. But for a bird capable of migrating thousands of miles, flying ten miles to get back home doesn’t seem like a big deal. Could it be? Is this Lucy 1 or Lucy 2?

If you could talk, you’d have some splainin’ to do.

dove stretch pond


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