What does a dog trainer and writer read when she’s not training or writing?
When I told my husband I was writing a column on books, he asked if I would be writing about my books. Granted, I’ve written several, including “Puppies for Dummies” and the humorous but helpful “Miss Sarah’s Etiquette Guide for Dogs and People,” and I’m deeply proud of all of them. But I think it would be more revealing to learn what’s sitting on my bedside table. Therein lies the secrets of my dog-training success.
First, a personal glimpse into my world. Dogs are not my only passion. I strive for a Martha Stewart-esque type coziness in my family’s little den here in Katonah – cooking, gardening and entertaining. Though we share our lives with enough pets to fill a barn, I keep a pretty tidy ship. There is no cat odor. Everyone is trained to keep very close tabs on the litter box and keep it clean at all times. Everyone pitches in, including my 5-year-old who, for some reason, likes to wear his Star Wars costume when it’s his turn. Whatever it takes. The dogs are brushed based on need. They know what to chew and not to chew and sleep on mats to reduce the fur flow. I’m proud of – and occasionally exhausted by – the order.
But enter the bedroom and you’ll see a bit of a mess. My bedside table is a mash of papers, books, kids’ toys and magazine clippings. It’s not neat or even particularly well organized, but it comforts me. It represents everything that I hold dear. Near the top, there’s usually a best-seller. This is my escape. Beneath that, you’ll find “Animals Make Us Human” by Temple Grandin. This is my guide to compassionate dog training. Stuck inside the pages of her book, you’ll find a few recipes from the Pampered Chef, one or two of the kids’ report cards and some notes on current and future blog posts.
Today there are a few children’s books leftover from last night’s bedtime reading and several current catalogs of holiday goodies. Anchoring the pile is neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp’s “Affective Neuroscience” (a tip of the hat to my college science studies) and a compelling and persuasive loaner from my neighbor called “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.”
On the floor you’ll find more children’s books as well as a collection of books about children. Another secret of my book list? I’ve gleaned the better part of my unique, kindly but effective dog-training and puppy-raising inspirations from the best of the best parent books – “Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” and “Siblings Without Rivals.” Of course, I filter the information as pets talk a different language. But like children, dogs long for acceptance and understanding. I call it human-pomorphisizing – imagining yourself in their place. I consider it as important a quality for parents as it is for pet owners.
Though it took more than two centuries for scientists to catch up with what I’ve always believed – that dogs have the mental capacities of young children – it’s now a widely held belief that the same blend of structure, love and consistency that works to enhance a toddler’s life also works for a dog.
And did you know? Dogs are being enlisted to help kids read. Programs found at some libraries and schools pair dogs with young children to develop reading skills. The nonjudgmental presence of a pet inspires confidence in kids of all ages.
Now only if we could teach dogs to read.