Readers seemed to like a blog I wrote recently about dog training. I got many comments about the aspects of dog psychology I discussed. So I figured I’d share some other ideas I have gleaned by working with various dog trainers over the years.

The most important thing I learned about dogs is that they can not and do not think like humans. We tend to anthropomorphize them and attribute to them motives that they are incapable of having. For example, most people believe that dogs chew furniture or poop in the house when they are left alone because they are ‘getting back’ at their humans for leaving them. The problem with that theory is that it requires levels of conceptualization, insight and understanding of cause and effect that is way beyond a dog’s capabilities.


First, they must have the self-awareness to realize that they are feeling angry at you, which they can’t and don’t. Then they have to understand that they can get ‘revenge’ (a human concept) if they make you mad or upset too. That is more than a two-year old child can do let alone a dog. Thirdly, they have to figure out, in the abstract, what behaviors they could do to make you upset. This is more than a reasonable stretch for any dog.


The explanation for most negative dog behavior seems to be stress or anxiety. Different things cause stress in different dogs and different dogs react to stress in different ways. Chewing and making in the house are examples of anxiety driven behaviors, as are excessive barking and hyperactivity. None of these are thought out revenge schemes. My anxiety prone dog gets most anxious when other people come into the house. Apparently that’s because she thinks she has to ‘protect’ me, which means that she is on duty when the doorbell rings. However, this skittish dog does not react to things that stress out many other dogs, like thunder, vacuum cleaners, packed suitcases or even a trip to the vet. She is the calmest, most relaxed dog my vet has ever seen in her office! Go figure!

Another interesting fact I learned about dog psychology is that dogs are very Zen. They truly live in the moment. They can only think about what just happened for about 10 seconds. That’s why to train a dog you have to reward them the minute they do what you want them to. When housebreaking a dog, you have to praise them profusely while they are in the act of making, not even a minute later. If you rewarded your dog right after they made, they would think you were praising them for whatever they were doing in that exact moment, like sniffing a bush or wagging their tail.

This brings up a funny story about how my anxious girl, Lexi flummoxed the dog trainer. It also points up how dogs can see things differently than even the dog trainer believes they should. When Lexi was on the sofa with me, she would often growl at our other dog when he came near the sofa. So we followed the trainer’s advice and told her ‘no’ immediately and threw her off the sofa. In most dogs, this would end the offensive behavior.


However Lexi continues to growl at her brother, but as soon as she does, she immediately jumps off the sofa and lies down on the floor. The trainer has never seen a case of self punishment before. Her takeaway is logical though; ‘when you growl, you have to get off of the sofa’ is as valid a lesson to take from the situation as is just ‘stop growling’!

Think of your dog as a two-year old child. You can’t expect the child or the dog to act or react like an adult/human or understand the world the way we do. You are the superior intellect in the relationship so you have to try and understand how your dog perceives and thinks. Don’t get mad at your dog for ‘scheming’ against you and ‘purposely’ behaving badly to annoy you. His brain doesn’t work that way. Figure out what stressor is triggering his undesirable behavior and deal with the stressor or channel the dog’s anxiety in another way.


In a recent blog I said that I didn’t think anyone would be interested if I wrote about my views on why my dog barks all the time. The comments to the blog indicated that, in fact, readers are interested in the topic of barking dogs. Apparently the topic hits a nerve, which means that there must be a lot of people who, like us, live with serial barkers.

So, here are my thoughts on why some dogs bark so much. First, their hearing is far more acute than ours. So we have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are actually hearing something when they suddenly jump up and start barking and howling hysterically. (We have one barker and one howler).


But why do some dogs feel the need to comment on every sound they hear while others don’t?

Some dogs are specifically bred to be guard dogs and protectors. Their DNA literally programs them to alert us to any and all potential threats.


How they define ‘threats’ is a different question. It may just be anything outside the norm for the household. This means that the presence of other dogs, or even squirrels, in the immediate neighborhood could be seen as a potential threat. Cars pulling into my neighbor’s driveway always seems to present a clear and present danger to my dogs.

My husband used to joke that our dogs were actually protecting us from invading intergalactic space aliens. Then he realized that he might have stumbled upon the truth. There may really be space invaders (or ancient demons from the underworld, take your pick) who regularly attempt to take over the earth.


These predators may emit sounds that only dogs can hear. So the late night attempts at world dominion are thwarted, every time, when the evil doers hear the warning barks of the canine earth protectors. The invaders fear these protectors. They may be particularly sensitive to the sounds that dogs emit. They may even be rendered powerless when exposed to the frequencies of dogs’ courageous barks.

So when your dogs wake you at night barking frantically, don’t yell at them. Thank them and pull the covers up over your head.


the thinker


When I agreed to write a weekly blog for Serendipity I thought it would be easy. I read lots of ‘news’ articles, thousands of thoughts go through my mind every day; I talk to people about a wide variety of topics. How hard could it be to come up with just one bloggable idea a week? The answer is ‘very hard.’

The key word, if it is a word at all, is ‘bloggable’. Most ideas cannot be turned into a blog. Correction – a readable blog. The idea first has to be something that other people might remotely be interested in. My obsessive analysis of why my dog barks so much is out.

Second, the idea has to be expandable into a piece of a reasonable length. Most of my thoughts don’t seem to have expandability.

My average thought may be worth a few sentences, but rarely more. For example, every day I wonder why some people (my husband) can’t talk about what they might want to eat for dinner until it is almost dinnertime and they are actually hungry.

Lack of imagination? Inability to plan ahead? Short of commissioning a major psychological study, I don’t have much else to say except that I find it frustrating to live with someone like this since I like to plan dinner right after breakfast if I haven’t already done it the night before.

Bulb-Light idea

A good blog also has to have an angle, a point of view, an interesting perspective. Most topics have already been written about in some format. But you can add to the existing literature if you have a different way of looking at the subject. I read lots of interesting articles but I have nothing to add to what has already been said. In that case, I share the article on Facebook and continue my search for a good blog idea.

Sometimes something I read really gets to me and I write about it even if my insights are not new and illuminating. The theory here is that with some issues, it’s important just to expose them to as many people as possible, as often as possible.

I’m not complaining. I love writing blogs. Maybe people would be interested in why my dog barks so much. Blog readers with dogs who are hair-trigger barkers like mine might be fascinated. Probably I’m overthinking the process. Maybe I should just have a cup of tea. Relax. Wait for another idea to just come to me.

They always do.


We’re all animals here. Human and canine. Quiet and companionable on this day in early October.

This has been a grey, drizzly week in southern New England. At exactly the time when I should be outside capturing the glories of the season, the “thing that’s going around” has come to visit our house. With everything wet all the time, the trees are not doing much except in patches along the river.


Today is supposedly the last of the damp, gray days — for at least a week — or unless Hurricane Matthew makes it way all the way up the coast. In which case, bye-bye autumn!

Gibbs being annoyed by photographer while he's trying to get his much-needed beauty sleep

Gibbs being annoyed by photographer while he’s trying to get his much-needed beauty sleep

The few times I remember having no autumn, were when hurricanes blew the leaves off the trees before having a chance to show their colors. There were also two memorable years when we had significant snowfall in September and early October. Although snow that early won’t linger on the ground, it finishes off the color change of the leaves.

Yawning Bonnie. Nothing much happening, might as well sleep.

Yawning Bonnie. Nothing much happening, might as well sleep.

It’s still early October, so there’s time for the change of season to make a splash. Meantime, our dogs — Bonnie and Gibbs — have been moping. They don’t care for rain. They don’t mind anything else including lots of snow, even when there’s more snow than Scottish Terrier on the ground. But, for reasons that remain unclear to me, they do not love rain.

I’ve been taking pictures. Mopy dogs are not cheerful, but also aren’t in rapid motion. Which is good for a photographer. Me.

Bonnie - posing for the camera

Bonnie – posing for the camera

Bonnie was a rescue from a puppy mill, but she was barely 9 weeks old when she came to us. A tiny little thing and she has never reached full size. Her traumatic early weeks of life don’t seem to have affected her personality, although the likely malnutrition of those early weeks kept her undersized for her breed. She has made up for it by being astoundingly food driven, checking every piece of floor (including the rug) several times every day … just in case there might be a crumb left lying free.


She’s a bit on roly-poly side, so I doubt she is really starving, but she says she is. She lies like a dog.

Her prime activity (other than hunting for food) is subduing throw pillows. You would not believe how difficult it is to keep a good throw pillow down. As soon as she pushes all three of them to on the floor, they are back  on the sofa. And she has to wrestle them yet again. A dog’s work is never done.

Bonnie, looking for a pillow fight

Bonnie, looking for a pillow fight

Gibbs was a stud in a large, midwestern breeding kennel until he came to us just this past March. He’s settled in nicely to the life of a sofa dog, but he remains — and perhaps always will remain — very wary of anyone other than us.

With us, he’s become more or less “normal,” or as normal as terriers ever are. Everyone else is someone to bark at and he has a definite spite on all internal combustion vehicles. As far as he is concerned, they are the enemy.



It’s probably his way of helping deal with global warming. Maybe if we all barked at cars and trucks, the world would be a cleaner place? He’d chase them too if it weren’t for those frustrating fences …

Bonnie waiting

Bonnie waiting

These are our animals. Our pals. Two dogs, both black Scottish Terriers. They amuse us, comfort us, play with us, and keep us busy and laughing. They don’t ask for money and don’t need car insurance.

Life goes on. Peacefully. With dogs.



Thursday’s Special: Double

When you have two black Scottish Terriers that you, yourself have trouble telling apart at a quick glance, double is what you see. The two pups together are more obviously different. Gibbs is bigger, longer, and lower. He’s more “doggy” and Bonnie is more “bitchy” which is as it should be. Gibbs is stronger and more gracefully athletic. Bonnie is bouncy, cheerful, the happiest dog in this best of all possible worlds, the Candide of small dogs.



And then there are the swans and the geese. Both mate for life and you will rarely see one bird without the other nearby.


swan 93



It’s raining. Not heavily. Not enough to make up for all the dry months this spring and summer.

It’s exactly enough to make the dogs unhappy. Our dogs — Gibbs and Bonnie — and for that matter, almost all the dogs who have gone before them (with a few notable exceptions) do not, did not, like rain. More accurately, going outside when it’s raining.

To sleep perchance to dream

I don’t understand their aversion to rain, especially in view of their fondness for pretty much anything else the weather can throw at us. They like dirt, they like digging in mud. Gibbs thinks paddling in his water bowl is an Olympic sport. Yet, irrational or not, they don’t like rain.

Snow? Not a problem. It can be blowing a full blizzard and they’ll go out to play.

Rain? No way, mom. We are not going out there. Yuck.


Why? You’d have to ask them. What it means to me, is unless I get up and tell them to go out, then make them stay out long enough to “do something,” they will leave me pools and piles right in front of the doggy door. They get there, stick their little heads out, realize it’s raining and that’s as far as they go, unless I exert my authority. They’re sure that wet stuff falling from the sky is my fault and I should make it stop. Since it always stops … eventually … I guess it proves them right.

I was up at 5. I was up at 6:30. At 8. At 9, the phone began to ring. I have it set to silent nights, but my phone’s programming is inflexible on the definition of “night.” Night ends at 9 in the morning. Short of turning off the ringer completely, 10PM to 9AM are the maximum number of hours for which I can prevent it from ringing. It’s got such a raucous ringtone and is so near my head when I’m in bed, there’s no ignoring it.


Between 9 in the morning and 11 when I reluctantly got up for the day, the phone rang six times. One-two-three-four-five-six. Garry has a cold, so he’s staying in bed as long as possible. It was raining. I had nothing planned. There was no reason on earth for me to get up early …

I don’t remember the details of each call, but none of them were personal or relevant. One was a bill collector for someone who hasn’t lived here for years. I would have told them to stop calling me (they call dozens of times a week), but it’s a recorded message so there’s no one to talk to. The next one, though, was someone trying to sell me an extended warranty on a car we sold a couple of year ago. She was a live human person, so I could say “Sold it, go away. Don’t call again.” Click. (Someone else from the same company called later anyway. So much for getting them to stop calling me.)72-Phones_04

One of the subsequent calls was a recorded message assuring me I’d won a long weekend in Bermuda if only I would agree to participate in their survey. No idea what kind of survey it was, but I don’t participate in surveys. All they really want is personal information they can use to target you for further phone calls.

It was a recording, but they left a pause during which you could say “NO!!” and I did. I swear the recorded messenger was baffled why I wouldn’t want a FREE VACATION IN BERMUDA. Right. There’ll be a real free vacation when pigs have wings. The recording said “You really don’t want a free vacation? You said ‘No?”

“NO” I yelled into the phone. Again. Then, I clicked off. I miss the days when you could slam the phone into the cradle. Pressing off is not nearly as satisfying.

I’m pretty sure the pace of these calls has recently picked up. There seems to be no way to dump them because most of the time, there’s nobody on the other end of the line. I am being hounded by robots.

Of course by then, I was up for the day. The phone only rang once more. The same company trying to sell me an extended warranty on a car I no longer own, and another call trying to collect money from that same former tenant.

It’s a conspiracy. It’s the only possible explanation. Unless you have a better one?



I just found out about this one, but I’m delighted since I always feel that texture gets too little attention in the photo world (and color gets a bit too much) And, as it happens, I took a few pictures today that are almost entirely shadow and texture, so here goes.

A sleepily low key day of drizzle for the two Scotties. Bonnie and Gibbs taking a well-earned (?) rest from guarding the family home from ... well ... everything!

A sleepily low-key day of drizzle for the two Scotties. Bonnie and Gibbs taking a well-earned (?) rest from guarding the family home from … well … everything!


Glad to find such an interesting photo challenge! I’ll be following you.