Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: From Hoofbeats to Dogsteps (golden retriever, gait, structure, memoir)

From Hoofbeats to Dogsteps: A Life of Listening to and Learning from Animals, by Rachel Page Elliott (Dogwise, 2009, 167 pages, $19.95)

The Grand Dame of American Golden Retrievers

From Hoofbeats to Dogsteps says it all: a horse loving girl, born in 1913, grows up to become a canine motion and conformation expert, almost a research scientist, studying movement and structure in dogs, invited to speak all over the world, and a woman who took up agility in her 80s.

Almost a Sculptress

Pagey, Rachel Page Elliott, was a unique and highly respected dog lady. Although born, raised and a life-long resident of New England, she drove cross-country at age 18 with her sister Priscilla (Pike*) in a Ford Model A, and later worked horses on a Montana sheep ranch and at a camp in Utah, rounding out her college Cliffie (Radcliffe) education as a genuine person, not a Depression-era debutante from a loving and educated family (reminiscent of Little Women, even down to the towns in Massachusetts).

Nowhere else will you see Yellowstone as it was in 1930 – or the Pendleton Roundup.

Perhaps her early interest in soap carving was the impetus for her decades-long study of golden retriever breeding and anatomy. The Elliotts established Featherquest Kennels, still going strong today, specializing in field goldens.

Another hobby Pagey grew into was creating jig-saw puzzles. She would always include pieces that showed dogs in motion, dogs sitting, dogs and children, cats, birds, and puppies as well as the myriad usual jig-saw shapes. And, at the 2009 Golden Retriever National auction for the GR Foundation, one of Pagey’s puzzles brought in $27,000 and put her in the Guinness book of records.

They Bought the Farm (in 1946)

Pagey and her dentist husband bought an old fixer-upper farm in Massachusetts and lived there all their days – a farm just big enough to hold canine competitions.

Her studies began with taking photos of moving goldens, then movies of goldens moving. She managed to spend time at Harvard, using their resources to research bone and joint motion that was ground-breaking then and routinely accepted by all, now.

And thus, Dogsteps was born in 1973! The first edition was to go through eight printings and become a bestseller. The following year, the book won the Dog Writers’ Association award and Pagey was awarded the Gaines Dog Woman of the Year.

For You, If, . . . .

Hoofbeats is the book to read if you have known Rachel Page Elliott even from a distance like me, if you want to learn about your parents or grandparents born circa 1913 and growing up in New England or Wyoming or Montana or Oregon during the Depression, if you are a canine conformation person (dog show) – handler or breeder, if you are a Golden Retriever lover or have ever been to the National or even ‘just’ a local dog show or watched Westminster on TV.

On the other hand, Hoofbeats reads like a folksy old-fashioned letter from grandma rather than a spellbinding story of yesteryear by an accomplished author. Unlike Karen London, I loved reading about Pagey’s upbringing and felt the canine gait and structure chapters were a bit superficial – not detailed enough for this analytic soul, but I agree with London on the writing style.

The Biggest Omission

I can’t believe Pagey is not listed in Wikipedia. . . . she should be, for correcting the fallacy of the 45-degree layback!

Pagey’s Publications
1973 (3rd edition, 2009, soft cover), Dogsteps: A new look (and illustrated gait at a glance, 2nd edition, 1983)(New Dogsteps: A better understanding of dog gait through cineradiography [moving X-rays], 1st edition, 1973)
2005, Dogsteps DVD: What to look for in a dog
2005, Canine Cineradiography DVD: A study of bone and joint motion as seen through moving X-rays

2006, The Golden Retriever DVD: - Structure, movement and use
(all available from www.DogWise.com and recommended by the Golden Retriever Club of America [GRCA, www.grca.org])

*Another sister’s delightful name - Fordham, Fordie.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Confessions of a Professional Dog Trainer: #1 - The Time I Taught Mia the Lab to Go to the Bathroom - Inside!

Confessions of a Professional Dog Trainer: #1 – The Time I Taught Mia the Lab to Go to the Bathroom – Inside!

OK, I admit it. I was bored. And Mia the Lab was bored, too.
MIa the Lab, worried about her
person disappearing behind the camera

I was dogsitting. In a two-bedroom condo. For five weeks. And this was only Week Two.

And I had run out of ideas about how to feed Mia the Lab.

You see, I believe in canine enrichment and that means throwing away the dog food bowl.

It’s more fun for the dog to have to find his food by smelling it out plus dinner lasts longer when it is in several different places. The dog has to think and find his meal parts which takes time!

For a couple of days I had hand-fed Mia the Lab her kibble (dry dog food) but that was slow - and slimy-yucky to boot.

So, for a few days I saved food containers – the ones yogurt comes in, and store-boughten egg salad for sammiches, and margarine. Then I put several pieces of kibble in each one and put them in the kitchen and in the bedroom and in the hallway and – you get the idea.

But by the time I had put one container down and walked a ways to put another one down, Mia the Lab was right behind me. She could run from kibble container to kibble container, being a 'small' dog (smaller than me), but this human combat veteran was too old and creaky to run from room to room ahead of a starving Lab.

So I decided to freeze her food.

I bought some plain fat-free yogurt and mixed in as much kibble as I could, then covered the bottom of all those containers from the previous days with the mixture, and put them in the freezer. (You can also use a bit of fat-free peanut butter as a flavoring agent.)

By the next meal, the kibble-yogurt concoction would be frozen stiff to both last longer and to also cool down a 'hot-dog' in our humid muggy Washington, DC, summer (Washington was actually built on a drained swamp so when the Pres says he is going to drain the swamp, he’s a little behind the curve. It’s already been done but he doesn’t know it – that would have taken a college course in US History.)

So for a few days, I managed to outrun Mia the Dog and place the ‘foody’ containers down in all the different rooms ahead of her (it takes longer to eat frozen kibble-yogurt than to scarf up room-temp kibble). This allowed me to sit back and watch her frantic enjoyment with eating. And giggle.

Then we, Mia the Lab and me, became bored again.

So, being the good little dog trainer that I am, I decided to train her.

Duh! Why didn’t I think of that before?

I wondered if I could train her to go to a room and stay there while I placed the kibble containers down in the other rooms.

Then she would have to smell out the kibble while I watched with fascination and rooted for her.

Of course, there was only the kitchen and the living room and the hallway and the first bedroom and the second bedroom and the bathroom – ah! The bathroom. Perfect! The smallest room.

So, I looked at Mia the Lab and said, “Mia, go to the bathroom.” She would grab a toy (after all, she is a retriever) and follow me down the hall. When we got to the bathroom, I turned around and shut the door on that poor little ol’ hang-dog look. The door didn’t close all the way because my client hangs his bath towels over the top of the door, allowing Mia the Lab to peek out or, later, when she got smarter, to open the door with her snout and come out for the kibble hunt.

That gave me time to get out the kibble concoctions from the freezer and place them strategically around the ‘house.’

Of course, I tried to vary the locations from meal to meal.

She would always check the place she thought I put down the final container. Or the last place she found some kibble – to no avail. Then she would finally trust her trusty ol’ sniffer-nose.

And sometimes we both would forget to count the locations, only to find one hours later – Mia the Lab’s surprise snack attack!

Mia is so good at this meal game that she can understand when I tell her to go to the bathroom.

And after I had hidden her complete meal, I could either call her (and thus practice the recall – but as soon as she found a dish, she would "forget" to come to me) or just say, “OK,” or even just clap my hands!

Eventually, I only had to tell her to go to the bathroom and she would grab a toy and go - all by herself like a big girl dog.

Voila! A dog who understands whole, complete sentences AND goes to the bathroom - indoors!

End of confession number one. Hope you enjoyed it!

Addendum: I love to watch Mia the Lab hunt for dinner and snarf it down. She is quite the entertainer, tail wagging wildly from side to side as she downs her dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch.

PS – of course it helps if I only tell her to go to the bathroom when it is time to eat. And I haven’t tried this outside when she is on a potty break!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review: Saving Mr. Terupt (7 7th graders, a minor minor character in Margo the dog)

Saving Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea (Delacorte Press, 2016, 372 pages, $16.99, juvenile fiction, ages 9-12, grades 4-7)

Seven Kids Entering Seventh Grade. . . .

Each incident segment (junior high crisis) is written by or continued by different kids: the reader quickly comes to know all four girls and three boys, “besties,” but each as different as night and day.

One has a single mom, one lives with parents and “grands” on a farm, one is incredibly smart, one is a budding fashion designer, one is a wordsmith and carries her journal everywhere, one is a photographer, one is an artist, two are wrestlers, one is bullied, one has a baby brother whose origin is hinted at and written about in a previous title*, one finds a father and one almost loses a mother.

And a wedding and a baby, too.

Through it all is Mr. Terupt, no longer their teacher but still the person who has the most influence over our gang of seven seventh graders.

I love how each chapter is titled Anna or Jessica or Peter or whoever’s voice is the narrator - and each title, each name, is set in a different type font that depicts their personality. The following chapter and author/kid continues the story from a different viewpoint and, a couple of times, we learn about the same subplot from more than one of the “gang” members.

Mr. Terupt, T, Teach, was their 5th grade teacher and their 6th grade teacher and is quite the inspiration. He gave each one a special gift – a journal, a special book, his old wrestling shoes and headgear, . . . .

The Gang of Seven

The gang promises Mr. Terupt to stay together in junior high but it is hard: junior high is big and busy. However, they manage to do so when they have a project to work on: a school election, a fair, the school district’s budget. The gang also manages to lead the entire 7th grade (and even the entire the student body) but they are, after all, the stars we follow through their lives.

The reader will look forward to junior high or, if past that, will reminisce about the good old days, now that junior high is far behind.

The Trilogy

As 5th graders in Because of Mr. Terupt and as 6th graders in Mr. Terupt Falls Again and now as 7th graders, the gang manages to stick together miraculously by the skin of their teeth, through all that happens to the group and its individuals.

Each contemplates far beyond what the normal 7th grader normally does, using vocabulary that at times seems to mirror their future selves.

How such a diverse group manages to stick together and grow is somewhat manipulative but it works and works well. We come to love each of them.

I would recommend starting with the first book, Because of Mr. Terupt, (or the second, Mr. Terupt Falls Again, to fully understand the power of this teacher and the glue of the gang (starting with the third book whets one’s appetite to learn more about certain incidents that happen in the first two books, alluded to, and to have a need to find out about Mr. Terupt’s magic – it is spoken of but not lived through in book three – but will be experienced again in the sequel).

Wisdom** abounds (phenotype is genotype plus the environment) and not only from Mr. Terupt. One of the students starts a list of Seventh Grade Survival Tips that he adds to as the year progresses.

And the book is divided into months, starting with the end of summer and how some spent their summer vacation. The reader races through the year reading voraciously if even guessing correctly what will happen next.

The author tries so hard to give us seven very different characters (why?) but seven is a large number and the attempt to write in seven voices doesn’t quite succeed.

The Future

Saving Mr. Terupt would make an unforgettable movie or series of movies – full of drama and friendship and lessons (but not much school!)

*Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terupt Falls Again are the first two titles in this trilogy so far. I suspect there will be sequels. In addition, BookPages has published the Kindle edition, 52 pages, of  Summary & Study Guide: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. Sort of a Cliff’s Notes so you know this is a book to read.

**”. . . it’s not necessarily the biggest or fastest individuals that survive, but the ones most responsive to change.” (page 357) And each of the seven gives us their best lessons learned in the last two pages. Words to grow by.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: Chester and Gus (autistic boy, chocolate lab)

Chester and Gus: Best friends. . . in training, by Cammie McGovern (Harper Collins Childrens, 2017, 247 pages, $16.99, ages 8-12, grades 3-7)

Is it too early in the year to select a Book of the Year for 2017?

We here at DogEvals loved Chester and Gus. We want a sequel, too!

In a Nutshell

Chester doesn’t pass his certification test as a service dog because he is startled (panicked) by loud noises, so he tries to make a career change into a companion/therapy/’service’ dog for an autistic boy - but trying to convince the boy to bond with Chester is another story. (Patience, my boy, patience.)

Other themes, minor, concern convincing the school that Chester is needed (and loved) in the classroom as well as the complexities of Chester’s trainer who really, really wants to teach Chester to read. (At six months, Chester could understand 50 words.) (The storyline about the trainer could have been eliminated, perhaps.)

So much growing to do by so many. . . .

We hear Chester talking to himself and thinking things through and even communicating with Gus, though Gus prefers not to (and also doesn’t like movement or touch).


The book is told from the point of view of Chester the dog: we here at DogEvals know that some readers are turned off by dogs talking in books but we love it when it is done well and author Cammie McGovern does it spectacularly well.

The Search

“Every dog has a weakness. . . . They’re perfect in many ways. . . The trick is to figure out your challenge as early as possible, then work on it a lot.” (p. 11)

“Wanting a job isn’t the same as being able to do it,” (p. 51) thinks Chester. He really really wanted to be a service dog and is searching for his life work and wondering if Gus is the person he was meant for, which may entail convincing Gus they were meant to be together as well as convincing the parents and school that he can really help Gus in a service dog capacity.

People Matching

When you find your person, you don’t have to talk. . . .

What We Didn’t Love

The author is mother to an autistic child so the scenarios with Gus seem plausible but McGovern is not a dog trainer: consequently she has the book trainer try to ‘cure’ Chester of his noise sensitivity by flooding. In other words, by exposing him to noises and hoping he will ‘get used to them rather than by systematic desensitization and counter conditioning (SD/CC*).

Gus’ mother also tries to pass Chester off as service-dog-in-training and eventually manages to do it the ethical way, thanks to her internet research.

The parents seem a bit slow on the uptake as far as their son Gus is concerned but having an autistic child is a learning experience. It's just that Chester is so much more tuned in to Gus. 

Chester and Gus is for. . . .

Kids, of course. And adults who may be in the wrong job. And anyone wanting or needing to learn more about autism (and a bit more about service dogs) and non-verbal kids, and siblings of autistic kids, and dog trainers, school teachers and administrators, and just plain dog lovers.

*not to worry about this new methodology - basically it is dog-friendly, unlike flooding.