Dogs are fascinating, endearing, brilliant and kindred.
For a few decades I have lived with a small pack of these remarkable companions – training, competing and adoring them often more than humankind. In 2002, I left a 20 year career as a biologist to turn a hobby into a profession. I have been teaching dogs and their people ever since. To share my knowledge, I have written articles, produced websites and authored books about how I believe we can best honor the uniqueness of their species. This blog site is another venue where I hope to offer my point of view on how to create benevolent bonds with our beloved pets.
I started training dogs as a kid when I eventually convinced my parents that we needed a dog. Caesar, a miniature schnauzer, was the fourth kid in the family, and I tended to be his main caretaker. Well, that’s not accurate. My mother was, of course, Caesar’s main manager. Our family was like many. After weeks, months or even years of negotiation and vetoing the decision to get a puppy, Mom still ends up taking care of the little hairy thing just like she predicted. Still, in our family, I was the one who was most likely to brush and bathe him, take him on long walks, and cut his nails.
When I graduated from college and moved into a little studio apartment in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood in Chicago, I was compelled to acquire a puppy. Macho was a mixed breed dog with a bit of facial fringe that suggested he might have a dash of terrier in his pedigree. When Macho and I went on walks with Donna and her snow-white German Shepherd Dog and Gloria with her striking Dalmatian, their dogs always drew many smiles and inquiries from folks on the street. Macho, with his slightly scruffy appearance seemed just so ordinary. I often found myself cutting into the conversation, introducing my dog as a “rare French retriever” because those words drew attention to my precious little guy.
Macho was a naughty puppy, but only because I failed him in many ways. I was at my wits end when I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune about area dog training clubs. Three months later Macho earned second place in the Beginner graduation from a class that had begun with 40 wayward pups and their incompetent owners. Macho excelled in obedience, so I joined the club and we were soon besting many of the other dogs in the advanced classes. When I inquired about entering official competitions I was informed that mixed breed dogs could not compete. Hungry to show off my dog handling prowess, I researched and put a deposit on an upcoming litter of Labrador Retriever puppies. Stella, a lovely yellow Lab, was my first dog to earn American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club titles.
By that time, folks with whom I worked were well aware of my hobby. Soon, co-workers approached with questions about their own dogs’ behavioral issues. Not long after I began offering all that free advice, I got my first gig. The woman in the next cubical shared a story about her neighbor’s defiant basset hounds. I agreed to help the dogs negotiate a doggy door and earned forty bucks, which was pretty dang good for a couple hours of work in 1986.
Fast forward to 2002 (because you can read everything in-between in my book Shamaron – Dog Devoted.) I had met my husband Robert, and we had moved to our current location, a fifty acre ranch outside Brownstown, IL. I had resigned from a 20 year career as a biologist in corporate America and Robert and I established DarnFar Ranch, LLC, a full service training facility for the general public. In 2003 we trained and placed our first Service Dog when a local woman requested our assistance. In 2011, after offering a professionally-guided / owner-trained Service Dog course for several years, we founded Committed Canine, a business dedicated to training and educating Service Dogs and their handlers.
This section of my blog, All Things Dog, will include information about managing, socializing and training dogs from family companions to high functioning Service Dogs.
I hope to include videos that chronicle the training of my next demonstration Service Dog, too.