Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Marley-and-Me post

One of my favorite blogs is the Pet Connection blog honchoed by Gina Spadafori and Christie Keith, and which includes many other wonderful contributors. Over this weekend, Gina shared her less-than-enthusiastic opinion about the movie Marley and Me - and she got lots of support from articulate dog enthusiasts, many of whom I admire.

I was not one of them. I liked the movie.

Yes, the Grogans screwed up big time with Marley. Let's tick off at least some of their mistakes right now: they went to a breeder who had way too many dogs. They didn't dog-proof their house. They went to a Nazi trainer (Kathleen Turner, how far you have fallen!) who loved choke collars. Bottom line: they were totally clueless.

Guess what? So are a lot of, if not most, American dog lovers.

And even more of them were clueless in the early 1990's, when the Grogans and Marley got together. Certainly I hadn't heard of positive reinforcement at that time. How many of us had? And how many of us knew how to find a good breeder, as opposed to schlepping on over to Jack's Dog Farm or the local pet store?

Before I go on, let me be clear: I am totally into positive reinforcement training; heck, I'm about to start a training apprenticeship here. With the exception of his advocacy of dogs' need for exercise, I completely reject the methods of this trainer.

But Marley and Me --and the book that spawned it -- celebrates the human-canine bond in a way that few of us writers and enthusiasts have been able to do (certainly not this guy). Let's give credit to the Grogans for what they did right with Marley and subsequent dogs. Let's hold true to our principles, but leaven those principles with a little pragmatism and empathy. That way, everyone -- including the dogs -- will come out ahead.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Allie, THIS is what you should be doing

Allie is six years old, but only this year has she discovered the Christmas tree -- and not in a good way.

The Golden girl has appointed herself the Arbiter of Ornaments. In other words, when she has the opportunity, she removes ornaments from the tree, takes them over to an area rug, and proceeds to destroy them. So far, she's succeeded in culling three such trinkets from our admittedly extensive ornament collection. We're attempting to redirect Allie into other tasks, such as demolishing tennis balls, finding toys that I hide throughout the house, or just keeping me company in my office with the door closed so that she can't sneak upstairs to do more ornament editing.

If I only I knew how to teach her to do this (thank you, Deb Eldredge, for the initial alert):

Monday, December 8, 2008

My new toy

Years ago, when I was a little girl, my dad gave my mom a Eureka canister vacuum cleaner for Christmas. I remember the colors: maroon and grey. I also remember being utterly appalled that my dad considered a vacuum cleaner to be a suitable Christmas gift. Fortunately for him, my mother did not appear to share that feeling.

My attitude toward that husbandly gift pretty much summed up my attitude toward housecleaning in general -- an attitude that persists to this day. I am a charter member of the Gross-Out School of Housecleaning: when I'm grossed out, I clean. And generally, my gross-out threshhold is pretty high. For example, I've usually needed to to see a lot of Allie's shed hair drifting around the house in the form of golden dust bunnies before I've been willing to haul out the vacuum cleaner to suck up said dust bunnies.

But that changed a little over a week ago: specifically, the day my old vacuum cleaner died, and to replace it, I got a brand new Dyson DC 25 Animal.

The thing is amazing. The first time I ran it over one of my area rugs, I could not believe how much dirt and Allie hair the machine sucked up. And, joy of joys, I didn't have to change attachments to clean the floors after cleaning the rugs (and vice versa). Just one push of a button gets the beater brush rotating on the carpets, and stops the brush when it and the rest of the machine hit the floor. And that ball? Very cool. The company says that the ball enables the vaccum cleaner to turn on a dime-- but unlike so much other advertising copy, this characterization actually understates the product's characteristic: the thing is fully capable of freakin' hairpin turns.

Interestingly, ever since I acquired this machine, my gross-out threshhold has dropped considerably. For the past few days, anytime I've seen crumbs or a bit of Allie hair on a carpet, I immediately run for my new toy and suck the offending material up off the carpet. My husband and daughter have started teasing me: "Hey Susan/Mom! There's a dust-bunny over there! Hadn't you better get out the Dyson?" Amazingly, I'm not even offended.

But while I love love love my new Dyson, that love has its limits. I will not clean any one's house but my own. So don't get any ideas, guys.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What are you thankful for?

The economy sucks. Our country's standing in the international community is equally crappy. Most people's financial investments have gone into a deep dive over the past couple of months. Unemployment is trending upward. Nevertheless, I feel grateful for so much this Thanksgiving. Some examples:

-- A husband and daughter who give me lots of love and support -- and who know exactly when to be sappy and when not to be.

-- A dog (yes, Ms. Allie, I'm talking about you!) who teaches me something every day, and who lavishes love upon me even when I make mistakes.

-- Work that I still enjoy doing, even after nearly a dozen years of doing it.

-- Good health: not just mine, but also throughout the rest of my family (knock on wood).

-- No worries about keeping a roof over my head and good food on the table.

-- My mother, brother and nephew being able to join us this Thanksgiving (assuming they'll survive the day-before-Thanksgiving madness on I-95).

-- Reason to hope for better times, especially after next January 20.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My blog is my mirror

A website called Typealyzer claims it can illuminate the personality of a blogger by analyzing her blog. This is what the site said about me after I typed in the URL for The Allie Chronicles:

ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical outdoor activities. The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Other than frequent engagement in "physical outdoor activities," that analysis actually sounds pretty accurate.

See what your own blog supposedly says about you by logging onto the Typealyzer site.

Re-thinking doggie boot camp

Just got an email from Cheryl Panillo, of the production company that was developing Doggie Boot Camp:

The posting has been pulled and all development on the show -- which was not greenlit, by any means -- has been postponed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My dirty little secret

So, do you think the writer's life is one filled with inspiration and creativity as her flying fingers bring brilliant prose from brain to keyboard to screen?

That does happen. Without such occurrences, the writer would not write, much less generate income.

Frequently, though, I find that getting to that place, that zone, that feeling of flow, requires the employment of a special technique beforehand: procrastination.

It's now past noon, and I have been employing that technique with great diligence. So far I have:

-- been to the gym to do my 20 minutes of cardio work on the treadmill, after which I always feel quite virtuous;

-- showered and gotten dressed;

-- done the dishes;

-- looked at other blogs, including this one, this one and this one;

-- lusted after gorgeous clothes that I won't be able to afford until they go on sale, and probably not even then;

-- repeatedly guffawed at this recent skit on SNL (warning: do not watch this video if you are drinking anything. If you do, you risk shorting out your keyboard);

-- watched movie trailers, including this one (can you blame me? I've been a fan of this franchise for more than 40 years!!!!) and -- most especially -- this one.

I am confident that all of the above activities will result in a creative outburst at some point. I just don't quite know when.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Come again?

Seen on Craig's List:

Do you love dogs, and training them? Can YOU run the ultimate bootcamp? Do you have proven experience in being able to train those aggressive breeds who go from trainer to trainer and never seem to learn how to sit or stay still? Then we want YOU as our next drill sergeant!!!!Varuna Entertainment is currently casting for a dramatic reality docuseries for the Animal Planet. Candidates must be able to take a stern and militaristic, yet positive attitude towards dog training, and can show us on video or in pictures. Think "Celebrity Fit Club" or "Biggest Loser."

I can just see it now, can't you? Move over Cesar -- the next generation of Dog Whisperers is on deck.

But then, at the end of the ad is this little caution:

Please read this casting notice fully, and realize that we are NOT looking for trainers who use physically aggressive techniques to train their animals. We want trainers who can separate themselves from the batch we usually see on TV -- aside from Victoria Stillwell, whose methods are quite similar to what we are looking for -- who use treats, clickers, etc., which are also, of course, successful methods as well.

So they don't want Cesar wannabes, then? They want trainers who espouse positive reinforcement, but they also want them to be drill sergeants and run a doggie boot camp?

Don't misunderstand me: I'm VERY happy that the company want trainers who espouse positive reinforcement. Somehow, though, I don't think such trainers are going to want to adopt drill sergeant personas, even to acquire 15 or more minutes of fame.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Allie's statement

Allie, being a Golden Retriever of strong conviction and healthy self-esteem, would probably have a few things to say in response to my confession/tribute of yesterday. But instead, here is a a post from another blog in which I didn't feel as though I wrote on her behalf -- I channeled her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A confession and a tribute

I recently met a Golden Retriever who seemed to me to epitomize what a Golden Retriever should be. For one thing, he looked so resplendent that I realized that Allie's overdue for some grooming. (Yes, I made the appointment today. The Golden girl will be beautified on Thursday.) Anyway, this dog was a joy to behold: happy, confident, compliant, incredibly precise as he worked. I was enthralled.

So I was a little surprised when I learned later this dog's owner apparently isn't all that crazy about him. She feels that he's not like the other Goldens she's had and that he's just not at the levels of those other dogs. Someone remarked that owners of show dogs are sometimes like that; they don't necessarily love or even like all their dogs equally. And certainly more than a few show dogs go to other owners when they retire.

And yet, I wonder, how different are the rest of us who have lived with and loved more than one dog? Can we really claim to love all of our dogs equally? Patricia McConnell speaks of one particular dog, Luke, as being her soul-dog. To me, such a characterization implies a kind of hierarchy of affection with respect to the other dogs who've been in her life. And author Jon Katz has made no bones about loving the dogs in his life somewhat unequally. On at least two occasions, he's placed those less-loved dogs in other homes because he just didn't feel as connected with them as with the other dogs he had. And I'm not saying I approve of Katz's doing that; just that he did it.

Even I am guilty of at least appearing to play favorites. As an adult I've lived with three dogs: Molly, whom I consider to have been the dog of my soul; Cory, whom I've characterized as the dog of my heart; and now Allie, whom I call the dog of my life. But while I fell in love with both Cory and Molly almost immediately after they came to live with me (and with Molly, that was a good thing, because our first year together was full of problems), I didn't fall in love with Allie nearly as fast. My relationship with her has been a lot more complicated than with the other two dogs I've lived with.

Allie was a challenging puppy--and even as an adult, she's not always easy. Yes, she's smart, loving and confident. But she also can be demanding, mischievous and stubborn. And she definitely has a mind of her own. I'd hoped that Allie would be a dog with whom I could learn to compete in a dog sport such as agility, obedience, or flyball. However, Allie made it clear that she wasn't interested in group training to learn any kind of sport or other pursuit. Even now, we still have some issues, particularly with respect to her behavior while on the leash. We're working on those, and are coming along well.

But in all fairness to Allie, we probably got her too soon after Cory's sudden death. That wasn't Stan's or Julie's fault -- the fault was all mine. Cory's death devastated me, and I could not handle being without a dog (how do you write full time about dogs without a dog nearby to inspire you?). Still, I'd find myself grumpy and angry at Allie simply for not being Cory--hardly her fault. It took me a couple of years to fully appreciate Allie for who she is and what she's teaching me (and continues to teach me). But up till then, I was uncomfortably aware that she had turned out to be *so* not the dog I wanted. And yes, I considered taking her back to her breeder. But I knew that if I did that, someone else would benefit from all the work that I was putting into helping her become the best dog she could be. Egotistical little so-and-so that I am (heck, I'm only human), I couldn't abide that prospect.

So when I was told that this other Golden's owner wasn't nuts about this dog, I not only was surprised, I was a tad uncomfortable. It hit a little too close to home. I remembered all the times I heard people exult over how wonderful Allie was and think to myself, "If only you knew." I remember wondering if I would ever love her as much as I'd loved the other dogs I'd raised.

So, do I love her as much? Yes, I do -- now. Did everything work out? I think so. For one thing, my trials and tribulations with Allie have inspired some of my best writing. And when friends see us together now, they marvel at the bond we have. Their reactions help me to look at our connection anew. I'm not sure what made things all work out in the end. Time? Probably. Maturity? Certainly for Allie, and undoubtedly for me, too.

When I was in college and given to self-important pronouncements in an effort to affect a wisdom I'd had yet to earn, I defined love as the ultimate form of acceptance. Actually, even now, I think that's not a bad definition. Now, when I look at my Golden girl stretched out on the same old sofa that Molly and Cory loved, I feel the same degree of love for her that I did for those other two dogs. But I love her for who she is: a loving, feisty, intense, persistent, intelligent companion who very much has her own ideas. Today, my bond with Allie is no less strong than it was with Molly and Cory. It just took a whole lot longer to build.

With Allie, I've learned that you may not always get the dog you want, but "if you try sometimes you just might find, you just might find" (thank you, Rolling Stones!) you get the dog you need. She was and is the dog I've needed, even when I haven't known it -- and I love her for that, and for so much more.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sigh ....

If I had $9,000 to spare, this is what I would want to do with it.

A good weekend

I spent all of yesterday and part of today at a seminar featuring certified applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog. Aside from the fact that McConnell is just as engaging in person as she is on the printed page, I really learned a lot over these past two days. I now have a good idea as to why Allie, as intelligent as she is, does *not* do well in group classes (I think she gets bored when it's not her turn to perform -- typical of any diva) and how I can teach her to be behave better when she walks on leash.

But my Golden girl is getting impatient for an overdue (to her, anyway) run up at the local school field. Maybe on the way there I can put at least the latter lesson into action.

Monday, November 3, 2008


It's hard, even for me, to focus on dogs and writing when the most important presidential election in at least a generation takes place tomorrow. But still, I've got some news to share:

-- I've just signed a contract to write the second edition of my first book, Housetraining For Dummies. HTFD 1 has sold over 160,000 copies in the six years it's been in print, and still generates some more-than-welcome royalty checks. But I'm looking forward to writing a new, up-to-date version -- and hope (of course!) that it does as well as the first edition.

-- In January I'll be starting a training apprenticeship with one of the best dog trainers in the United States, Pat Miller. This is a step I've been contemplating for a long time, but until other people convinced me that I've done well with my confidence-busting Golden girl, the incomparable Miss Allie, I questioned whether I had the stuff to become a trainer as well as an author. I guess now I'll find out -- but I'm a lot more hopeful that I've got what it takes than I ever was before. I'll still write, but now I can put what I write into action.

-- Allie turned six years old yesterday! Her birthday gift from me: 14 tennis balls to destroy whenever I give her the opportunity. So far, I've given her two, and her speed of demolition is becoming most impressive.

-- My daughter finally got her absentee ballot and got to cast her first vote after all!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


A little while ago, Allie and I headed out to a small wooded park near our home. It's one of our favorite walks, particularly since there's a cleared field that once contained a small baseball diamond, but now just has a rusty old backstop in the corner. It's perfect for playing fetch, though.

We entered the park, with the golden sunlight shining through the leaves on the trees. Splendid. We walked uphill on a path, then followed the path down the hill and rounded a bend when I saw something standing directly in front of us, blocking our path.

A deer. Specifically, a buck. He was, at most, maybe eight feet away.

My first impulse was to back away and take another route to the field, but then I decided to wait and see what happened. Allie saw the buck, too, but -- thankfully -- obeyed my whispered command to "Wait." We stood very still looking at the buck, and he did the same while looking at us. We just looked into each other's eyes and waited.

A minute or so passed, and I carefully moved Allie from my right side to my left, so that she was a little further away from the buck. Then, we took a small step toward the buck. He blinked, then took a couple of steps to his left, so that he was off the path and no longer blocking us.

Allie and I waited. The buck calmly chewed a leaf from a small sapling, then ambled another few steps away from the path, turned and looked at us. We slowly made our way past him and down the path toward the field. After a few feet, I turned -- and he was still watching us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I did it!

After spending some time blogging here and here, I decided that I needed to move "The Allie Chronicles" to a new home.

Some of the reason for my move has to do with concerns about LiveJournal's ownership. But more of the reason had to do with my just wanting the blog to be in a place with more options.

Undoubtedly there's a way that I could have imported the whole blog from Live Journal to Blogger, but I couldn't find it and apparently a few other people couldn't either (I saw advice indicating that you gotta do it by hand.) There was some stuff in the help section about republishing an FTP blog, but somehow I didn't think that I applied to what I was trying to do.

Sooooooo ... IAC, here is (are?) The Allie Chronicles in its (their?) new home.

So *now* we can try this at home?

(Originally published September 16, 2008)

It's bad enough that Cesar Millan and National Geographic have set dog training back a gazillion years with their show "The Dog Whisperer": a regressive show wrapped in New Age packaging. (Newsflash: adopting a mantra of "calm, assertive energy" is the not sole answer to solving a dog's problems.) Worse is that the NG channel has to paste a "Do Not Try This At Home" disclaimer at the top of every episode.

Now, we've got something that we apparently can try at home: Sessions with Cesar, which a press release describes as "a new online dog coaching course [and] interactive program, which is based on the philosophy of America's most beloved dog behaviorist, [and] is the first of its kind to help dog owners establish a more fulfilling and balanced relationship with their pets."

Oh joy. Alpha rolls with online coaching? Psychological flooding prompted by a cybervoice? All for only $129? I'm so there ...

... Especially now that I've read "the Disclaimers and Warnings" section, which takes up a full third of the Terms of Service. Among the provisions of that section: "we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any Content on or provided in connection with the Service. IMG, Cesar Millan, Ilusion Millan and Cesar Millan, Inc. (collectively the “Released Parties”), and its and their affiliates, consultants, associates, and other users may also provide advice as part of the Content on the Service (“Advice”). You agree that such Advice is provided for your informational purposes only, and that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with the use of any Advice, including any reliance on the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of such information or content." IOW, if my online coach, Cesar, tells me to alpha-roll my dog, and my dog expresses her displeasure by biting me, it's my fault.

Wow. Now I really feel confident.

Revisiting earlier topics

(Originally published September 1, 2008)

Apropos of nothing, this post will update earlier ones -- mostly with new rants.

1. Verizon did eventually pull its pit bull commercial. I'm glad they finally caved, but it sure took them long enough.

2. Greatest American Dog started off great but has declined precipitously. What were the producers thinking when:-- They decided that the best way to demonstrate a dog's courage was to have that dog sit in the middle of a circle while an elephant (yes, a freakin' elephant!) ambled toward him;-- They decided that an even better way to demonstrate said courage was to have the dog jump into the air attached to a 30-some foot long zip wire;-- They concluded that the best way to assess Galaxy's post-challenge limp was to have a *dog trainer* come look at it. I have the greatest respect for positive dog trainers but they are not, repeat not, veterinarians.I won't even bother to go into the subject of the judges' utter inconsistency from week to week -- at least not right now.

3. Mad Men is still wonderful, despite its somewhat slow second-season start. But in last night's episode, when Duck decided to abandon his conscience by abandoning his faithful Irish Setter in the middle of New York City, I cried. I understand why that scene was in the script, and I understand that it's just a story, that the dog wasn't really abandoned (I've come a long way since my childhood, when I freaked out every Sunday night while watching Lassie and/or Timmy deal with their peril of the week). But I cried anyway.

I'm back

(Originally published August 31, 2008)

I know I've not been the most consistent blogger in the world, particularly the past month or so. But I have a reason. Really.

My father died a week ago today after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Over the past six years, I've come to see what a truly hideous disease this is. It robs a person not only of his mobility, but also of his dignity -- and the whole time, the person knows exactly what's going on. This summer, my dad's last, was especially harrowing as he struggled through two bouts of pneumonia. He survived the first, but not the second.

Allie and my dad developed a special relationship. Whenever she and I visited my parents, Allie would make it a point to spend time with Dad, gently soliciting attention from him and sometimes simply lying at his feet. I'll be going back up to my parents' house soon to bring my mother back here for a visit with me and with a friend in South Carolina. Allie will be coming with me, and I wonder if she'll notice that my dad is no longer there.

The Mad Men of 2008

(Originally published July 22, 2008)

I've recently become a great fan of A & E's original series "Mad Men," which depicts a 1960's New York ad agency in all its homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic glory. (Let me be clear: I'm no fan of those attitudes; what I appreciate is the show's wonderful writing and superb acting.) A better name for the fictitious Mad Men agency, Sterling Cooper, would be Stereotype Central. But that was then, when many people didn't know any better. Now, nearly half a century later, we're supposedly more sensitive and enlightened -- except, perhaps, the not-so-creative minds at the McCann-Erickson ad agency, which created a new commercial for Verizon's new LG Dare cell phone:

Clearly McCann-Erickson's creative department hasn't heard or don't care about perpetuating stereotypes about bully breeds (news flash: sometimes even Don Draper asks for research, people!). And Verizon, in refusing to pull the ad despite strong protests from experts and animal lovers, shows that it has no problem sacrificing these people-loving dogs on the altar of the almighty dollar.

This commercial is the pits.

National Geographic, this one's for you

(Originally published July 18, 2008)

Past experience has made me something of a skeptic about TV shows involving dogs. I fear that they'll showcase the humans at the expense of the dogs; advocate coercive, discredited training techniques; or otherwise do stuff that indicates that the producers know zilch about how to interact with the canine species. So it was with some trepidation that I watched the first and second episodes of the new CBS reality show, "The Greatest American Dog" (

The show employs the basic reality competition template of people having to perform tasks and facing elimination by a panel of judges if they don't perform those tasks successfully--but in this case, the human contestants are paired with their canine companions. Some of these contestants appear to have good, healthy relationships with their dogs while others seem to believe that dressing a dog in human clothing is a pre-requisite to loving ownership. In other words, while some of the people seem reasonably sane, there are others who are fodder for yet another disdainful look-how-much-we-pamper-our-pooches article in a magazine or newspaper, not to mention having some off-the-wall ideas as to how good their relationships with their dogs really are (not).

But so far the judges have surprised me -- pleasantly. Each of the two human-dog pairs they chose for elimination was having difficulty because the humans, not the dogs, were messing up, and the human mess-ups were stressing not only their own dogs but the other contestants. Each week, the dogs have clearly been the priority.

Way to go, CBS. And I hope that other networks are watching -- and learning.

I hated "Chariots of Fire" ...

(Originally published July 6, 2008)

... but check out the "Marley and Me" movie trailer:

I am *so* there.

Proven icebreaker

(Originally published June 9, 2008)

I am not the most social person in the world. Schmoozing does not come easily to me. At a party, I have trouble coming up with things to talk about; I mainly try to listen and hope I say something reasonably intelligent in response.

But ever since I started writing about dogs, my schmoozing skills have improved considerably. That's because these days, family dogs almost invariably creep into party conversation. I'll have something helpful to say (and I am *not* showing off, I swear), someone else will respond with interest, and the conversation gets into a whole new gear. Then someone will ask "how do you know that?" and I'll say that I write about dogs -- if my wonderfully supportive husband and daughter don't do it first.

One more way our canine companions can help us ...

Compassion defined

(Originally published May 26, 2008)

About a month ago, Allie had surgery to remove two lumps on her trunk. One had already been shown to be a sebaceous cyst, but the second had come up suddenly -- and, to our vet, looked a little suspicious. Because I've lost two previous dogs to cancer -- and because the idea that Allie at age 5 might also have cancer was just mind-boggling -- I was pretty much a nervous wreck until we got the word that both lumps, thankfully, were benign.

Fortunately, Allie was able to go home the same day that she had her surgery. But if she hadn't, I would have loved for her clinic to offer the service that the clinic featured in this video offers its surgical patients and their people:

(Full disclosure: I write for

Summer's coming! This dog says so!

The weather outside is more like late March than late May. I don't think anyone other than the hardiest kids (or swim team members) will venture into our local pool this weekend, Memorial Day or not. But this Doberman's putting me in a summer mood despite the highly unseasonable weather:

We owe you, Connor.

(Originally published May 19, 2008)

I'm always looking for ways to give Allie some indoor exercise when the weather's not conducive to outdoor frolicking. This past weekend, my nephew pointed the way to creating an indoor game that gave both the Golden girl and me a great workout.

Allie, Stan (my husband) and I spent the past weekend visiting my parents. My brother Jack and his son, Connor, came over Saturday evening for dinner. Allie and Connor are long-time buddies, and my Golden girl greeted my nephew with enthusiastic wiggles, wags, licks and love-whimpers. She greeted Jack in similar fashion.

After dinner, Jack and Connor went outside to practice some soccer moves, and Allie and I came out to watch. Allie went nuts over the ball. With me holding onto her leash for dear life, she and Connor proceeded to engage in a dribbling (as in soccer, not in drooling) duel. I was amazed at how intense Allie was in her effort to get the ball away from Connor, and how hard she panted when they both finally quit.

So when Stan, Allie and I arrived back in Virginia yesterday and Allie was in need of some exercise, I resurrected an old basketball from our basement and proceeded to foot-dribble it around the family room with The Big Blonde intercepting it more than once. We both had a good time moving the ball back and forth across the floor. Even better, we didn't break anything. Afterward, Miss Allie was a very mellow girl -- and I was, too.

NBC tries to play catch-up

(Originally published May 13, 2008)

I was glad that NBC decided to hold a roundtable to discuss the horse safety issues that have become the focus of public debate ever since the death of Eight Belles two weeks ago at the Kentucky Derby.

However, what was billed as a 30-minute roundtable actually lasted only 13 minutes. One got the feeling that NBC was doing only the bare minimum in response to viewers' protests over the way the network covered the Derby.

Also, I heard no one point out that not only is roundtable member Gary Stevens a former jockey and a commentator for NBC Sports; he's also a consultant to IEAH, the company that owns Big Brown, the Derby and Preakness winner. Ever hear of full disclosure, guys?

I really mean it this time

(Originally published May 3, 2008)

After Barbaro broke his leg in the 2006 Preakness, I swore I'd never watch another horse race on TV. Then, in 2007, I changed my mind.

But now, after watching the 2008 Kentucky Derby, I wish I hadn't. And for those who think that the victory of Big Brown and the demise of Eight Belles is a metaphor for how the Obama-Clinton nomination fight will turn out, this Obama supporter hopes you'll just take your callous attitude over the demise of a beautiful, gallant creature someplace else--preferably as far away from me as possible.

Rest in peace, Eight Belles.

Gratitude, part deux

(Originally published April 24, 2008)

A dozen years ago this summer, when I was totally sick of writing about agricultural trade (much less editing other people's writings about that topic), I happened upon Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Simple Abundance. The book consisted of daily meditations about living life more joyfully, creatively and appreciatively, and also directed readers to take time each day to write down three things that they were grateful for. Her message resonated with me, and soon triggered a creative rebirth that I'm still benefiting from. That was the summer that I placed my first freelance feature article -- a parenting article for The Washington Post -- followed shortly thereafter by a piece for the now-defunct magazine Pet Life about how to share an office with one's dog. The latter had been inspired by the behavior of Cory, my fax-attacking Sheltie.

One of the most memorable aspects of that summer were my daily first-thing-in-the-morning walks with Cory around our neighborhood. I loved those sojourns with my little Sheltie gentleman. The birds would always be singing, the mornings would be fresh, the grass would be so green and, often, flecked with dew. Sometimes we ventured out of the neighborhood and onto the W&OD bike trail where, one memorable morning, we encountered The Periscope Deer. But that's for another entry.

Flash forward those 12 years: Cory has long since departed for the Bridge, and succeeding him is Allie, my irrepressible but challenging Golden girl. Allie has had leash-walking issues ever since puppyhood -- and still does, even at the ripe old age of five-and-a-half. We can be in the middle of a tranquil walk when she'll appear to suddenly decide it's time to change things up. And change them she does, by jumping on me, tugging at the leash, tugging at my clothes, zooming wildly back and forth, and engaging in other tranquility-killing behaviors. I've tried all kinds of remedies, clearly with only limited success, although up till yesterday we'd gone for more than a month without incident. But yesterday, during a long walk, she was at it again, and I got royally pissed.

So I decided to institute a Walking Boot Camp for Allie: a daily 30-minute walk that includes required sits from her at street corners and elsewhere upon request from me, with zero tolerance for canine zoomie attacks or other ambulatory meltdowns. For this morning's camp session, we found ourselves taking the same route I'd taken every day with Cory a dozen years ago. The air was as fresh, the birds were as melodic and the grass was as green this morning as they were then. I felt myself relax and re-live the feelings of newness and gratitude and rebirth I experienced that summer. Meanwhile, Allie ambled with apparent contentment along side me the whole time with nary a hint of meltdown behavior. I found myself wondering if some of that long-ago tranquility had found its way to her soul, too. That thought brought a lump to my throat -- and even now, two hours later, I'm wiping away tears as I write this.

Nope, I didn't ...

(Originally published April 4, 2008)

... watch Oprah Winfrey's show on puppy mills today -- not because I thought the topic was unworthy, but because I knew I wouldn't be able to bear seeing all those poor, miserable dogs crammed into tiny cages, leading thoroughly miserable lives.

BUT several credible sources who did watch the show report that Oprah and Company did a good job of exposing the cruelty of puppy mills without unfairly bashing responsible breeders. If that's the case, then I'm fine with Oprah saying she'll only adopt shelter dogs from now on.

Taking it on Faith

(Originally published April 2, 2008)

In the last 24 hours, I've discovered that:

-- Oprah Winfrey apparently has vowed that after seeing videos of puppy mills, she will never buy a dog from a reputable breeder.

-- One of Bravo TV's "Real Housewives of New York City" hasn't figured out how to housetrain her dog, but the professional dog trainer she's hired to show her how to do it seems more intent on teaching the dog to sit anywhere than to squat in the right place.

-- Another one of those housewives LETS HER CHIHUAHUA LICK THE INSIDE OF HER NOSE. (No, I'm not kidding. I saw the dog do this.)

In the midst of such absurdity, one needs a little perspective, not to mention inspiration. I found both here.

Kleenex alert

(Originally published March 16, 2008)

Hands down, the best tribute to a beloved dog I've ever seen:

(Note: if images of hunting offend you, don't watch.)

Karma, you are an artist in more ways than one.

My dog, my accessory?

(Originally published March 15, 2008)

I'm a long-time fan of J.Jill clothing. In addition to their being one of the few manufacturers of tasteful-but-not-stuffy apparel for women my age, they also support causes that benefit women in crisis or who are attempting to improve their lives. My bad: I shouldn't have assumed that a company that supports women's causes would also support humane causes. But that's exactly what I assumed until yesterday, when the company's latest catalog arrived in my mailbox. Click here to see what appalled me:

Flip the page and you'll see a similar image: a gleeful woman carrying what appears to be a Rat Terrier in a totebag. The Rat Terrier, btw, is way too big to fit in said totebag.

It's bad enough seeing Paris Hilton, Britney Spears or other popwrecks (thank you,, for that colorful characterization) toting their little teacup dogs in handbags wherever they go. But J. Jill positions itself as a socially responsible company. Who was the nitwit who thought that stuffing a dog in a totebag would sell clothing to that company's demographic?

J.Jill, what were you thinking?

Labor of love

(Originally published March 11, 2008)

I've ridden horses only a few times in my life, and my mother has never done so. But we both love reading about the equine species -- particularly stories like this one from today's edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Thanks for telling me about this, Mom.

Are you kidding?

(Originally published March 8, 2008)

Among my many email subscriptions is's "Dog Crazy Newsletter," in which a veterinarian named Dr. Jon summarizes one of the many articles on the website and adds a few timely tips. Today's newsletter summarized an excellent article about separation anxiety by veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman. However, it was one of the tips added by Dr. Jon at the end of the email that really got my attention -- and not in a good way.

Now that you're home for the weekend, suggests Dr. Jon, spend some quality time with your dog (so far, so good). Take him to the dog park (fine, too, as long as your dog can handle being with other dogs). But then, he adds this little gem:

Dress him up and take pictures (he won't be bored, but he may be

Since when is deliberately annoying a dog a good idea? And why, for that matter, is it okay to put a dog in human clothing and then laugh at the dog or worse, coo over how cute he is? Doesn't a dog have a right to some individual dignity?

Allie dislikes human clothing so much that she can't even abide the kerchief she gets after each session with her groomer. But even if she could, I would never attempt to put her in a dress, a hat -- or, God forbid, those ridiculous doggie antlers that way too many dogs are forced to wear at Christmas time. These are our dogs, people. We supposedly love them. Why is it okay for us to make them objects of ridicule?

Dr. Jon, you should know better.

You're being so bad. Good dog!

(Originally published February 23, 2008)

Next month, filming begins on Marley and Me, the movie based on the mega-bestseller penned by John Grogan a couple of years back about his very lovable Lab, whom he dubbed "the world's worst dog." The film stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as Grogan and his wife, Jenny. I can't find any info on the dog(s) who will play Marley, but the animal trainer is Mark Forbes, who had a fairly recent gig wrangling and otherwise dealing with all the animals who appeared in that 21st-century Noah's Ark tale, Evan Almighty.

Here's what I want to know: how is Forbes going to train this dog to do all the bad things that Marley did, such as chewing through drywall, destroying his crate, and dragging his people on a frantic run through an outdoor cafe? And once that dog gets a taste of the joys of being a bad dog, what on earth is going to make him want to be a good dog again?

When this movie comes out on Netflix, I will not allow Allie to see it.

Supporting the troops

(Originally published February 15, 2008)

I enjoy dog shows. Westminster is cool. But when it comes to describing the human-animal bond, *this* is the real deal:

Role switch

(Originally published February 13, 2008)

As a working writer, I've interviewed a lot of people -- but thanks to Uno's big win at Westminster the night before last and my having written Beagles For Dummies, I've become an interviewee. The interviewer was Julia Szabo, content director for, the "You and Your Pet" columnist for Country Living, and all-around animal writer extraordinaire. Here's a link to her feature, from which you can explore the rest of her "Nose to the Ground" blog and the Fetchdog website:

Numero Uno

(Originally published February 13, 2008)

Technically, I live with a Golden Retriever -- but two years ago I felt as though I was also living with Beagles. That's because 2006 was the year I wrote Beagles For Dummies, an enterprise that required me to know as much as possible about the typical Snoopy-dog. In the process, I developed a true affection for these loving, plucky, independent little hounds.

So naturally I was very pleased late last night when Uno the Beagle, known more formally as Ch K-Run's Park Me in First, bested two Poodles, a Weimaraner, an Akita, an Australian Shepherd, and a Sealyham Terrier to win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club. For his part, Uno seemed pretty pleased, too. The roar of approval from the crowd -- who gave Uno a standing ovation when he was chosen -- drowned out the sounds of any individual canine vocalizing. But from the look of his pursed lips and slightly lifted head, Uno was clearly expressing his opinion about his victory in true Beagle fashion.

Here's a link to a picture of the winner:

And pardon the commercial interruption, but here's a link to the spot on my website where you can buy Beagles For Dummies at a 15 percent discount:

We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

Way over the line this time

(Originally published February 11, 2008)

Once upon a time, I thought that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was okay. I admired founder Alex Pacheo's successful effort to free the Silver Spring monkeys: take a look at the photo here and you'll see why that effort was necessary.

But that was then. This is now. And if a report by Lisa deMoraes in today's Washington Post is correct, tonight PETA will cross the line between being merely off the wall to being downright despicable. The vehicle for such outrage: a PETA commercial scheduled to run after tonight's telecast of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Here is a link to the commercial:

To equate buying a dog from a responsible breeder (I'm not talking about puppy mills here) with causing the death of an animal shelter dog is ludicrous. Reputable breeders do far more than PETA to promote the spaying and neutering of canine companions, not to mention the adoption of unwanted dogs into loving homes. Writer and blogger Christie Keith -- who's been involved in both breeding and rescue -- correctly points out that "there is no reason to kill ... animals [in shelters] or stop preserving dog or cat breeds through breeding. You can do both." Which is, in fact, what many breeders do.

I've acquired dogs from reputable breeders, and I've adopted dogs from shelters -- and l have loved them all dearly. I've volunteered for shelters and rescue groups, and I'll continue to do so. But tonight and tomorrow night, I'll watch Westminster without guilt.

Dog women who dine

(Originally published February 11, 2008)

When I hear the phrase "ladies who lunch," I think of women clad in proper tweed suits, pillbox hats and white gloves who eat little tea sandwiches made from crustless bread and garnished with watercress. That is so not me: I haven't worn white gloves or a pillbox hat since I was barely in my teens and was expected to wear such attire to church on Sunday. And I have never, ever worn a tweed suit.

But there are a group of women -- dog trainers all, except for me and a Tellington TTouch practitioner -- with whom I love lunching every month. We've been dubbed the Lunch Bunch (who did the original dubbing, anyway?). I never fail to learn something when I'm with these women: not just about bringing out a dog's potential but also about subjects ranging from making money online to dealing with abusive seminar presenters (and that was just today).

So to the Lunch Bunch: many thanks for such good times, and I can't wait to enjoy more of them. I'd even don that tweed suit if that were required in order to lunch with you all -- but I'm so glad I don't have to.

Dog trainer of the year

(Originally published February 5, 2008)

I love not having to watch the Super Bowl in order to see the commercials!

Take that, Mitt

(Originally published January 29, 2008)

I know, it's been awhile. Between a trip to Florida to hang out with the in-laws, a trip to Pennsylvania to give my mom and dad their monthly Allie-fix, deadlines galore and the world's nastiest, never-leaving, let-me-give-you-one-last-wallop cold, I've been, well, occupied.

Truth be told, I haven't been thinking much about dog stuff, outside of what I'm writing for clients. There is, after all, a presidential primary season going into fifth gear -- and the contest is staying interesting long past the point where contests in years past seemed to be pretty well wrapped up. Not this time. This one-time political speechwriter who's avoided watching the news for much of the past seven years feels like she's getting back in touch with a younger self.

The only way to relate this to dogs is to say that if a presidential candidate thinks that the best way to transport a family dog is to put that dog in a crate, strap the crate onto the roof of the family vehicle (old news, yes, but still vivid to me), and zoom down the highway, that candidate should really think about running for something else. I'd say "running for dog-catcher", but that would be a major diss to animal shelter workers, most of whom do their best to care for the dogs, cats and other companion animals that no one else wants.

The fleecing of Arlington?

(Originally published January 17, 2008)

The idea that a single dog park in Arlington, VA, could cost more than $1 million is incredible:

Printer obituary

(Originally published January 13, 2008)

Susan McCullough's Hewlett-Packard 5P printer died yesterday. The printer was approximately 7 years old.

The cause of death is unknown. On the previous day, the printer appeared to be functioning normally. Yesterday, however, any and all attempts to print any documents resulted in paper jams. The little puffy sound that indicated a proper paper feed was not to be heard. On the fifth and final attempt to print, a small piece of paper became caught fast in one of the mechanical parts, making it completely inaccessible to removal by fingers or even tweezers. If Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy had been present, the latter would have intoned, "It's dead, Jim."

In lieu of a funeral, McCullough's husband took both the printer and an old Gateway computer to the local Staples for recycling. Meanwhile, McCullough decided to clean her office -- a task she should have performed weeks ago.

Succeeding the 5P is an HP P1006 that is about half the size and 1/3 of the cost of the 5P. Between the suddenly neat, orderly office and the new printer, McCullough may have trouble recognizing her workplace for a few days.

Marathon (wo)man

(Originally published January 7, 2008)

Over the past four days, I've revised three chapters of the Petfinder book, written three articles, edited and submitted two (will edit and submit last one tomorrow), and lined up an interview for an article due next week.

I've never run long distance, but I'll bet my drained/spent/satisfied feeling is somewhat similar to what marathon runners feel after they race or even hobble across the finish line.

Left behind, letting go

(Originally published January 3, 2008)

My daughter Julie went back to college yesterday, after spending six weeks at home between quarters. Except for a brief outbreak of giggliness when I first viewed that Fiesta Bowl video clip (see the previous entry), I've been feeling a little weepy since she left. Fortunately, I had one of my Christmas gifts from Stan -- Anna Quindlen's new book Good Dog.Stay. -- to give me some perspective, if not comfort. In considering the relationship of children to parents and to family dogs, she says:
For children, the point of having a dog is something like the point of
having a mother and father. Our job is not to do but to be, not to act but
to exist. We are bedrock scenery, landscape, to be often ignored and
then clung to during difficult or frightening or, occasionally, happy
times. My mom, my dad, my home, immutable, to leave and then to return to
at will and leave again.

I think that says it all.

Wipey butts, anyone?

(Originally published January 3, 2008)

Because Allie's got long golden tresses gracing her posterior -- and because sometimes those tresses get gunked up with you-know-what -- I thought that this clip was hilarious:

What the ---?

(Originally published December 27, 2007)

One family in the District of Columbia had a lousy Christmas. While they were walking their dog on Christmas Eve, a DC police officer shot the animal right in front of their eyes. Details are here:

Yes, the dog shouldn't have been off leash, at least not in this particular park. But what on earth was he doing to cause the officer to feel threatened? Did that officer have any training about normal canine behavior and body language?

The grief-stricken family wants a full accounting of what happened. I hope they get it.

Thanks to Penelope Brown for sharing this story.

It's Christmas, dammit

(Originally published December 21, 2007)

I was all set to post a mini-rant today. But then I remembered: it's four days before Christmas. I've finished all the work I need to do until after the big day. The shopping's done, too, and our four-member pack will be safe at home together. Presents for everyone are under our tree -- everyone, that is, except for Allie, who got her brand-new-soft-cushy bed yesterday, and appears to really like it. In any case, It's a time to count blessings, not get up on a soapbox.

So, Merry Christmas. Cherish the ones you love.

The Kleenex Queen as therapy dog

(Originally published December 17, 2007)

Allie and I are just back from a weekend visit to my parents, who live a little north of Philadelphia. My mom and dad are in their 80's, and are increasingly frail -- especially my dad. They still live independently, but the everyday details of independent living are becoming more and more daunting for them. One thing about them hasn't changed with age, though: they adore dogs. But for the past five years, they haven't had one; they both feel that they can't take proper care of a dog any longer.

So when Allie and I make our monthly journey northward, my parents can get their dog fix. They get to pet and cuddle with their big golden grand-dog without having to worry about when to feed her or take her out. They can laugh at her antics -- especially her ability to ferret out any and all tissues/paper towels/paper napkins from end-tables, wastebaskets and elsewhere, which is why we call her the Kleenex Queen -- without having to deal with any repercussions from those antics. And I love how gentle the often-rambunctious Kleenex Queen is around my dad, who's not all that steady on his feet these days.

To me, my parents epitomize responsible dog people -- by, paradoxically, choosing not to have a dog at all.

Bathroom transformation

(originally published December 13, 2007)

Today, two crews from Bathfitter are transforming our hideously ugly upstairs bathtub and shower into places in which we can bathe without having to ignore the way the grout looks. I am thrilled at that prospect. So are Stan and Julie. Allie, who is not permitted to venture into either bathing area, presumably doesn't care.

Right now, though, those two crews are drilling. Loudly. Directly above my office. When they're not drilling, I hear frenetic, excited sounding voices that mean only one thing: at least one of the technicians is listening to talk radio.

I thought I was going to get some work done today: continuing to write the appendix to the Petfinder book project; figuring out how much more research I need to do on my canine water sports article and (yes, really) getting my Christmas cards done.


Perhaps I should do something that doesn't involve concentration, like the laundry. Ooops, can't do that: the water's been turned off.

Tomorrow this will all be a memory. Our tubs will be glowing. In the meantime, though, I'm glad that neither Stan, Julie nor Allie are here. Sometimes stress multiplies when shared.

My blogging debut

(Originally published December 12, 2007)

First, a disclaimer: I am not Allie.My name is Susan McCullough. I write columns, articles and books about pets, mainly dogs. Allie is an irrepressible Golden Retriever who is my canine companion and muse. Together we live with my husband and daughter.

I'm starting this blog not only to recount some of Allie's and my adventures, but also to share my (and listen to your) thoughts about living with and loving all dogs. Occasionally I'll touch on other subjects, such as what writers' lives are really like, news regarding my books and articles, and even topics that have nothing to do with Allie, dogs or writing.

Although I can't answer specific questions about the behavior of canine or other four-footed individuals on this blog, I'm eager to hear what you have to say -- so that we can learn from each other.

Woofs and wags,