by Robert H. Mottram
How many times have you heard somebody say something like that? You may have heard it from me, in fact, because it’s what I used to tell folks, and I thought it was true. But, it turns out, I didn’t have a clue.
My dad and I used to breed and rear dogs when I was a boy, and train them to compete in field trials. But it wasn’t until I teamed up with my daughter a couple of years ago to write a book about dogs that I really learned what canines are all about. She taught me. What an eye-opener!
My daughter, Dianna M. Young, is a full-time professional dog trainer and a certified canine behaviorist. She owns and operates Camano Island Kennels, a training and boarding facility in northwest Washington state, and Stella Ruffington’s Doggy Daycare in Seattle, in partnership with her husband, Jason Young. He, by the way, is an excellent trainer of dogs in his own right. Dianna and I joined forces to write Think like Your Dog and Enjoy the Rewards. It reveals not only how dogs think, but how to put that knowledge to work for you by communicating with your dog in its own language.
Dianna is the brains and the inspiration behind the book; the person with the expertise that made it possible. I’m the technical guy – a life-long journalist who polished the prose and smoothed the transitions and put her sharp insights into a logical format.
We’re both very proud of the product, and it’s been getting some great reviews. Dianna doesn’t hold back in this book. She shares many of the secrets that she gained from years of formal training and apprenticeships in Europe and the USA, and from the decades of experience that she has had in the professional dog-training trenches.
This is the first time I’ve collaborated with anyone on a project as complicated as a book, and so I don’t know if our experience was typical. It went surprisingly smoothly. Fortunately, Dianna and I are quite compatible, so working cooperatively was relatively easy for us. It took us about 2 ½ years to complete the book, taking summers off, and we did most of our joint work by phone during the early afternoons while her twin toddlers napped. First we created an outline that listed the subjects to cover, and then divided the outline into chapters and put the chapters in a logical order. This took lots of consultation. Finally we wrote the book a chapter at a time, talking as often as necessary to cover each subject thoroughly.
I’d then take a few days to write a draft of the current chapter, and email my second or third version of it to Dianna for her to tweak.
“I was trying to say this here, not that,” she might respond. Or, “I think this word might work better here than that one.” Sometimes we would discuss her suggestions. Often, I simply made the changes she suggested, and then returned the polished chapter to her for her final approval.
Think like Your Dog not only is full of valuable information, but people tell us it’s also fun to read. That’s because we took advantage of the natural human affinity for stories. I learned years ago that our species’ love for them probably is encoded in our DNA. It’s likely something that goes back to the campfire at the mouth of the cave where our ancestors gathered at the end of a day, and it continues into the present time. You may have attended a banquet, for instance, and seen a featured speaker take center stage, look around the hall at his audience, and then say, “Let me tell you a story.”
It’s a technique that a lot of good speakers employ to get and hold attention. Glance around the room at that moment, and you’ll realize that everyone in it is focused expectantly on the guy with the microphone. Why? Because they’re about to hear a story! The pull is nearly irresistible.
Dianna and I acknowledged that aspect of human nature in writing our book. It’s full of stories – interesting, instructive and funny ones. Typically, Dianna would be describing some feature of doggy behavior or psychology as I took notes on my computer, and I would interrupt her and say, “Tell me a story.” Dianna would pause for a moment and then, drawing on her decades of professional experience, would spin an interesting or funny tale taken from real life to illustrate the point we were discussing.
For me, as both an individual and a dad, this book has been a wonderful experience on a couple of levels. For one, it has given me the opportunity to join my daughter as a colleague and to work side-by-side with her on a professional level. It’s a tremendous privilege for any father to work this way with a daughter or a son.
On another level, it has been a remarkable education for me; a guy who lived around dogs all of his life. Dianna didn’t simply teach me some new things. She radically altered my perceptions of dogs and how they relate to people. I see things now that I never noticed before. And I understand what plays out in front of me with a clarity that I never before enjoyed.
Our book is available in all of the usual places, both on-line and in walk-in stores, and also on Dianna’s website, www.howtothinklikeyourdog.com.