The Perfect Imperfect Dog

I have lemons. Actually, I have two lemons. Why is this worthy of an announcement and its' own blog post? I have been nurturing that lemon tree for two years in a climate that it doesn't really like, with the help of cats who dig in its' pot, a dog who licks its' dirt and bugs that munch on its' leaves. Those two lemons are the result of a lot of hard work and I am delighted with them.

I have been nurturing the dirt-eating dog in the photo for four years. I hear from people frequently that they wish their dog was like Gem. I smile and remember the days she rearranged the furniture, the countless training walks and stolen pieces of pizza. She too, is the result of a lot of hard work and (most days) I am delighted with her.

If you want to grow lemons in Michigan, you have to be prepared to learn how to grow them. You have to be willing to watch the temperature, water and feed on a schedule and haul a heavy pot around to find the best light. You have to be willing to watch fruit grow and ripen for months on end, all the while protecting them from environmental hazards.

I tell my students that Gem is the perfect, imperfect dog. She isn't always easy to live with but when I need her to teach humans and dogs how to communicate, she is a ready and willing partner. We will never stop training because that it is what makes her a good dog. Like most dogs, she wants to sniff the whole world. She wants to work. She wants to learn. She is an avid thinker and problem-solver. What I have taught her isn't nearly as important as the engagement, stimulation and bonding that training provides.

If we want to live with the perfect, imperfect dog, we have to be willing to set aside our human-centric way of thinking and see things from the dog's perspective. Dog cognition is being studied at Yale, Duke and Barnard College. Spend 5 minutes on Google and you will find a wealth of information to help you understand why your dog does what he does. For fun and an increased understanding of your furry companion, try the activities on found at

If you want to live with the perfect, imperfect dog, you have to schedule into your day the time it takes to thoroughly exercise the dog's body and mind. Back yards were meant for sniffing, elimination and chasing squirrels. As a source of exercise, they are insufficient for most dogs. Turn off your phone and enjoy your dog's company every single day.

Dogs do not understand how to live successfully with humans unless we teach them. Invest in learning how to become the best trainer you can be. Building good manners and behavior takes months (sometimes years) of persistence, practice and patience. Reinforce. Reinforce. Reinforce.

If you want to live with the perfect, imperfect dog, be prepared to become a kinder, wiser, more fully-evolved human.

Be clear. Be fair. Wear chicken.