Crumbs in My Pocketby Mike Smith
I realized one day that I had crossed a line when I reached into my pockets
to get some change and all I could find were dog treats. This wasn’t
something that happened all of a sudden. I had been noticing dog treats in
my pockets in the strangest of places: grocery stores, restaurants, the
movie theatre. I had even put dog treats into one of those plastic bins at
the airport in order to get through the security line. At first it seemed, well,
rather weird. But as time went on it became more and more normal. You
see, there were training opportunities popping up all the time for my dog
and me. I would be taking my dog for a walk and she would sit when we
stopped at the street curb. Time for a treat. I would walk into the house
and my dog stopped jumping and licking and actually composed herself.
Jackpot. She picked the newspaper up in the morning and brought it into
the house. Payola time. We would start an impromptu obedience training
session. I didn’t want to get caught short. On and on and on. You get the
picture. I simply got into the habit of continuously reloading my supply of
This wasn’t without its complications. When I took my pants off at night I
sometimes spilled treats onto the floor. My dog enjoyed this but my spouse
did not. New house rules were imposed concerning the proper method for
emptying the crumbs in my pockets before committing my pants to the
washing machine. Like my dog, it took me a while before I was sufficiently
trained. My training did not necessarily involve positive reinforcement!
In any event, I have reached the point where I always have dog treats in
my pockets. With those dog treats come crumbs. So it goes. There are
now literally three times when my pockets are empty. When I go through
airport security. When I go into the ring. And when my pants go into the
wash. Actually, now that I think about it, when I go through airport security
and into the ring there are still crumbs in my pockets. Please don’t tell
Homeland Security or the trial judges. And every once in a while there may
still be crumbs in my pocket when they go into the wash. Please, please,
please don’t tell my spouse!
June 17 2019
Play. Few things in life are more joyful than play. When it comes to play,
children rule. They play effortlessly and wholeheartedly. They play
sincerely. They play more frequently and more creatively than we adults
could ever manage. As we mature and assume responsibility for our lives,
we seem to lose touch with that child’s aptitude for play. We seem to forget
about the true meaning and value of play. At least, that’s what happened to
me. Until my dog came along.
My dog knows how to play. All it takes is a look, a move, an available stick,
sock, towel or leaf, and she’s ready to play. When she was a puppy, I
thought that her invitations to play were cute. I would indulge her for a while
and then get back to whatever I was in the middle of doing. After all, she
was a puppy. This was just a phase that she was going through and she
would soon grow out of it, right? Wrong. As she grew older and her play
drive continued, I learned to put her play to good use as a training tool. I
would train, get desired behavior, reward with a little play and then go right
back to training. This was all well and good, but I was still missing the point.
Over time, however, my dog patiently but persistently showed me the way.
She helped me rediscover what play meant to me when I was just a pup
myself and discover how to keep play near to my heart for the rest of my
life. As I became an adult, I had pushed play into the background of my life.
I never want to do that again.
When I play with my dog, I feel pure joy. I do not concern myself with the
past or the future. I am not making judgments. I am not thinking things
through. I am simply in motion, acting and reacting in a spontaneous,
almost instinctual manner. I feel a remarkable connection with my playmate
and a remarkable connection with my own inner self. I feel at peace with
the universe. And I’m pretty sure that my dog feels the same way.
My Father was part of what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation.
He went off to fight World War 2 before he turned 20. He trained for the DDay
invasion, was wounded in battle, recovered and returned to the front
lines. After the War, he went to college on the GI Bill, got a job, fell in love,
married and raised a family. During my youth, I regarded him as being very
clean cut and very corny. He had these sayings that I also regarded as
corny. Those sayings are now seared into my soul.
One of my Father’s sayings was that you get out of life what you put into it.
At the time, the saying didn’t mean much to me. Now, I am awed by its
wisdom. To me, the saying adds meaning to almost every aspect of my life.
And that most certainly includes the relationship that my wife and I have
with our dog. Yes, we get out of our dog what we put into her.
Looking back, we realize that we have put a whole heaping lot into our dog.
All of the walks, the tugging, the fetching, the chasing. All of the long sits
and longer downs, the healing and staying and recalling. All of the lead
outs. All of the jumps and the weaves and the contacts. All of the training
and trialling. All of the feeding and grooming. All of the treats and the toys.
All of the praising and ignoring and waiting. And sometimes the frustration.
All of the spending. All of the time spent basking in the simple fact of her
company. All of the joy. All of the worry. All of the love.
All in all, we have put a whole heaping lot into our dog. We do not regret
any of it. We have received a whole heaping lot in return.
When I was in college I took a lot of philosophy courses so I went through
the whole existentialism thing. Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz
Kafka, Albert Camus. Life is absurd. It has no intrinsic meaning. Then I met
my future wife, we courted and married and life made sense again. But
more than 40 years later, when I am out at night and look at the stars, when
I think about the current teachings of astronomy, when I focus on the
endless universal expanse, I get those existential feelings all over again.
Then my dog comes up to me, nudges me with her nose, and all is well. My
dog does not think that life is absurd. My dog has no regard for intrinsic
meaning. She is content with the immediacy of my presence. If I throw in a
kind word, a scratch behind the ear, a treat or a tennis ball, all the better.
These things give meaning to her life. These things, and the people and the
dogs that she knows, and squirrels and cats and weave poles and tug toys
and frisbees and walks and smells and plastic bottles and car rides and all
the rest. My dog does not suffer from existential crises, or worry about the
future or her place in the universe. She stays grounded and focused on her
immediate surroundings. I am soothed by the immediacy of her presence.
I have great respect for the people who put their dogs to work as therapy
dogs. The time and effort that they devote to their communities make the
world a better place in simple yet profound ways. Dogs have the ability to
bestow joy and comfort on we human beings and therapy dogs bring those
pleasures to people who need them the most. I wish that my dog had the
temperament towards strangers that is required for a therapy dog, but I am
wary. I hope that as she grows older and more mature we will be able to go
down that wonderful path together. In the meantime, as selfish as it is, I
have come to realize that even if she is never able to earn a therapy dog
certification, my dog is a therapy dog. She provides therapy to me..
I know the secret to happiness. Well, maybe not THE secret to happiness.
After all, life is complex and there are many possible paths to take. But I
certainly know one secret to happiness. Simply put, the secret is to do
things for others. I believe that most humans are wired to derive a deepseated
sense of satisfaction out of doing things for others. In other words,
We humans are a very self-centered species, so when I refer to “others”, it
is quite natural to think of other humans. In fact, “others” includes animals.
Why do our dogs make us so happy? Just think of all the things that we do
for them. “Others” even includes plants. Just ask any avid gardener.
Fortunately for us, we almost always have opportunities to do things for
others. Could it be possible that the more of these opportunities we take,
the happier we are? We do need to take care of ourselves also, so there is
a balance that must be struck, but . . ., well . . ., maybe?
One of the ways that I find happiness these days is by being as active as
possible in BHAD. We really are a wonderful community of very diverse
people with a common interest and a bunch of amazing dogs. Our
activities are a lot of fun but they also require a lot of effort. One thing that I
know for certain is that at the end of a BHAD trial, on Sunday afternoon,
when everything is put away, no matter how many Q’s or NQ’s my dog and
I gathered up, I always, always feel happy.
There are dogs that go to the agility trial start line full of focus and purpose.
Dogs that fly through the course without distraction, closely following body
signals and verbal commands. My dog is not that dog. My dog enters the
ring and loses her focus. My dog is the one who likes to visit the judge and
the ring crew. She perches at the top of the A frame to check out the view.
Sometimes she decides to go up to a jump and push the bar down with her
nose. She has been known to jump the ring fencing. From time to time she
likes to stop in the ring, flop over and roll on her back for a good rub.
What my dog lacks in Q’s and titles, she has made up for with the lessons
that she has taught me. She has taught me something about humility. She
has taught me to keep things in perspective. She has taught me that
success comes in many different guises and that joy can be found in many
different places. So here’s to the imperfect dog. They can take you places
and teach you things that the more perfect dog cannot. I’m sure that there
are many valuable lessons to be learned from dogs that have better
success in the ring and I hope that one day my dog will teach me those
lessons as well. But until then, I’m grateful for the lessons of the imperfect
I was watching someone try to outrun their dog at a dog walk recently and
thought of Kelli Paswater. Kelli had short legs, fast dogs, and a whole lot of
determination. Sometimes, when the course challenge was right and the
spirit was upon her, her legs would be churning at remarkable speeds.
Thinking of Kelli unleashed a stream of thoughts. The amazingly large
number of people who came together for her funeral service on a January
afternoon. The heartfelt stories of how deeply Kelli touched so many lives.
The things that Kelli’s sister told me about Kelli’s connection to agility. The
fact that I would have never known Kelli without my own connection to
agility. The joy and sorrow and precarious nature of life. How we should
never waste an opportunity to express our gratitude. How we should never
waste an opportunity to be kind. How we should appreciate and respect
the uniqueness that resides in each of us. How time works to weather
smooth the rough and raw edges. Yes, thinking of Kelli unleashed a stream
of thoughts. Kelli Paswater’s legacy is deep and abiding.
It takes a whole village to raise a child. – Tribal Proverb
This beautiful proverb is both simple and profound. It
reflects an overarching belief in what is good about human
beings. It speaks of such things as connectivity and
interdependence, caring and trust, kindness and generosity. I
have come to realize that it applies to many things beyond
raising a child.
For me and my dog, agility training takes a whole village. I
am still relatively new at this whole dog training thing and
my dog has always been quite a challenge. We have needed,
and continue to need, all the help that we can get. We have
been fortunate to have a village behind us.
Agility training begins at home and so does our village. My
wife taught us the concept of training criteria and she tries
very hard to convince us to always maintain those criteria, no
matter what. She understands and advises and encourages
and supports. She is always there for us, no matter what.
Without my wife, agility would have long ago been added to
the list of things that I once tried.
Our village extends beyond the home into the fields where
we have engaged in years of agility lessons. Our instructors
have generously and patiently shared their time and
knowledge and experience to help us along the way. I have
come to learn just how difficult an effort it is to conduct an
agility class and am profoundly grateful to each of our
instructors. An amazing thing about group agility lessons is
the bond that develops among fellow students as they
encourage and support one another in the shared learning
experience. Instructors and fellow students alike are all part
of our village.
Our village also includes the friends and acquaintances who
have provided advice, cheered our successes, commiserated
with our failures, and otherwise offered their support at trials,
run-throughs and informal gatherings. I appreciate all of it.
Yes, I am thankful for all of the people in our village. They
have taken the time to try and help me and my dog. They
have given me hope when things seemed not quite hopeful.
They have sustained me when things became frustrating.
They have taught me things that I didn’t know and have
reminded me of things that I had forgotten. They have made
me a better trainer and a better person.
As we tumble along into a new decade, I have been thinking a
lot about the passage of time. Time is a dichotomy. It wears the
face of hope and opportunity. It also wears the face of loss and
decay. Time cuts to the bone with cruel determination. It also
refreshes and regenerates and heals. Time is a matter of
perspective. The more optimistic you are, the friendlier it
I have reached a stage in my life where some measure of
pessimism is in order. Instead, I am feeling increasingly
optimistic. I believe that my dog is at least partially responsible
for this. My dog is almost always optimistic. This may be
because she has little regard for the passage of time. Although
she has a keen memory and the ability to apply previous
experience to the current situation, she does not think about the
past as such. As far as I can tell, my dog does not have regrets
or hold resentments. Similarly, while she can anticipate future
events based on current activity, my dog does not spend time
worrying about the future. Instead, she is centered on the
present. My dog wakes up happy every morning. She goes to
bed happy every night. Living with her example, how could I
not feel more optimistic?
Entering the 2020’s, I will continue to think about the past and
plan for the future. However, I will also resolve to devote more
of my energy to the present, just like my dog. Just like my dog,
I will try to think less about the passage of time
Do dogs love us? They need us. They use us. But do they love
We tend to project our own traits onto dogs. Human thoughts,
human motivations, human emotions. This tendency has a fancy
name: anthropomorphism. We anthropomorphize dogs all the
time. We have conversations with them. We dress them up in
costumes. We give them birthday parties, for heaven’s sake.
When we angrily look into the eyes of a misbehaved dog, we see
guilt. When we tenderly look into the eyes of our own dog, we
see . . . love?
Clear eyed dog trainers will tell you that anthropomorphism will
get you nowhere with a dog. Dogs are not humans and view the
world in a different way. That love that we see in the eyes of
our dog may be nothing more than an opportunistic reflection of
our own love in a mirror of our own making. Still, even the
most hardened dog trainer will admit that dogs feel emotions.
Fear. Happiness. Excitement. But love?
There are many colors of human love. Whatever the color, love
is love. It causes a chemical reaction that leaves little doubt.
Human love activates the release of a hormone called oxytocin.
Research has established that dogs also have oxytocin and that it
releases into their systems when they interact with their humans.
So is that love or simply anticipation of the next meal?
Perhaps it depends on the dog. Perhaps it depends on the
human. Perhaps each of us has our own unique answer. My
answer does not involve the word “yes” and does not involve the
word “no”. The answer that I prefer invokes a quote from the
lyrics of a somewhat quirky, somewhat haunting song called
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
is just to love
and be loved in return.
My dog has a voice. She must have telepathic powers because I
can hear it in my head. Her voice has a certain raspy quality that
makes her sound earnest and childlike, but she is neither
innocent nor naive. She never curses. She never gets angry.
She is never deceitful or spiteful or petty. She is mostly patient
and polite and poised. Come to think about it, her voice is quite
different from her bark.
We don’t really have conversations. She just has an occasional
observation that she wants to share. Sometimes she chides me.
Sometimes she corrects me. More often she comforts me or
encourages me or simply makes me laugh.
My dog is also a ventriloquist. She alternates between using me
and using my wife as her dummy. When she uses us to speak
out loud, she does not use her own voice. She uses our voices,
only at a higher pitch. It is amazing how she helps us
communicate with one another.
Some will say that this is just a lot of nonsense, that dogs lack
voices and that they certainly do not communicate like humans
do. While this is true, it misses the point. Yes, dogs don’t need
voices to speak. They talk with their body postures, their
gestures and movements. They talk with their barks and their
whimpers and growls. Nevertheless, my dog has a voice. She
has a voice because I have given it to her. By giving her a voice,
I am connecting with my dog. By giving her a voice, I am
committing to my dog. By giving her a voice, I am confirming
her importance in my life. My dog does indeed have a voice. It
is a thing of beauty.
Like most everyone, my life has been thrown out of balance.
Things have changed so rapidly, so profoundly, that I am having
difficulty taking it all in. I am both numbed and filled with raw
emotions that sit just beneath the surface. Some of these
emotions are good. Some, not so good. I want to say that
everything will be OK but that is not what I feel in my heart.
We are all feeling at least some financial distress. Some of us
are feeling it a lot. Some of us are at personal risk. All of us
have someone close to us at personal risk. It is difficult to see
how all of us will come through this period unscathed. I hope
that I am wrong.
We are fortunate to have our dogs. They give us comfort. They
give us normalcy. They give us a distraction from this situation
that we find ourselves in. They give us everything that they
have. And then they give us some more. No social distancing
I look forward to the other side of this pandemic, to the time that
we can once again hug and high five and congregate with
abandon. Until then, please be good to yourselves and please be
good to one another. Keep your hearts open to your dogs and let
them work their magic.
If you’ve ever had a dog, you’ve been a teacher. Everyone with
a dog teaches. At first it is the essential lessons. Where to potty.
Not to chew on hands. Or shoes. Or toilet paper. For the
unfortunate dogs, the lessons end there. For the rest, classes
move on to the important basic behaviors: sits and downs,
recalls, walking on leash and the like. The lucky dogs then get
to move further still, to activities like obedience and rally, scent
work and hunting, therapy and rescue, frisbee and flyball, and,
yes, even agility.
Throughout the lessons, how ever far they go, we are teachers.
We are teaching behaviors. But ideally our teaching goes
beyond that. We are teaching our dogs to listen, to process
information, to exercise self control, to think, to act, to be the
best dogs that they can possibly be. Along the way we are
building a mutual trust and respect that bonds us together. As
we teach, we also learn. We learn how to teach a dog, certainly.
We also learn something about our own capacities. Our capacity
to be disciplined, our capacity to be dedicated, our capacity to be
patient, our capacity to be creative, our capacity to persevere.
Done right, teaching a dog has no finish line. All through their
lives, our dogs thrive on the mental stimulation that we provide.
There are surprisingly few limits to a dog’s capacity to learn.
However, teaching is not an easy thing to do. It is sometimes
difficult to sustain the motivation and the energy necessary to
teach. For some reason, this is especially true when the dog is
already “well trained.” We can, and we do, draw inspiration
from one another. As BHAD members, we are part of a
wonderfully supportive community. Still, it is up to each of us
to find a way to continue to learn to be the teacher that our dogs
really, really want us to be. Sometimes with some help from
others. Sometimes digging down deep on our own.
In learning you will teach and in teaching
you will learn.
~ Phil Collins
There are places on this earth that contain a special kind of
magic. Disney World. The Grand Canyon. Almost any Major
League ballpark. These places give us things that other places
do not. The joy and wonder that we felt as children. An
atmosphere of celebration. Being there, the air itself seems
lighter, brighter, cleaner.
The Moodys’ agility field is one of these places. Its magic may
not be as strong as some. Not as overpowering as strolling up to
the edge of the Grand Canyon. Not as encompassing as a day at
Disney World. Not as immediate as walking into the stands of
the Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Still, it is there. I feel it
sometimes sitting, waiting my turn in class, looking upward in
the late afternoon while a cool breeze rustles the trees that
outline the sky. I feel it sometimes coming back to my crating
area after a good run. I feel it sometimes while walking a well
designed course. I even feel it sometimes as I approach the field
driving down East Trap Pond Road or as I open the gate to enter.
I think of the Moodys’ agility field as a field of dreams. The
Moodys took a cast aside part of their property and, with vision
and labor, they built an agility field for Sandy. Sandy then made
the field available to us.* Some of us have been coming there
for years. Some of us are relatively new to the place. Some have
come and gone. We have all left behind a rich patina of
experiences, of memories, of laughter and cheers, of friendship.
Yes, a field of dreams.
Then there are our dogs. The Magic Kingdom is not very
magical for a dog. Nor is a ballpark or even the Grand Canyon.
As for the Moodys’ agility field, well, that’s another matter all
*For this, and for all of the work that goes into continually
maintaining the field, I am extremely grateful. Thank you Sandy