Let the Dogs Speak! Puppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence by Marianne McKiernan. Illustrated by Penny Blankenship. (Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt)
Let the Dogs Speak! is a fun little book written by a trainer and writer who understands dogs, and can speak for them and to them. It’s a book about how pups are selected and trained to become service dogs for Canine Companions for Independence (http://www.cci.org).
For most of the book, a dog named Parker is the narrator. It’s his blog, though it was started by Hudson, and hosted later by Ross and Mars. In each case, every blog ends with the salutation: “Chow for now!” and is signed off by the canine correspondent (Parker or Ross, or whomever) for Denver, Colorado’s KMGH-TV 7News, online at http://www.thedenverchannel.com/.
Each blog dog was once a pup raised and trained by the author, Marianne McKiernan. Most entries deal with a specific aspect of training. Early on, for example, Hudson writes to a guest blogger – ’Dear Labby’ – who attempts to explain service dog etiquette:
I love to eat everything off the ground: dropped food, piles of dust, sticks, rocks, bottle caps–just about anything I can find! My puppy raisers tell me I shouldn’t do this, but how can I resist when there are so many temptations? And why is their pet dog allowed to eat things I’m not?
Also, Marianne won’t let me sniff anything when we’re out and about. What is it with humans, anyway? Don’t they know how to communicate?
Finally, I get reprimanded when I bark; Marianne says, “It’s not your job.” Why not? Isn’t barking a part of being a dog? And why are the keeper dogs allowed to bark? I have things to say too!
(signed) Confused, Hudson
To which ‘Labby’ replies – and the reader learns – regarding the rules of service dog work:
It’s true: service dog rules are different than pet dog rules. It is not OK to eat things off the floor because you have a public image to maintain, and you’re supposed to be working, not snacking. Pet dogs (or, as you say, “keeper dogs”) may have fewer rules, but they don’t get to go to movies or grocery stores like you do. And remember, you may think that a bottle cap is a tasty treat, but you’ll be sorry when the vet decided he has to surgically remove it. Trust me on this.
As for sniffing, remember that when you’re working you’re supposed to be discreet. So a quick sniff is OK, but leave the investigative and hobby sniffing for your off-duty hours. And no licking either! Canine Companions pups have a standard to uphold. (Kissing your puppy raiser at home is allowed.)
Now barking … Well, barking is complicated . . .
You get the idea-the blogger dog informs others, including the KMGH-TV online audience and now you the reader, about various circumstances encountered, or training mandated, at Canine Companions. And it’s all in sophisticated but humorous ‘doggy’ English.
Here’s another example from Parker’s blog entitled ‘The Celebrated Mr. K’:
Big excitement around here.
Marianne received a phone call last week from Stu regarding the arrival of Puppy #6 on July 11. I get to be an Assistant Puppy Raiser for a little while!
We know that his mom is named Jennifer and dad is Weldin. There are seven puppies in the litter: four girls and three boys. We’re getting one of the boys.
We don’t know his name yet. See, Canine Companions names all the pups in a litter with the same first letter and this is a K litter, the so-called Special Ks. My litter was the Perfect Ps. HA!
Anyhow, Canine Companions has a Naming Fairy who chooses the names for the pups. She accepts input from the breeder caretakers and others, but she has ultimate say on the names . . .
That’s a bit about how pups are named. Now, here’s something to chew on about training, written by Ross in an essay called ‘Smart Puppy’:
Ross here, new on the blog. Learning the ropes. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon—working dogs need more in the brains department than ordinary dogs, so Canine Companions breeds us for brain power. And temperament and health and personality. All of the pups I’ve met so far have been very cool and very smart – although, admittedly, I’ve only met a few. I just got here, after all.
Marianne has been working with me on the Canine Companions commands. She a nice person, but, just between us, I don’t think she’s a very good instructor. She was trying to teach me something the other night and the life of me I could not figure out what the heck she wanted. All I knew was that I wasn’t getting any cookies, and both of us were pretty frustrated about it.
Mina, one of the keeper dogs, who has been around the block a few times, came into the kitchen and watched for a minute, then looked at Marianne. “I’ve got this,” she said.
“Thank goodness,” Marianne sighed.
Mina lay down. Marianne immediately tossed her a treat.
“Hey, how come you got a cookie for doing nothing?”
Mina swallowed. “It wasn’t for nothing. Didn’t you see me lie down?”
Mina rolled her eyes. “That’s what Marianne wanted! Aren’t you listening? And watch what she does with her hand. She’s luring you into lying down.”
I turned back to Marianne. “Down,” she said and moved her hand (with the treat tucked inside) low to the ground away from me.
“Oh, dear Dog,” I thought. “Why didn’t she just say ‘Ross, lie down?’” I fell over.
“YES!” exclaimed Marianne, giving me three treats.
I looked at Mina. “Really? That’s it?”
“Yup,” she said . . .
Let the Dogs Speak! is altogether clever and creative, fun and informative, and eminently readable. The book is full of observations and commentary about the life and times of Canine Companion trainees. It’s a good little book, light but serious, colorful and original, well written and recommended.
Seattle, WA: Booktrope Editions, firstname.lastname@example.org. 224 pp., illustrated. 4 chapters + Introduction, Epilogue and Acknowledgments. Available on Amazon and at Barnes&Noble in two editions: Print (ISBN 978-1-935961-18-5), and E-book (ISBN 978-1-62051-125-9).