Month: December 2015

Izzy’s Christmas Portrait

During this time of year, things happen that are often surprising and heart-warming.  Sometimes when you plan on a great gift for someone else, it becomes a gift for you, as well.

It all started when my daughter, Jen, fell through the ceiling.

Yes, I’m serious.  She was in the attic getting some stuff down and took a wrong step, literally through the ceiling of her son’s room.  Long story short, that fall damaged a few things, one of which was a photograph of the dog she grew up with:  Jessie, a gorgeous German Shepherd who was the best dog I’ve ever had.

My all-time favorite photo of Jen is a pic of her on the floor in my kitchen dressed in pj’s with her arm around Jessie on the first day we had her in our home.  Jessie was about 8 weeks old, one ear up, one ear down, huge paws, tongue hanging out.  They bonded in that moment and after that, they were best friends.

When Jessie passed at the age of 19, Jen fell apart even though she hadn’t lived at home for years, but that dog was like the sister Jen never had.  Jen’s fall scratched up the portrait of Jessie at her best, sitting under the apple tree in our Vermont backyard.

I took the portrait from Jen, who asked me to get it fixed somehow.  She had a tear in her eye as she relinquished the photo.

My friend, Deborah Bradsher, is an artist who normally sketches houses for homeowners, but she’s done a few animals, so I asked her if she could create a pencil drawing of Jessie.  She took on the project with a promise to “try.”  I told her I wanted to give the sketch to my daughter for Christmas.

When Deb finished, we met for lunch in downtown Durham, where she shared the sketch with me.  It was wonderful!  Jessie came alive on that page.


But even better than this gorgeous portrait of Jessie . . . Deb pulled another portrait out of her bag, one I didn’t expect at all . . . a portrait of Izzy!


This was a huge surprise that I absolutely loved!  Just like she had with Jessie, Deb brought Izzy to life.  His eyes are perfect, and the look on his face is one that I see all the time.

I told Deb that she could sell these portraits, and she’s so modest that she doubted whether anyone would buy one.  I’m determined to prove her wrong, so I’m posting her information here.  If any of you dog lovers want a portrait of your baby, this is the artist for  you!

Deborah Bradsher,, or email her at




Izzy Goes Back to School

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for a while — actually, the ONLY reason–is that my life has totally changed.  I’ve been writing novels, trying to obtain agent representation, finishing up and selling houses (we’re now knee-deep into renovating a huge formal Victorian), and enjoying a new relationship.  Yup, there’s someone else in Izzy’s world now.  His name is Louis, and I’m enjoying his company a lot, but Izzy’s not really sure how to handle this new person.

At first, I thought Izzy’s nervousness and barking (and lots of jumping) was due to the fact that Louis was new in his world.  A month went by, then two.  Louis was becoming a regular at the house, but Izzy’s behavior didn’t change.  In fact, we noticed that if we touched each other or hugged, Izzy would come out from wherever he was in the house and stand in front of us, barking.

Louis, in his low Southern drawl, said, “He’s just a jealous ol’ tick, is all.”

Another month went by.  Izzy still jumped at Louis’s back, even though we’d all gone on vacation together and had worked hard to build a bond between Louis and Izzy.



We bribed Izzy with treats.  Tried to surround Louis’s entrance to the house with “positive stuff.”  Still, he jumped and acted like that “jealous little tick.”

Finally, Louis and I had a serious talk.  He shared that he wasn’t totally comfortable, especially since Izzy had nipped at him.  I understood that completely.  Years ago, I was attacked by a dog I knew well.  I almost lost the use of my hands and had to endure four years of physical therapy and a ground-breaking operation on my thumbs.  Anyway, if anyone would know about a fear of dogs, it’d be me.

But I also knew that a dog’s behavior was largely the result of how the human handled the relationship.  I was the one responsible for training this dog, and I’d gotten to a certain point with Izzy, then backed off.  I’ve made more excuses for this dog than I can count.  He’s had antisocial problems since he arrived with me.  We worked hard and solved a LOT of his issues, and I guess I was happy with that so I backed off and treated him like a “poor little guy.”  I stopped insisting that I was the alpha in this household — and Izzy took over.

Time for Izzy to respect me again.

When I had my German Shepherd, Jessie, we went to a dog obedience school taught by a guy who trained police dogs.  As a result of a very intense six-weeks, Jessie would stay at a seated position for hours.  I didn’t have to say a word, just point.  That was a great training technique that I would be grateful for when Jessie became deaf in her later years.  But that’s another story.  My point is that going to school with Jessie, the dog attack, and learning how to handle dogs again (via hundreds of hours of video and another bout of dog obedience techniques), I have much more experience and information about training dogs than at any other time in my life.  I had the tools.  I just needed to use them.

Izzy and I went back to the basics.  I used the Umbilical Cord technique to get him used to doing what I wanted rather than what he did.  I wound his leash around my waist, then attached it to him.  Without speaking to him, I went through my daily work.  Where I went, he had to follow.  He had no choice.  I followed that routine every day for at least an hour, sometimes more.  It got to the point where he loved it — and it also re-established me as the boss.

Then we worked on his basic commands.  I made him sit before we went out for our walks (he’s never been bad at the door, so I didn’t enforce obedience before going out.  Big mistake.  Let the dog go out the door first on a retractable leash, and the dog — big or small– is the one in control.).

I made him sit and wait while I put his food down in the morning.  In the past, he’s been a grazer.  Half the time, he wouldn’t eat until sometime in the afternoon; thus, the food sat on the floor all day.  Now he knows that food is a “treat” and that I’m in control of that treat.  He eats right away, as soon as I put the food down.

The walk is the most important mode of communication between a dog and a person, so I rethought what I’d been doing when we went out on our three-times-daily walks.  I put Izzy on a regular length lead instead of a retractable one.  That helped a lot with control, though I must admit that one of the reasons I used a retractable lead was that Izzy could run in short spurts, getting a bit more exercise than he would with me on our regular daily walks.  With the regular lead, I walked closer to Izzy and became his lead; with the retractable leash, he led me. Now not only does he have to pay attention to me, but I feel more comfortable on our walks, too.

He started looking at me like this, paying attention to my every word, excited about doing something for praise or that occasional treat (I’m withdrawing treats bit by bit so that I won’t need something in my hand to get him to behave for me).


The changes I’ve made have worked so far.  It’s getting easier to control Izzy, to have him sit and wait/stay when Louis first comes in the door.  I can usually stop Izzy from jumping now (he still barks when we hug, but we’re working on that, too).

We’re still working on finessing some things, but one thing I can’t seem to control is the excitement Izzy feels every time Louis’s truck pulls up.  His tail is going a mile a minute.  He knows this guy is going to be in our lives, but it’s taking time for him to get used to knowing how he should act.

Izzy’s not perfect, but he’s trying hard, and I love him for it.