By Charlene Dunlap
Published in Poodle Variety magazine 1996 Stud Issue

MY FEET BARELY touched the ground as I flew to open the car door. He lay stiffly on the seat -- exactly as my husband had placed him 200 miles away and four hours earlier. Long black hair pulled away from his eyes to the top of his head was held by a red rubber band. Small, dark, almond-shaped eyes set in an elegantly chiseled face avoided my admiring gaze. Graceful shaved feet left damp spots on the nubby fabric. His name was Touchstone, he was six months old, and he was my Christmas present.

"I know you wanted an outgoing puppy," said my husband as he carried Stoney into the house, "but he was in a crate out in a barn and I just couldn't leave him there. I'm sorry if he's not what you want."

Not what I want? I stared at the small, hairy blob hunched before me on the kitchen floor. His tail was down but not clamped. His head was bowed, eyes staring at the floor. He could not control what these humans did to his body -- he had no power over that -- but deep inside he was safe. He folded his soul inward until it was tiny and tight and protected.

At my side he stoically held his ground while one by one we allowed our other dogs to approach and greet him. But as each stranger turned to leave, Stoney snapped at their backside. A six-month old puppy should not feel threatened by friendly dogs. The breeder informed us that she wanted to keep Stoney to show, but that his father had attacked him and she could not risk having him hurt. Glenn had also seen Stoney bullied by an older sibling from a previous litter. It was no surprise he disliked other dogs.

1) Play
2) Exercise
3) Socialization
4) Learning
5) Relationship

FOR A COUPLE of days we carried Stoney from one location to another as every new environment brought on the "end of the trail" posture. He never rolled onto his back to show his belly. He never cowered. He never submissively urinated. But, it was as if the light of his spirit had receded into the darkest recesses of his soul.

Dog people love puppies and friends wanted to meet our newest family member. "Oh, he's so shy," they said as Stoney backed up behind me to avoid their overtures. I disagreed. I thought he was simply overwhelmed by situations he viewed as negative and/or by circumstances he had never encountered.

Stoney's attitude changed little over the next few days. Then one morning while I was fixing breakfast, he came to sit just outside my personal space -- that imaginary bubble that extends around each of us. I chirped a nonsensical greeting and he popped high into the air as if some internal spring had suddenly been released.

Later that day, Stoney stood below me wiggling happily as I cooed to him from the doorway. Three steps lead up to the kitchen door from the back porch. "Come on, Tadpole, you can do it. Sweet Boy can do it." His front feet stepped up but his back end only bounced in place. Try as hard as he might he could not walk up the steps. "Come on, darlin' boy!" BOUNCE! BOUNCE! After several attempts, he succeeded. "Wow! Stone! Terrific!" He hopped up and down like a baby bird just finding out it had wings.

"He's really a nice puppy. I hope you'll show him," said his breeder when she called to ask how Stoney was doing in his new home. She said she had taken Stoney to several matches and that he should be able to finish a championship while still in puppy clip. I cast a skeptical eye at the ball of fur on the sofa. He WAS aristocratically handsome, I thought, with poetic lines and fluid movement that took my breath away. But was he psychologically ready to go into the bedlam of a dog show? Despite my apprehensions, a few weeks later Stoney entered the ring at a large indoor show. Years ago Glenn had successfully campaigned several dogs, but despite his best efforts, he could not allay Stoney's terror. The judge was inordinately kind and patient, but Stoney would not tolerate her touch and, mercifully, they were excused.

STONEY'S LIFE with us had begun and there was a whole new world waiting for him to enjoy.  Just as soon as he learned how.

There were five basic parts that we worked on simultaneously for Stoney's Life Enrichment Program:

Stoney and I played many games in the months that followed. Most games were played purely for fun, but some games I used to teach problem solving.

He lay sphinx-like, eyes fixed on the pie tin in my hand, nose twitching from the heavenly smell of liver that lay atop the flat, silver surface. "Stoney, wait," I said. He knew the game and remained while I walked across the room and slid the pie tin, which had a two-foot-long cord attached, far underneath the sofa.  "Okay, get it!"


Dog (as well as human) psyches become brittle without fun in their life. Play is a lubricant for the soul.

Stoney sat in the middle of the yard watching sparrows chitchat on the back fence. Feathery hair haloed his young body making him look like a small, black "Big Bird." Crouching low behind him, I tiptoed forward, arms wide, fingers spread like claws. It was a moment before he realized that something ominous stalked him. His head whipped around, his eyes widened and, before he had time to think, his body shot twenty feet away. Convulsed with glee, I crumbled to the ground. Immediately Stoney's fright changed to exhilaration and he bounded towards me, wiggling and prancing, mouth open in a huge grin. He poked and pushed at my sprawled body. This human is fun!



We feel most dogs are happier and more well-balanced when they have other well-mannered canines to play with. Dogs share similar abilities and capabilities. They don't have to compromise their play behavior with each other as they do with a human. But joyful playing with other dogs has to be conditioned. Stoney had abusive role models and "played" in such an aggressive manner that our other dogs avoided him -- until Suzy taught him how to play.

We have taken in, mended, and placed several abandoned dogs since moving to the country. One such dog was a lactating, tick infested Lab/Chow mix who had wandered up our driveway and planted herself by our front door. Her full udder and emaciated body told a story too often repeated in this rural community. When Suzy was healthy again, spayed, debugged and vaccinated, she proved to have an indomitable spirit and a wonderful attitude -- and she adored Stoney. Her constitutional toughness and good nature wrought a change in him I would not have thought possible. She was the first dog ever to love Stoney, and it was a sad day for all of us when she went to her new home.


As Stoney matured, he mastered our play yard and agility equipment -- one structure at at time. Most obstacles and jumps posed no problem. He learned to jump through tires and go over hurdles. He raced over bridges, through tunnels and up tri-level platforms. Catwalks were another matter. I suppose dogs, like people, can have acrophobia, and if this is ture, Stoney did. Any narrow, high obstacle turned him to stone. I didn't make a big deal about it. Things happen in their alloted time. Eventually, Stoney did learn the catwalks, but it took over two years for him to do it with concentration and confidence.

Dogs (at liberty but under control) exploring nature display a mood of "rightness" and well-being that few other forms of exercise can duplicate.

The winter chill stung my face as Keila led us along the ribboned trail. It was Stoney's first time in the woods and he stuck to me like Uncle Remus' Tar Baby. As weeks passed, he became more adventurous.  His confidence increased as


Creative and varied exercise prepares dogs to deal with new situations in other environments.

Although Sara Duke Gardens is adjacent to Duke University, on Sunday mornings it's an oasis of serenity. Paths wind through flowerbeds, woodsy areas, and around reflecting pools. Songbirds serenade us as we meander the many trails. In one shady area, a stone gazebo sits with a lily pond


Over the months that followed, Stoney, Keila and I sallied forth on weekly expeditions. We included April when she joined our family a year later. Now, as then, I watch for reasons to praise and reinforce good social behavior. We walk at malls, through parks and down city streets. Many people seem to perceive Poodles as clean and nonthreatening and readily bring their toddlers over to pet and hug the dogs. We go to the lake, we visit friends, we eat at outdoor cafes.


It was my goal to expose Stoney to a wide variety of stimuli so that he could learn to cope with most anything that came his way.

"Don't step on their tails!" exclaimed Ms. Karsthedt as her second grade students swarmed around my three Standard Poodles. The education committee of our local humane society had just given a demonstration on pet care and the school's public relations coordinator was taking a photo for the newspaper. Days later, looking at the picture of the unflappable dogs surrounded by children, I remembered a time when Stoney was not so composed.

Ian Dunbar's seminar at the kennel club building overflowed with people and dogs. Every hair of Stoney's puppy coat radiated outward as he and I wove through the crowd. I spread his quilt by a chair in the back of the room. The anxiety behind Stoney's eyes came pushing out. His legs turned into steel rods and his lungs imploded -- but I pretended not to notice. I smiled at him with soft eyes. When he looked at my face I rewarded him with a piece of liver. When he stood calmly, I rewarded him. Each time he lay down, I rewarded him. although he popped right back up again. I asked people who approached to give him liver. Fortunately, Stoney loves liver.


Stoney: "Hey, what happened to the rest of your legs?"


Dogs have a social life outside humans. We expect our dogs to interact with each other -- and with other well-mannered dogs and animals -- in a socially acceptable manner.


I wanted Stoney to feel successful with many and diverse accomplishments. I wanted him to enjoy learning.

When a dog or puppy hasn't been taught how to learn, the steps taken to teach new behaviors must be broken into very small, positively reinforced increments.

"What's this?" I asked. Stoney cocked his head and stared thoughtfully at the odd looking piece of wood. "Here, take it to Daddy," I said as I thrust it towards him. Daddy, meanwhile, sat on his heels a few yards away.

"Stoney, bring it."

Is this a new game?
Stoney enjoyed learning games. He grabbed the new "toy," and since Dad also had something in his hand, he'd better check that too. He forgot about the dumbbell in his mouth until he reached Glenn's outstretched hand. Oh, yummy! The dumbbell changed places with the cheese. What? I just did something wonderful? I'll remember that! Stoney had his first lesson in the retrieve.


Stoney learned that he had ways to communicate with us. He learned that we would respond.

GRRUFF, GRRUFF. "Um, what?" I coasted awake to see Stoney's shadowy form at the bedroom door. I have to go outside -- NOW! "Okay, Stoney, okay." I fumbled for my keys and slogged down the hall to open the back door. Stoney went out and I collapsed on a kitchen barstool.


"Stoney, push. The door's not latched." He reared up against the door and it swung inward. "Shut the door, Stone, were you born in a barn?" Well, yes, actually I was. But he complied with my request and nosed behind the door to push it shut. Then he pulled the keys out of the lock by their leather tab and delivered them to me.


I look for places and opportunities for the dogs to practice learned behaviors and social skills. This also give them a chance to experience new sights, sounds and smells.

Crossroads Mall sprawls across several acres. Stores open to wide sidewalks where groups of women in colorful togs powerwalk the circuit. Families bustle in and out of stores through glass doors. Silver-haired couples stroll the walkways. "Oh, aren't they lovely!" declared the charming senior as she noticed us sitting at a patio cafe table. That's our cue! "Stoney, shake hands." Politely he extends his paw. The lady laughingly says, "Well, aren't you the proper gentleman!"


We can't engage dogs in conversation, so what they think may always remain a mystery. They do, however, possess an eloquent body language.

Engrossed in paperwork, I glance up from my desk as I hear a noise similar to a person's polite throat clearning. When he has my attention, Stoney looks towards the bookcase where his squeaky ball resides. Then his neck arches and his backend bounces like a motorboat out of control. He whirls and softly woofs again. Come play ball with me, he clearly says. It's an offer I can't refuse.


Two of life's most valuable lessons I learned from my dogs: To appreciate and live in the moment, and to know that love is the greatest gift we can give or receive.

In the playyard, under the canopy of an oak tree, sits the dogs' favorite observation post. Seven steps lead up to a fenced platform that rests on five-foot high wooden posts. The platform is the size of a small room and has a child-sized log cabin in one corner. It faces a gravel driveway that comes up to our house from the main road.

Dusk slowly envelops the day as we sit on top of the platform, the dogs and I, each lost in our own contemplation. Pine, oak and hickory trees surrounds our yard. Clouds float above us on airy currents like massive ships steaming to some distant port. A neighbor's peacock meow-caws in the distance.

There on the platform, a feeling of kinship fills and nourishes us.  Stoney lies beside me, front feet across my lap.  Periodically, he pushes his head against my chest and looks up into my face.  I kiss the top of his nose and mummer, "I love you too, Stone."

Stoney turned six in June. Sometimes, still, when he views something as aversive, his spirit momentarily retreats to that dark place he found refuge in so long ago. His size diminishes, his tail sinks down, his eyes squint and darken. Then, magically, before my eyes, he grows larger, his head lifts, his eyes sparkle. He remembers and knows. The world is his.

he mastered the hilly terrain; his stamina grew from daily exercise. We walked and explored and sometimes we played games.

Daisy (our Beagle/Shepherd mix and a proficient woods dog) discovered yet another absorbing scent. Hey, Poodles, over here. Smell this!!! Their attention diverted, I ducked behind a tree. The rustle of feet in leaves stopped. We've lost Mom! Sharp intakes of breath and hurry-scurry of paws broke the stillness as they cast about. Maybe she went home! The three dogs raced down the trail like they'd been called to dinner. TWEET! My whistle stopped them in their tracks. "Hey! Where'd you silly dogs leave your noses? Aren't dogs supposed to be able to find lost people?" I did have to giggle at their embarrassed expressions.

 spread it its feet. Large millstones serve as stepping stones through the lilies across the pond. The Poodles learned to walk across stacked, spaced blocks in their play yard at home and they easily made the association. I left the dogs at the pond's edge and crossed to the other side. One by one I called their names, and each in turn walked across the water.

CHOMP! He grabbed the end of the cord. YANK! Out flew the pie tin. GOBBLE! Down went the liver. Let's do it again!