Model Dogs

Yes, my dogs have to “work” for their keep. It’s not difficult, though it can be confusing for them at times


I often use my dogs to help me with my work. They wear test products (from flotation devices to breakaway safety collars), and they get called upon to learn any behavior being taught step-by-step by one of our training authors (both to test the clarity of the instructions and the efficacy of the methods). But they also get to sample any foods, treats, supplements, and chews that happen to arrive in my home office and play with any toys I am testing for durability and dog-appeal. Sometimes their avid interest in a toy or treat – or their ability to break something within minutes – will help form our opinion of a product.

All the while, I take note – and I take pictures. I document everything! Pictures of the good things they get to experience sometimes end up on our Instagram account (@dogsofwholedogjournal); photos of the less pleasant things that happen to them – from split nails (Woody, again and again) to neuter surgery (sorry, Boone) – get filed away to use if we ever publish an article on that topic.

The most difficult thing they sometimes have to do in the course of their “employment” is take part in training sessions to illustrate WDJ’s how-to articles. It’s one thing if I ask them to demonstrate something they already know how to do, or to learn a new trick; they enjoy training! I’m sure it’s a little confusing, though, when I try to compel them to do something for the camera that runs counter to our real training practice.

For example, at times in the past, for the sake of an illustrative photo, I’ve hyped Woody into jumping up on a friend in greeting, allowed Otto to bark at the mailman on the other side of the fence, and encouraged my son’s dog to appear as if he’s counter-surfing (I got some grief from my son about that!). And just today, I got some ham out of the refrigerator and did my best to inspire Boone to grab at the treat shark-fashion, teeth flashing and eyes rolled back in his head, the way he did in the first training classes I brought him to a month ago.

Why, you ask? In the case of Boone and the ham, I tried to capture what it looks like when a dog is stressed during a behavioral “temperature check” as explained in “Teach Your Dog to ‘Leave It’ Without Using a Cue” by a new training contributor, Jennifer Burns, owner of Conscious Dog Training in Texas. When Jennifer described how a dog takes a treat when he’s feeling stressed – too stressed to absorb much of a training session – I knew exactly what that looks like: Boone a month ago! Happily, Boone’s emotional “temperature” has gone down in new environments since then; the photo I took is just a dramatic (and delicious) recreation.