The Next Big Thing Blog

Today, I write the Next Big Thing Blog where each author answers the same ten questions.  I will be talking about my published middle grade non-fiction book published in 2012. 

What is the working title of your next book?

The book I am currently working on is a middle grade fiction about a dachshund who changed the negative attitude of Anicca, her new person, towards dogs by leading her through many misadventures. The working title is a simple “Mitzi.” The theme is: A dog can lead us where we didn’t know we wanted to go.  Today I would like to discuss my published non-fiction middle grade book A Dog is a Dog And that’s why he’s so special, which received a starred review in School Library Journal in 2012.

Where did the idea come from for the book A Dog is a Dog?

It was an accumulation throughout many years of teaching puppy, obedience, and 4-H classes.  As well, a lifetime of general observations of how many families, individuals and children have no understanding  of the uniqueness of the dog and how much he has to offer us if we let him.  Being kept in a fenced yard or a pen and fed twice a day doesn’t allow much time for cross-communication. I wanted to help change that.


What genre does your book fall under?

A Dog is a Dog is a middle grade non-fiction book for ages 9 – 13, although some adults have told me they learned a lot from the book.


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Non-fiction books are produced in documentaries. Several of these have been made about various aspects of the dog world and have appeared on TV channels. The humans are usually narrators or the people who demonstrate working with their dogs.


What is the one- sentence synopsis of your book?

This book helps humans to understand the uniqueness of the dog, his instincts inherited from the wolf, his body language and the significance of his choosing to leave the wild and live with humans.

Who is publishing your book?

Alpine Publications Inc. is my publisher. They specialize in books about dogs and horses.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Before I even started writing this book, I spent several years thinking about the content. Once I started writing the first draft, it took about a year and a half. The second and third years were spent on deletions and additions of new material and continuity. The last year was spent on a final overall revision.


What other books would you compare this story to in your genre? 

In recent years many good books have been written about dogs in the various age ranges. Each author has selected a particular aspect of the dog world, such as history of the dog in different cultures, training service dogs for blind, deaf and handicapped people, dogs on the trail to the Alaskan gold rush, military dogs and many other topics.


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to give middle-graders a broad scope of those wolves, Canis Lupus, who through thousands of years became its own species, Canis Familiarus, the dog, whose purpose was to live with humans.  I have shown this from my research with many photos and drawings throughout the book.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The couple of selections written in the 19th century which show the intense bonding between the individual and their dog.



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Small Dogs and Their Jobs

The two most basic categories of small dogs are those developed as working dogs, and those developed for companionship. In this blog, we are going to discuss the small working dogs.


Scottish Terrier


Jack Russell Terrier



The majority of small dogs were originally bred for specific jobs. Most commonly, farmers and feed stores employed these dogs to control large populations of rats, mice, and other rodents. Some examples of the many breeds are the Affenpinscher, Chinese Crested Dog, Miniature Schnauzer and Scottish and many other terriers. Another specialized job was badger hunting. The Cairn Terrier and the Dachshund are prime examples. In general, these rodent and badger hunting breeds have small, compact bodies. Some have a long body with short legs, such as the Dachshund and the Scottish Terrier, to allow them to search in underground burrows to flush out their prey. The varieties of Fox terriers and Russell terriers were specialized in searching out and chasing fox for their mounted handlers. With their proportionately long legs and slender body, these dogs are built for speed, agility, and endurance.


Chinese Crested


Miniature Schnauzer

                Other small dogs were bred for purposes other than vermin hunting. The Schipperke was developed as a barge dog and watch dog, accompanying bargemen on their hauls on rivers and canals. Tibetan Spaniels were originally bred as watch dogs in ancient times to protect Buddhist monasteries. The Shetland Sheepdog was developed as a herding dog in Scotland’s Shetland Islands during the 1800s.



                Most small dogs are not employed in their original jobs, but live primarily as companions. In general, these dogs have very bold personalities and are quite smart and active, as well as loyal.

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The Development and Expansion of Small Dogs


In beginning a new topic, I like to learn what I can about the subject, so in investigating the origins of small dogs, that’s what I did.

            Small dogs are theorized to have been developed by early migratory humans. During the human migration from the Fertile Crescent to Asia the dogs (wolfdogs not completely domesticated) who followed with them bred with the smaller species of Mid-Eastern and Asian wolves. The humans were the first to see the effects of a genetic mutation for smallness in the succeeding breeding of these offspring.  Small dogs became important in early human history because they began living closely with humans, while large dogs stayed outside. With the progression of historical time the unique and rare small dog was traded, presented as a gift, and undoubtedly stolen.


Woman threshing wheat in Kabylia, Algeria.

                Small dogs were also identified in early history in other parts of the world, such as Great Britain, Denmark and Germany, and beyond. There are various theories of how this occurred but a gathering of various types of evidence point to the main event in the Middle East where an allele for smallness on the DNA took hold in a cluster of wolfdogs, which were as small as 25 pounds, and quickly spread in five or six directions. Many of our small dogs today have ancestral roots with these early small dogs. Toy dogs were selectively breed by humans later in history.

For further reading on this topic and much more, I recommend How The Dog Became The Dog  by Mark Derr. 


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What IS That Dog?

With this blog, I am introducing Jennifer Phillips. She has been involved with the dog world since her early years in 4-H and has held a variety of related jobs, ranging from dog daycare to veterinary medicine, and is working towards certification as a veterinary technician. She is also my granddaughter!


What IS that dog?

How many times have you met a dog and wondered, “What are you?” As mixed breeds become more popular, the guessing game gets harder. In my 5 years as a Dog Daycare Specialist, I saw almost every mix imaginable and had fun attempting to figure out just what each one was. Recently, I came across a study from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  People were asked to guess what mix of breeds was in each of 119 shelter dogs. Once the polling was complete, the researchers DNA typed all of the dogs and compared the results with the guesses. The results are very surprising!!prettyPhoto[4202]/73/

For example, Dog 18 looks to be a cattle dog type, but the DNA shows Labrador Retriever, Swedish Vallhund, German Spitz and Weimeraner. The top answers from the polls were Australian Cattle Dog, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Blue Tick Coonhound, Beagle and no predominant breed.

Another dog, number 81, has a terrier look. DNA test results indicate it’s a mix of Chihuahua, Dogue de Bordeux, Yorkshire Terrier and Great Pyrenees. The top guesses were Border Terrier, Brussels Griffon, no predominant breed, Jack Russell Terrier and Cairn Terrier.

Some breeds of dogs are more common in different regions of the world. In this study, there are a fair number of Catahoula Leopard Dogs, which were developed in the southern United States. Other areas have their own predominant breeds, which would show up in the mixed breed dogs.

As is evident, we can guess away and be completely wrong. That, however, doesn’t take any of the fun out of the game! Seeing the pictures of the dogs, and what breeds they are, I realized there are many lesser-known breeds than I had expected. If you see a breed you don’t recognize, look it up online because you just might fall in love. Enjoy!



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Terri and the Golden Years

Bill and I decided we’d like to have a small dog, having lived our married life with beagles and retrievers. Two of our granddaughters, in their 20’s, had two small dogs each who came with them on visits, all rescue dogs. About two months ago we brought Terri home.Image

 She was the office dog with ears like I hadn’t seen before. Labeled a Jack Russell mix, we decided the front half was a toy fox terrier. Her credentials: impeccable. Housebroken, loved walking, rarely barked indoors, and loved to snuggle. I asked why, if she was so perfect, had she been there so long, already six months? The answer: her age. She was already 9 years old.  Oh, that’s no problem, I said.I knew she would have several wonderful years ahead.

Terri came from a Wyoming shelter to Animal House Rescue in Fort Collins, Colorado in December 2011 after being rescued from a hoarding situation where there were too many dogs to care for. She is somewhat independent, but loves people and soft places to curl up in, which is often a lap. As any terrier does, she always knows what’s going on. 

About two weeks after Terri came home, she started rapidly loosing weight and energy. Our veterinarian did tests, and found out she had a liver problem. We put her on medication and the correct diet, and she immediately began gaining the weight back, as well as her active personality. Monitoring the neighbor’s sheep is part of her daily routine. Animal House Rescue had recommended a pet insurance company, ShelterCare, when we adopted Terri. The first month was free, and was easy to continue. I was thankful for their recommendation. 


Terri was amazed at how big and and rambunctious her new housemate, Patrick the Labrador, was. The first time they met in the back yard, Patrick sniffed Terri, who gave him a small growl. Patrick, surprised, backed up. He returned for a second sniff. He was met with a louder growl. The third time, she turned and showed her teeth with a big growl. They have been friends ever since.



Giving a grey-faced dog their forever home is good for the soul. In addition, it is a delightful experience. Many older dogs have grown through their puppy phases, and are happy to simply be your best friend.


Terri and Friends

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Talking Back to Your Dog

We’ve talked about how dogs communicate with us, but how do we communicate with them?


            We communicate to dogs even though we probably don’t realize it. He gets messages through our hands, our thoughts, and our voice. He also notices our slightest movements. Did your dog see you look at the leash, your coat or the door? He will respond to any of these even if you barely moved your eyes. He’s ready to go for a walk.

            We communicate through concentrating. This means that we think only about what we want our dog to do with us or for us at that minute. When we focus on what we are doing, we picture it in our mind. Many people who train dogs believe that they think in pictures. When both you and your dog concentrate this way, it’s a form of communication. This isn’t a conscious effort but is a natural occurring effect.

            We communicate through touch.  Dogs need to be touched. They like it. They have become dependent on humans for their social needs, and touch is one of the most important of these. When we have our hands on our dog, we give him the message that we care and that he is one of the family. Dogs have individual needs for touch. Some are independent and ready to leave after a short time. Others will totally relax, eyes half closed and might fall asleep.

            We communicate by talking. Probably you talk a lot when your dog is with you, in the same room, in the yard or out on a walk. But how often do you talk directly to him, giving him specific information? He doesn’t understand all the words you use but he gets the message. One clue he gets is from your tone of voice. Another clue is from the picture in your mind when you are talking to him. Ask if he wants to go for a walk, if he wants to go outdoors, if he wants to play ball. He will learn all these different words and will continually become more bonded to you. Add more words by naming each toy and each trick and each part of your daily routine. “Do you want to take out the garbage?” will mean something fun to him.


            Communication works both ways between dogs and humans. and becomes a natural part of living together. 

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How Do You Think Like A Dog?

                You simply become aware. You share your life and allow him to share yours.  No instruction sheet with 20 minute daily routines.  Bonding is a non-verbal process. It happens. Yes, you can talk to your dog and yes can have instruction times when you teach the basic commands. I’m talking about the process of living with your dog – day in and day out. I’m assuming your dog already knows the basic commands, watch me, sit, down, wait, and stay.   If not, now’s the time. Now is also the time to take notice of the body movements of your dog.

                Dog language is wolf language.  Certain signals used by wolves are called “cutoff” signals by research biologists because they cut off aggression by other wolves. These signals are strong, obvious and consistent because they help wolves communicate within the pack and avoid fights. These signals have been modified in the domestication of the dog and are called “calming signals” by many trainers. Let’s talk about a few of the common signals.

Lip Licking

                When a dog greets a person they do not know, they may display this signal either to calm their own nerves, or to signal that they won’t growl or bite. In this picture, a lot of the tongue is exposed which expresses this calming signal. Your dog will most likely barely flick its lips with its tongue to greet you or a friend with affection.


Head Turning

                Head turning is a common sign that the dog feels uncomfortable or vulnerable. As you can see in the photo, many dogs will turn their head away from a person leaning over the top of them, possibly to pet them. The dog does this to try to get the person’s attention and let them know how they feel. Next time you approach a dog from even a short distance, watch to see if they turn their head. This is another common time for them to convey their uneasiness.



                Yawning can mean many different things. Uneasiness, stress, confusion by mixed signals from their person, and an array of others. So how do you know what is being expressed? Take into account the dogs’ environment and your behavior. Are you upset or frustrated about something unrelated to the dog? Is there loud music playing or a thunder storm? Are you asking them to do something they don’t understand? Think about what it might mean. Yawning does not always mean boredom!


Shake Off

                Think about the last time you were startled or stressed about something. After a little while did you feel like you wanted to “shake off” the emotions or the tenseness? Dogs do the same thing, only in a literal, physical way. Next time your dog gets excited, watch for them to shake their entire body after calming down a little. This shows the dog has moved into a calming state of mind. Shaking off water, however, is not the same as the shake off signal.


© Tinka | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos


                This is a brief introduction to calming signals. Spend some time observing you dog. The more you watch, the more you will learn. If you are interested in further reading, here are two excellent books.

Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide  by Brenda Aloff

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals  by Turid Rugaas

Both these books are available at

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