"Most humans, even humans who have pets, don't understand dogs -- or animals in general," asserts Camilla Gray-Nelson. "They don't have a clue what makes them tick."
After a lifetime of living with animals -- she grew up on a farm in Petaluma, California -- and 24 years as a dog trainer known as the Dog Talk Diva, Gray-Nelson knows a few more things than the average human. She got tired of repeating them over and over to the female clients who came in complaining that the dogs only minded their husbands, so she wrote her first book, Lipstick and the Leash: Dog Training A Woman's Way.
The title's not entirely accurate. Animals see relationships in terms of power and hierarchies, Gray-Nelson explains. "If you want your dog to mind you, it's not about training. Why does the dog come to you? It's not because you love and feed him. Loving and feeding do not equal superiority. Superiority means that I make the rules and enforce them.
"But in our culture," she continues, "women are taught to give, to accommodate. With an animal, that comes back to bite you in the behind."
Yesterday Gray-Nelson stopped by the RFT offices to demonstrate her version of dog whispering. We provided the dog, a two-and-a-half-year-old lab mix named Abby.
"The top dog is the dog who can limit the freedom of any dog in the group," she says. "Freedom equals status. Once you start limiting a dog's freedom, you have a whole new dog. There's no chaos. Dogs want to know two things: Who's driving and what's my seat assignment."
Upon being informed that Abby is a jumper, Gray-Nelson notes, "Jumping is a multifaceted behavior. It can be a greeting, it can be playful and it can be a ranking ritual. One dog jumping on another is a display of power. When a dog wants to show another dog that it's not superior, it gives a little bark, to say 'I don't allow that.' When I do that with a dog, I want to say, 'I don't allow that, darling.' I want to stay in a loving frame of mind, not punitive. You don't want your dog to think you're angry, just pragmatic."
Gray-Nelson doesn't bark, or yell, but she gets the same effect with this: