Could your days use a few more smiles? How about some more laughter? A little light-hearted dancing, anyone? What about some good old-fashioned (but never out of style) tail-wags and butt-wiggles?
     Uh, what was that last line?
     You read it right.
     If the thought of responding to a dog’s happy butt-wiggles with a few of your own doesn’t sound bizarre to you, you are going to love this book. If it does, then – dare I suggest it – you may really need this book.
     Why is that? Because the average dog has so very much to offer the average person. Not simply in terms of joyful moments and shared adventures, but in terms of life lessons. Have a not-quite-average dog – a canine problem child – at home? Excellent! The more challenging the dog, the more profound the lessons he can offer us.
     Hold on! Are we talking about the same species…the one that licks their genitals, takes full-body rolls in mud puddles and sticks their noses into garbage cans?
     Absolutely. Because, no matter what life throws at a dog, he doesn’t booze it up. He doesn’t reach for mind-numbing drugs, and he doesn't
live for the soaps. He also doesn’t hold a grudge. Really. Dogs readily get moving, so they can move on to better things. As a rule, they prefer balance to drama. 
     Dogs naturally live in the moment, and in that moment they are usually willing to give things a chance. And when we come together, dogs only want to know that they are safe with us, something we can convey with the most basic of body language, starting with a simple smile.
     Smile! discusses body language. It explores canine culture, with the goal of helping you shape the kind of dog you love to be around. Will it help you to train your dog? Definitely. Will it help you to be a better (and happier) person? Perhaps. After reading it, will you be able to view your dog the same way you do now? I doubt it.
     A perusal of chapter headings will tell you that this is not your average dog book, nor is it your average self-help tome. It is about the energy we share with our dogs, the state of mind behind that energy and how a better understanding of the way dogs view life and communicate can provide tremendous insight into our own behavior.
     Have you ever gazed at your reflection in a mirror, seeking a glimmer of understanding into life as you know it? Consider your dogs to be that mirror, and let this book be your interpreter. The journey will be a life changer.
     Smile! came about after more than a decade spent living with twenty to forty dogs at a time, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Big ones; little ones; young ones and old ones. Purebreds and mixes; boy-dogs and girl-dogs. Dogs from good backgrounds and some from hard-life hellholes. Dogs from sane households, dysfunctional households and shelters both large and small. Many came right off the streets, with no ascertainable history whatsoever. A large percentage of them were temporary residents at Safe Harbor Farm K9 Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in coastal North Carolina, where dogs get to enjoy safety, security and well-thought-out, canine-intuitive routines – some for the first time in their lives – on their way to finding well-matched new homes.
     Add to those dogs several thousand more, encountered at veterinary hospitals where I was employed. A vet hospital is a lot like a pediatrician’s office, except the kids have four legs as opposed to two. Nervous mommies and daddies, check. Youngsters reflecting the energy (for better or worse) of their parents, check. The need for a calm, collected and confident professional to guide everyone through life decisions, both simple and complex, double-check.
     Together, the dogs and I shared learning curves and a few great big un-learning curves. I taught them things that made them better individuals, and it is safe to say that they taught me even more.
     Life is a bunch of learning curves and un-learning curves. Given both, I propose that the un-learning curves can be the most life-changing and life-affirming. They occur when we enter a situation quite confident in our knowledge, only to find that we knew nothing at all. This sounds rough, but these curves can be quite wonderful, especially when the process encourages us to put aside past assumptions and quiet our minds, the better to listen and learn from others.
     So, is this a book on dog improvement or is it one on life improvement? It is actually a book on both. It is about removing tension from your life and replacing it with joy, while working on your relationship with your dogs. It is about being clear in your communication with others and honoring pivotal differences. It is about letting go of the stuff that isn’t working.
     Reflecting upon what works (and why it works) and what doesn’t work (and why not) when observing groups of dogs promotes an awareness unlike anything else. Dogs are very good at teaching us new tricks, even when we strive to teach them what we want. All we need to be is ready to listen. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
     Canine culture values balance. Our lives can only be better when we do the same.
                                                  CHAPTER 2

     Whether or not anyone is watching, please look up from this book and smile. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, do it anyway. Allow yourself an honest, up-to-your-eyes, laugh-line-creating smile. I’ll wait.
     Did you notice the relaxed breaths that followed your smile? Smiles trigger them. Do you have less tension in your shoulders and neck? Perhaps less stiffness in your posture? Smiles help there, too. Smiles are very, very powerful. If a stranger smiles at you from across the room, you tend to smile back, don’t you? You may even feel, in the moment, happier about yourself and a bit more trusting of others. 
     That is how dogs feel when people offer genuine smiles. Smiles convey a heck of a lot more than words do, and what our facial muscles do to all the other muscles of our body when we smile says volumes about us when we communicate with a nonverbal species. As a pretty darn verbal species, we tend to forget about that.
     At Safe Harbor Farm we reward our dogs with sincere, relaxed smiles. What, no dog biscuits? No “good dogs?” No clicker clicks? That’s right, smiles ninety-five percent of the time. Why is that?  Because  smiles  don’t  lead to  mouthiness  the way  treats can.  Smiles
don’t elevate a dog’s energy the way “good dogs!” often do. Smiles are always with you. They can’t be dropped by arthritic hands, and they don’t leave crumbs in your pockets. Smiles can be used selectively when working with multiple dogs, and we don’t even have to be looking at a dog for them to send their message.
     Plus, giving smiles to others helps us let go of a lot of our unwanted stress, through the release of endorphins (our very own happy-molecules). This further helps us to communicate with our dogs! Because dogs aren’t happy where there is tension. Dogs just don’t love the drama. Have you ever tried to smile and be dramatic at the same time? Fortunately, it is hard!
     When do we say “good dog!” (or my favorites, “good job!” or “good decision!”)? We use verbal praise when a dog makes the right decision after thinking things through. We want him to know that we are especially pleased with his choice of alternate behaviors, because we want to see similar choices made in the future. We also use it to pick up a dog’s pace, when we want more pep in his step.
     We save treats for times when we want to build happy new associations with things that have less-than-positive past associations. For example: when we reintroduce crates to dogs that have come to dislike them. We use food to engage a dog’s nose if he psychologically shuts down. We also use biscuit pieces and lots of “good jobs!” to make treadmilling — a higher-energy activity — even more fun.
     When a dog anticipates a treat, his focus naturally drifts to the treat. But when he is rewarded with your smile, his focus is on you. So smile at your dog when he is quiet, and you will get more quiet behavior. Smile at him when he relaxes, if you want him to be more relaxed. Smile at him when you are pleased with what he is doing, and you will be more apt to get the dog you want!
     Many of you have attended traditional training classes where a certain emphasis was placed on tools: different types of neck collars, head collars, harnesses and leashes. In many cases, the style of training utilized clickers and treats. In all cases, you were urged to set aside time in your week to practice new commands.
     Some of you may have left your dog with a trainer, hoping to get back the dog you want after they did the heavy lifting. Either you thought it was the only way to fix your misbehaving pet, or the thought  of  following  lesson plans made you long to avoid them. You
may or may not have been happy with the results.
     Some of you are newly looking for help. You have dogs that jump on you, pee on the couch or eat your stuff. Your dogs bite people, retreat under tables or fight with other dogs. Are these problems, in and of themselves, or symptoms of something else? When you see these behaviors, what is your reaction? Perhaps after reading this book, given some new skills and new ways of looking at canine (and human) psychology, it will be “I know what to do!”
     Your dogs will support you bringing out your best, and if your experience learning about the way they view the world is similar to mine, you will find your life is more than a little changed. At Safe Harbor Farm, we are always learning from our dogs: how to live in the moment (and what that really means); how to get enjoyment from the simplest of things; how to be clear in our communication; how to be patient, and how to leave the drama behind. 
     When you choose to put specific concepts or techniques into practice, I ask that you do so with respect for other species, a sense of humor about your learning curve, a ton of patience for the process and an interest in earning the respect of others through calm, consistent leadership.
     Why leadership? Because it is when we lead the way – and when we practice the skills, energy and characteristics that mark us as leaders and not just owners of our dogs — that we get the happy, sane and well-behaved dogs we want.
     The smile-based training used at Safe Harbor Farm takes a natural approach, one that you can apply moment to moment. And moment to moment is how you practice it, not simply at a set time on a given day in a given environment. Taking a more dog-intuitve than human-intuitive approach, it honors the way dogs think and the way they communicate with each other. Easily utilized with single dogs yet applicable to groups of dogs, both large and small, it uses well-thought-out routines and focused movement. It emphasizes calmly confident, directed energy, and it will complement any approach that you have taken thus far.
     Most importantly, it is good for you. After all, your life could use a few more smiles!