Thursday, December 11, 2014

Walking Your Dog Off-Leash: Safe or Sorry?

I'm a Dog Mom. Hear Me Bark.

When I moved from Fort Worth, Texas to Old Lake Highlands in Dallas in 2010, I couldn’t wait to let my dogs off-leash while we walked around beautiful White Rock Lake. My dogs Zoe, a border collie/lab mix, and Buster, a blue-tick coon hound mix, made walking on-leash hard. At around 60 lbs. each, they pulled me down the street, getting tangled in each other’s leashes and around my legs, trees, and telephone poles. After 30 minutes I was exhausted and not looking forward to the next walk. 

So you can imagine how appealing it was to let my dogs off-leash at the lake. I quickly learned, however, that this was not allowed—on our third off-leash walk at WRL, I got a ticket. I was so frustrated, I turned a deaf ear to the police officer’s reason for ticketing me—SAFETY. Not only for other people and dogs, but for me and my dogs, too.

Now, having worked with hundreds of dogs over the past two years,  I see the wisdom of requiring dogs to be on-leash in public spaces, even in large parks. Why? Here’s a few reasons:

  •  Singularity. Each dog is an individual, with particular, precise life experiences. Your dog may exemplify the model canine at your home, where he knows the routine and feels safe. But this doesn’t mean that he will behave the same way outside your home. By the same token, you might encounter a dog who has a history with a dog like yours. Perhaps that dog across the park was attacked by a big yellow dog, like your Labrador retriever. In dogs, fear can quickly turn to aggression. And if you have a rescue dog, who knows what he experienced before he joined your family? He may have been bitten by a dachshund, so he is fearful and possibly aggressive toward all small brown dogs. Keeping your dog on-leash does not ensure safety, but it most definitely gives you more control.

  • Shots. Dallas, like most cities across the U.S., requires dogs to be registered with the city and to be vaccinated against rabies. Veterinarians go further, vaccinating against canine cough, distemper, parvovirus, and other canine diseases that can be easily spread. While your dog may be current on his vaccinations, other dogs you encounter might not. When you let your dog off-leash in a public park, you are putting her health at risk.

  •  Squirrel! As a dog owner, you know that chasing wildlife is often a dog’s most treasured activity. And when a dog kicks into “squirrel!” mode, he’s not thinking about staying within the boundaries of a public park. If he must cross a busy street to catch that squirrel, or bird, or possum, he’s going to cross and this is dangerous. Dogs don’t think about safety. That’s your job.

So. We know that walking your dog off-leash in public spaces isn’t safe, but walking her on-leash is a nightmare. So what to do?  These days, there are several good options.

  • Take your dog to a dog park. Over the past decade dog parks have sprung up all over the U.S. Some are amazing, like Fort Woof in Fort Worth and North Bark Dog Park in far north Dallas. As East Dallas-ites, we have a dog park right in our own neighborhood—White Rock Lake Dog Park. I confess I haven’t visited this park very often; it was usually muddy and messy, with lots of poop not picked up by irresponsible dog owners. However, our local dog park is under renovation, slated to open in early 2015. It will be larger, have a proper drainage system, good lighting, and an awesome water entry point into WRL for dogs who love to swim. I can’t wait!

  • Take your dog to day care. Around much of the world today, people are having fewer children, but adopting more dogs. In the past decade day care for dogs has turned from being an anomaly to one of the fastest-growing businesses in the U.S.  My husband Steve and I opened  Camp Bow Wow – Dallas High Five, a Doggy Day and Overnight Camp, in October 2012. All dogs require exercise to be happy and healthy and this is especially true for working and hunting breeds—shepherds, retrievers, pointers, terriers. Most of our Campers fall within these breeds. Coincidence? I think not. At Camp they can run and play in large indoor and outdoor play yards supervised by Camp Counselors trained in dog psychology and certified in canine first aid and CPR. There are many options for doggy day care in the greater Dallas area. Dogs must be spayed or neutered and be current on vaccinations. To learn more about what we offer at Camp Bow Wow, go to

  • Have someone else walk your dog. For dogs who are not suited to day care but still need exercise, pet sitters are a great option. In-home pet care is still in its infancy, but it’s growing rapidly and offers services from basic potty breaks to 30, 45, and 60 minute visits to your home that can include a walk. A simple Google search for “in-home pet care” will give you a variety of businesses from which to choose, all of them geared to your specific needs and schedule.  If you hire a pet sitting service, make sure that they are insured and bonded by an organization like Pet Sitters International.  We opened Home Buddies, our own in-home pet care service, in November of this year to help our customers who were unable to book boarding at Camp for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You can find more information on Home Buddies at our Camp website, above. Click on Pet Sitting and Dog Walking under Services on the left.

While it’s very tempting to let your dog off-leash in public spaces, it’s a really bad idea. You may love to see your dog running free with that big smile on his face and the wind in his coat, and without doubt he loves it, too. But as a responsible pet parent, only you can make sure that he keeps on running for a long time to come.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Happy, Sad, Fear, Anger: What Does Your Dog’s Face Say?

I'm a Dog Mom. Hear Me Bark.

For many years, the general consensus has held that humans began to domesticate dogs when we started settling down around 8,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture and the rise of stable, non-mobile communities. New evidence in the past decade, however, has caused scholars to rethink this theory. Archaeological finds show that the domesticated dog dates back at least 15,000 years, when we humans were still in our pre-agriculture, hunter-gatherer days. One of the most surprising, and poignant, finds is a set of fossilized footprints of an eight- to ten-year-old child, walking at a leisurely pace, intertwined with those of a very large canid, believed to be a “proto-dog”—evolutionarily speaking, a dog mid-way between the Eurasian Grey Wolf and the domestic dog. Discovered in the famous Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France (which contains some of the earliest known cave paintings), these footprints have been dated to around 30,000 years ago. Needless to say, humans and dogs have been keeping company for a very long time.
Why? Perhaps the reason was purely utilitarian: we provided food and shelter and dogs assisted us in hunting, offered protection, and served as early warning systems. However, prehistoric dog burials suggest that our relationship with dogs was effective not only for mutual survival, but one of genuine respect and affection. In 2011, the 26,000 – 27,000 year old remains of a dog buried with a bone in his mouth was discovered in the Czech Republic.

The process of domestication over thousands of years has biologically altered dogs more than any other species, not just in the huge variety of shape and size, but in their ability to understand us to an extent that no other animal can match. Our best friends interpret the smallest changes in our facial expressions and body language with amazing accuracy. So what about us? How well do we understand them? Most dog owners would say, “pretty darn well,” especially if they have been a dog parent for a number of years.

I myself have been a dog mom for 30 years. But since opening Camp Bow Wow and seeing a wide variety of dogs and their facial expressions and body languages, I discovered that I have mis-read many cues from my own dogs over time. For example, I wondered why my sweeter-than-pie Bluetick Hound, Buster, would growl when I hugged him around the neck. None of my other dogs protested such a simple show of affection. I now know that most dogs do not like being hugged. In dog language, an arm over the shoulder/around the neck is perceived not only as status-seeking, but puts them in a vulnerable position in terms of being able to escape an uncomfortable situation. And a dog who can’t escape is a fearful dog, which can quickly escalate to an angry dog. All this time, Buster was telling me clearly, “I don’t like that, mom. Please stop.” Thankfully, I now know what he was saying and I respect his wishes.

The good news is, extensive research and observation by animal behaviorists such as Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. has revealed some basics of “dog language” that the layman can easily understand and apply. If you haven’t read her book, For The Love Of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, I highly recommend it. A link to her website, which features a great “Reading Room” is at the bottom of this post.

So, I offer here some basics—look for these expressions in your own pups and in dogs at dog parks and other dog/human gatherings. With practice, you’ll be amazed at how well you learn to “speak dog.” After all, a dog’s facial expressions are amazingly similar to our own. Go to a mirror and show yourself your “happy face,” “sad face,” “angry fact,” etc. Then compare to the same expression as show in the dog, described below. I think you’ll be amazed. I was!


“A curved line under two dots [smiley face] is enough to signify happiness to us; even infants respond to this simple set of stimuli” (McConnell, For The Love Of A Dog, 336).
A dog’s facial expression for happiness, or a relaxed state, is indicated by an open, full face, a relaxed jaw, relaxed muscles around the eyes, and an open mouth—often with the tongue hanging out. A “big smile” on a dog is almost identical to that of a human’s: the commissures, or the corners of the mouth, are pulled back and the eyes are crinkly, squinty. The body is loose, with tail wagging loosely and slowly.

On Alert: A dog on alert, or on the offensive, will show a mouth closed, with commissures bunched forward, often barking, sometimes with raised hackles. This is a typical expression that lets others know, “I see you. Don’t try anything funny.” Watch your dog the next time he or she barks at the mailman or neighbors (both human and canine) walking by your home. You’ll see this expression.

Anger: Anger is indicated by a mouth that is closed up tight, with or without the lips pulled up in a snarl, with the inside corners of the eyes pulled together and down. The head and body is held stiff and tense. Sometimes the tail might wag when a dog is angry; however, unlike a loose, slow wag when happy, a tense or angry dog’s tail will wag stiffly, whipping quickly from side to side. The hackles might also rise when a dog is angry, but this can also simply be a sign of excitement.  You must combine the facial expression with the body language to determine if a dog is angry or simply highly excited or on alert.

Worried/Sad: The mouth is closed and the inner eyebrows are raised upward and together. You’ve seen this expression in the dogs shown in the ASPCA ads featuring Sarah McLachlan. If you’re like me, seeing this expression makes me want to adopt every homeless dog, everywhere.

Fear: The commissures of the mouth are retracted far back, the eyes are widely rounded with the whites of the eyes easily visible, and the teeth are showing. This is often referred to as the “fear grimace.”

Concentration: The dog who is concentrating on something is still and focused: the mouth is closed, the commissures are neither pulled back (as in a smile or “fear grimace”) nor pushed forward (as in anger or on alert/offensive).

“Whale Eye”: The nose is turned away, but the eye is focused on you. The eye is rounded, with the white of the eye showing clearly. The mouth is closed up tight. A dog showing “whale eye” is telling you “I don’t trust you. Stay right where you are. Don’t attempt to pet me.”

Direct Stare: The dog that is staring directly at you, with eyes that are rounded and fixed can be a dangerous dog. The mouth is closed and the body is held very still. This dog could be getting ready to attack. DO NOT STARE BACK. This will be interpreted as a challenge. Look away and if possible, calmly and slowly walk away.

Links for Additional Reading:

Patricia B. McConnell:

The Chauvet Cave:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Do Dogs Love Ritual and Routine? Let Me Count the Ways.

I'm a Dog Mom. Hear Me Bark.

Dogs are creatures of habit. They like to know what’s happening, when, where, and who’s in charge. One of my favorite things at Camp Bow Wow is checking in Campers in the morning. Our “regulars” know the routine and they LOVE it: They come bounding into the lobby with mom or dad, and as we greet them by name, they often stand up at the lobby counter, lean in, and give big kisses. They stand in front of the lobby gate, tail wagging, as their parent gives any new instructions for lunch, nap, often asking if their pup’s favorite buddy is at Camp today. As a Certified Camp Counselor comes up, the dog bounds through the gate, and sniffs all the leashes hanging on their pegs—“Hey, that’s Steele!” Or Hank, or Belle, or Blue, or Tucker, or “Hey! A new kid!” When the Counselor opens the door into the back area, they know just where to go. If they’re a big dog, they head to their left, knowing that the left side aisle leads to the big dog yards. If they’re small, they head to the right, knowing that the small dog yard awaits. I can’t tell you how joyful it is to see all those happy butts bounding away, tails wagging,  as they run toward the play yards, eager to greet their best buddies, make new friends, and have a rompin’, rollickin’, rowdy good day at Camp!

When dogs are disrupted from their routine it is often hard to witness; their confusion and worry is especially painful because we can't just sit them down and explain what's happening. We have had many Campers who have come to us as a recommendation from a trainer: dogs whose family is moving, or having a baby, or having extended visits from unfamiliar friends or family. Even something as seemingly simple as hosting a party at home can cause some dogs to act out in ways they never have before--destructive behavior, extreme neediness, separation anxiety, and even aggression--leaving their parents nonplussed. So when I see dogs who experience change calmly, not protesting or pouting (as we humans often do), I stand absolutely in awe. Case in point: I suffer from chronic migraines. And the past ten days have been really hard for my own pack. When I get a days-long migraine, our house is a very different place. Everyone tip-toes around, trying to keep things quiet, dark, and cool. My wonderful husband takes over providing meals, keeping the house decently clean, and fielding calls or texts from family and friends. However, I sometimes think my dogs suffer almost as much as I. They’re not feeling the excruciating pain of migraine, but their routine is completely disrupted and worse, they don’t know the rhyme or reason of it. They just know that mom is sick and all she wants to do is lie in bed, perfectly still and utterly boring. There’s no “Group Bark & Howl” to start the day. No happy, bell-like jingling of kibble flowing into breakfast and dinner bowls (dad doles it out as quietly as possible). No walks. No Frisbee throwing. No fetching the oh-so-loud squeaky ball. No swimming. No belly rubs or tricks for treats. And worse of all, it often seems that there’s no end in sight.

I am amazed at how wonderful and supportive my dogs are during my “flares.” They seem to know what’s needed. They spend most of the day lying quietly in bed with me; dark during the day, dark at night. There’s no barking at the mailman or neighbors and dogs walking by our house. There’s not the usual wrestling and tussling, or even chewing bones—that’s too loud, after all. Instead, they snuggle, lick my face, snooze for hours at a time, and just BE with me. They seem to know exactly what I need to get well as quickly as I can.

And eventually, the morning dawns when, like a miracle, I wake up without pain. And they know it! Maybe it’s the way I stretch, or the tone of my voice as I greet them. Perhaps it’s the way I sit up quickly and easily and reach out to give kisses and belly rubs. And when they see these signs, well heck! It’s party time! And our routine of the “Group Bark & Howl” to greet the morning gets going. Zoe, our eldest, a black-and-white Border Collie/Lab mix, launches onto my chest, pins me down, gives me my morning facial of luscious licks, and stretches out her back legs to get her massage. Buster, our 70 pound Bluetick Hound mix, begins his tandem “Who’s the man?” ritual with Charlie, our 7 pound wire-haired Chihuahua. Charlie on the bed, Buster on the floor, they race from one side of the bed to the other, growling, barking, tails a blur, and in Buster’s case, howling for all the world to hear. Bella, our middle child, a Catahoula Cur/Sheltie mix (we think), barks, growls, snarls, and snorts simultaneously—the strangest vocalization combo you’ll ever hear—in her own unique style, while tossing her head and alternating body pins with Zoe. Our smallest, Capri, a Chihuahua/Rat Terrier mix, weighing in at 6 pounds and a princess to boot, tucks up by my head, so she won’t get stomped in the fray. But she doesn’t let her small size keep her from joyfully adding her voice to the chorus. All of this lasts several minutes and by the end of it I’m so full of joy and laughing, that I add my own howl to the cacophony. When I’m finally able to sit up in between body pins, the ritual ends (mostly) and we all head to the kitchen for breakfast and the weather report.

When I see “routine” through the eyes of my dogs, the oh-so-human urge for something ever-new, ever-bigger, better, shinier than yesterday, seems rather compulsively ADHD. And I think, “Vive la routine!” What’s your morning ritual with your dogs?  Share!  

Here's my babies, all decked out in their Halloween costumes for our Camp "Howl-O-Ween Yappy Hour" in 2012.

Thanks for visiting!  Michelle Vardeman Martin

To learn more about Camp Bow Wow - Dallas High Five, visit:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Do Dogs Think Like We Do? You Betcha!

I'm A Dog Mom. Hear Me Bark.

It is an amazing time to be a dog, and a dog mom (or dad)! Things are just snappin’ in the dog world right now. Tons of books, magazines, and websites are talking about dogs--the genetics of dogs, the physiology of dogs, the evolution of dogs, the training of dogs, you name it.  Now that I’m in the “Dog Biz,” I get tons of dog-themed gifts from friends and family—socks, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and most of all, books.  I am a huge reader—both fiction and non-. I adored Marley and Me, Racing in the Rain, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle; this last one is not a “dog book” per se, but offers a spot-on rendering of the profound, understanding-beyond-words-core of the human/dog relationship. In the past year or so, I’ve begun to focus on non-fiction books about dogs—in particular, the genetics and neuroscience of Canis Lupus Familiaris. For Christmas, my wonderful husband gave me How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, by Greogry Berns, M.D., Ph.D. We both read it in only a few days. It is AWESOME.

Dr. Berns has studied the “reward center” of the human brain for years—what humans like, how we like it, why we sometimes like it too much, and how that information gets processed in our noggins. His work using fMRI, or functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, has shown that the place in the brain that anticipates goodness is called the caudate nucleus, located in oldest part of the brain (some call it the “reptilian brain”)—the basal ganglia. The caudate is active in learning, memory, goal-setting, and social behavior. It allows us to understand that certain actions result in certain outcomes.

Now, Dr. Berns is a true-blue dog lover. And when his dog, Newton, passed away, he began to wonder, Had Newton loved him like he had loved Newton? He thought he had. Newton, a pug, had slept buried in his armpit every night of his life. But how could he know for sure? Could he prove it? So, he launched the Dog Project to try to answer the question. What he found answered much more.

The story of the Dog Project is an amazing one. It’s about a journey, tracing the growing trust, friendship, and love that grew between Dr. Berns and Callie, a Feist that his wife and daughters had adopted from a shelter. At first, Berns didn’t know if he even liked Callie; she wasn’t like any other dog he’d had before. She was skittish and not very affectionate. She was a hunter, chasing down and catching, with glee, various small animals and rodents in the back yard of their home in Atlanta, Georgia. This really upset his young daughters, but what else could Callie do? Her genetics mandated that she hunt, since she had the blood of the Treeing Feist coursing through her veins. (Before this book, I’d never heard about Feists; what a cool, all-American dog!) And, as he found out, she was super smart; it’s not every dog who can learn to lie perfectly still for 10 minutes in a really loud MRI machine while humans take pictures of her brain!  This was a BIG DEAL. No one had ever captured an image of a wide-awake dog brain. The Dog Project team took more than 400! And what they showed proved that a dog’s brain works a lot like a human’s.

When Callie was in the MRI, she and Dr. Berns “talked” to each other. He’d taught Callie two hand signals: “hot dogs” and “no hot dogs.” When he signaled “hot dogs,” he waited several seconds, then gave Callie a small piece of a hot dog. When he signaled “no hot dogs,” he waited, then gave her nothing. He signaled randomly, multiple times. Meanwhile, the MRI was taking photos of Callie’s brain. When Callie saw the “hot dogs” signal, her caudate lit up like wild fire. When she saw the “no hot dogs” signal, her caudate was dark. This meant that Callie understood that the “hot dogs” hand signal meant “hot dogs are coming” and that was a good thing! It meant that she could look into the future and know what her dad was going to do. Dr. Berns describes it this way: “. . .Callie looked at my hand signals and constructed a dog theory of what I was thinking or at least intending. [A] dog theory of mind . . . Callie’s caudate activation was just the first piece of evidence that my intentions had been received, and understood, in her brain” (Berns, 183-4). So what is a theory of mind? Wikipedia defines it this way: “Theory of mind (often abbreviated "ToM") is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own.” This just floored me. I’d always marveled at the level to which my dogs understand me; they know when I’m happy, sad, mad, or even pretending to be mad—making my scary “monster” face, “claws” up and growling. They just wag their tails and do the play bow. “Aw, mom! You’re just silly!” they seem to be saying. Thanks to the Dog Project, I now know how their brains allow them to read me like a book.

Callie’s MRI scans also showed activation of mirror neurons, which lets mammals place themselves in each other’s shoes. Berns says, “At a basic scientific level, these neurons seem to play a key role in linking action production with action observation and to allow animals to understand the actions of other members of their species from their own perspective. Many researchers have suggested mirror neurons are the basis of empathy. If this turns out to be true, then mirror neurons not only allow us to simulate the actions of each other from the inside, but they may allow us to feel what someone else feels too” (Berns, 191). When Callie watched her dad reaching for the hot dogs, her motor cortex lit up, although she did not move. Dr. Berns postulated that Callie was mirroring, or mapping the movement of her human’s hand onto her own equivalent—her front leg and paw.  This kind of mirror-mapping has been shown in humans. “In 2010, an fMRI study reported that when people watched silent movies of a dog barking, the parts of the humans’ brains that responded to sounds were activated, even though there was no actual sound. It was like the humans filled in the sound of a dog barking just by observation. But seeing this kind of mirror neuron activity in Callie  . . . meant that the whole dog-human relationship was not just a scam. If dogs had the ability to transform human actions into their own doggie equivalent, then maybe they really did feel what we feel. At least a dog version of it” (Berns, 192-3).

This book is so filled with new information about what and how dogs think, I could go on and on and on. I think I’ll read it again. It is very accessible, putting cutting-edge science into layman’s terms. But more than that, the story of Berns, his family (both humans and dogs), his research team, and the wonderful contributions of the dogs in the Dog Project—McKenzie, Kady, Rocky, Caylin, Huxley, and Tigger—will make you smile, while leaving you wide-eyed with wonder. “The whole purpose of the Dog Project was to understand the dog-human relationship from the dog’s perspective, and the most important thing that we learned was that dogs’ brains show evidence of a theory of mind for humans. This means that they not only pay attention to what we do but to what we think, and they change their behavior based on what they think we’re thinking” (Berns, 211). I can’t wait to find out what else Dr. Berns, Callie, and the gang discover!


Dr. Gregory Berns:

Theory of Mind:

Thanks for visiting!  Michelle Vardeman Martin

To learn more about Camp Bow Wow - Dallas High Five, visit:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why Blog about Dogs? An Introduction to MotherDogBlog

I'm a Dog Mom. Hear Me Bark.

Dogs are my passion. My business. My daily chuckle. My greatest love. Don't tell my husband. ;-) When I was growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, we had a toy poodle named Fifi. She was a great dog, always patient and kind while I dressed her up in my doll's clothes and rolled her around in a baby carriage. The first dog I could call my very own, however, was Spanky Lee, a male Beagle mix puppy my Dad rescued from the local shelter and brought to me in Austin, where I was attending U.T. in 1984. Hook 'em Horns! Dad had visited the shelter numerous times, looking for just the right dog. He chose Spanky, he said, because while all the other dogs were barking their heads off, Spanky just sat there and looked at him as if to say, "What are you lookin' at?"

Spanky was small, black and brown, with a long body, long tail, somewhat floppy ears,short legs, and an Eddie Munster hairline. Although he grew to be only 20 lbs., he was all attitude, affectionate only to me, a couple of my closest friends, and select family members. He never liked other dogs much and was a trial on walks--barking and growling like a hound of hell. To my chagrin, he bit several of my dates during college, for reasons not clear to me then; but it turned out he had judged their characters well--every one turned out to be a creep. Spanky was such an odd little dog, my best friend named him "Norman," after Norman Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho. I loved him anyway. We were inseparable pals for 21 years; Spanky slipped his mortal coil in August, 2005. I still miss him like hell. I now know that Spanky wasn't "haywire," as my dad affectionately called him, he just wasn't "socialized," as the term is used today. Who knew then that dogs must be taught social skills to be well adapted members of their family and community? I certainly didn't.

We didn't have play dates with other dogs, there were no doggie day care centers, no dog parks. Dogs were dogs, they were either "good" or "bad," and that was that. The concept of "socializing" one's dog is a new one to most people and outside of dog trainers, working dog handlers, and other experts on dog behavior, didn't really come to general awareness until the 2000's. It's only been in the past decade that many have become interested in Canis Lupus Familiaris as a bona fide research subject, spawning whole new industries.

Heidi Ganahl, the founder of my business, Camp Bow Wow, opened her first Doggie Day and Overnight Camp in 2000, in Denver, Colorado. She was ahead of her time, understanding dogs in a way most others did not. Many thought she was crazy: "Let me get this straight. You want to put a lot of dogs, who don't know each other, together into a confined space, and expect them to just get along?" Well, she did, and they did, and there are now more than 100 Camp Bow Wows across the U.S., one of them proudly owned by my husband and me. Caesar Milan founded his Dog Psychology Center in 2002 and The Dog Whisperer launched in 2004. Milan pioneered the idea of "energy" in working with dogs, and using "calm, assertive energy" in our play yards at Camp is key to a happy, healthy, and safe environment for all of our Campers. The domestic dog's genome sequence was completed and published in 2005; as a result, we now know that all modern dogs are descended from a sub-species of the Eurasian Grey Wolf--hence the lupus in Canis Lupus Familiaris. In 2014, no urban center is complete without a variety of dog parks and no respectable U.S. city does not offer a wide variety of dog daycare and boarding facilities. One can find books, research papers, magazines, websites on the genetics of dogs, the physiology of dogs, the evolution of dogs, the training of dogs, the everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-dogs-universe, everywhere.

My husband, Steve, and I opened our own Camp Bow Wow in October, 2012. Located in North Dallas, we're just northeast of the High-5 interchange at I-635 and I-75, off T.I. Blvd. Thus, our name, Camp Bow Wow - Dallas High Five. When we opened, I thought I knew a lot about dogs. After all, I'd been a dog mom for 30 years. This new business was going to be a snap! Boy, was I wrong. I knew only what had been passed down to me as "conventional wisdom" about raising dogs, largely from my father. When I would fret about Spanky, or Logan, or Slick, or Jake, or any other dog I had at any one time, Dad's response was invariably, "Don't worry about it, honey. He's just a dog." But I knew in my bones that wasn't quite the case. I've never known a dog who was "just" a dog.

Dogs are such amazing creatures--every one unique, every one with specialized talents and skills, and with incredibly rich emotional lives. I and true dog lovers have always known this. So how exciting it is to have so much of what we've known in our guts being proven through science these days! Rigorous observation, mass collection of data, and technologies being used in new ways are giving us astounding new insights into our best friends. Steve and I are certified learning junkies and as we soak up all this new information, we apply it not only to our business, but to our own pack at home. I married Steve at 47--my first marriage--so I never had human kids. Instead, I've been a dog mom and am very proud of that fact. It's not easy raising "fur-kids." They are, after all, a different species! Steve and I currently have five of our own, all adopted: Zoe, a Border Collie/Lab mix, age 9; Buster, a Bluetick Coon Hound mix, age 7; Bella, a blue-eyed Catahoula Cur/Sheltie mix, age 4 1/2; Charlie, a wire-haired Chihuahua, age 4; and Capri, a Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix, age 3. Our Camp, and our home, are wonderful, joyous places--full of barking and romping and running and fetching and swimming and napping. We live in Old Lake Highlands, near White Rock Lake, in Dallas, a neighborhood full of dogs and sporting its very own dog park off Mockingbird Lane, due for a million-dollar revamp this year. We can't wait!

It's an exciting time to be a dog, and a dog parent. It's a whole new world out there. This blog will be my place to share what I've learned about dogs--physically, emotionally, spiritually, practically. I'll share stories, tips, links, and "best reads." It's hard to put into words how much I love my dogs and how rich they have made, and continue to make, my life. But I'm gonna try! I believe that no human life is truly complete without a dog. If you think so too, join in, and share your stories, too!

Thanks for visiting!  Michelle Vardeman Martin

To learn more about Camp Bow Wow - Dallas High Five, visit: