Motorcycles & Mutts

Cheri Kolstad is a certified dog behaviourist, dog groomer and trainer who lives in Penticton. Email:

The new year brought me a new insight into children and dogs.

I could expand and say children with animals, and I think things would still apply. Since I mainly watch children with dogs, I will limit my observations to them.

The days over the holiday seemed fairly straightforward with the house being decorated and the packages slowly building up below the tree. My first experience with a child talking to the dog was hearing a lengthy explanation from my granddaughter of why the ornaments are hung in a certain way on the tree, to depict each year that has passed and the ornaments that were purchased for the tree for individual members of the family.

“This one is the ornament I got when I was just a baby.” She pointed to her ornament. “That’s why it says Baby’s first Christmas. I don’t remember it, but my ornament will.”

She didn’t wait for a reply from the dog. She already knew the dog was listening to her and there was no need for more

conversation. Patiently she continued explaining the ornaments that she knew the story behind, sharing her knowledge of her family and Christmas.

Later in the week, as the table was being set one night, the dogs were told to get out of the way and make room for the people. They would have their food later. My granddaughter was not so abrupt, and sat patiently in front of the dogs and explained it was Christmas and that they needed to lie on their beds and as soon as she had some food for them she would get it ready and feed them all a very special meal.

Quietly and fairly organized, all three dogs rose and went to their prospective beds to wait for her call. When the meal was nearing its end, the dogs came out of their deep slumber and began watching my granddaughter.

She mumbled to them the entire time she was helping with their food and clearing the table for me. No dog moved until she began talking about it was almost time and they should be getting ready to eat. Each dog rose from their beds and positioned themselves by their bowls.

There were no direct commands or orders on what to do, just a continuous talk and conversation that each dog responded to.

I was woken up early the next morning, as any adult would be by the younger members of the family. Squeals of excitement aptly reminding everybody that time is of the essence and it was time to get up and get things going.

I was surprised to see that I was not the last person up. I stopped the entire activity when I realized that it was probable that nobody had thought of attending to the dogs.

“It’s fine,” my granddaughter said,”they all told me they needed to go out first before anything else. So I let them all out and now they said they are ready to find new toys to play with.”

True to her word, there were wrapped gifts placed in front of each dog, but nobody was touching anything. They patiently waited. I watched her take her stocking over to them and sat where they could see her. As she began opening her gifts, she did not give an order or waive her hand, but began talking to them, explaining now that everybody was taken care of it was fine for them to open their gifts too. She was sure they would like them, and talked to them about the shopping trip she had made just for them. Each dog responded and gently began opening the toys and chewing bones that had been wrapped for them.

I do not know which amazed me more. A child’s innocence that obviously everyone understands what is being said. We are talking to them and they are listening. Or was it the dogs, who responded to her words and actions as if they really were listening.

I hope our communication as a family remains this great all year long.

Cheri Kolstad is a certified dog behaviourist, dog groomer and trainer who lives in Penticton. Email: