Thanksgiving is for the Dogs.

Here are two of my dogs, Preacher Man and Manning, guarding the back door. You’ll notice they are facing the wrong way. It’s not about who might come in; it’s about making sure SHE doesn’t get out. “Herding dogs,” my other dog, Jack moans, “have a little too much space between the ears.” He is a terrier who keeps a tight pair of ears and thinks staying so close to the ground is for idiots. Bounce, Bounce.

It’s always my plan that there are more dogs than humans on Thanksgiving. Holidays go better if you keep things in a positive balance. It isn’t how much turkey you need per person; it’s how many dogs and the bare minimum is two. One of my favorite Thanksgivings, one friend came and we had seven dogs between us. It was perfect.

But last summer, a perfect stinky wobbly old dog passed away. I miss him, but Jack and Preacher seemed immediately relieved. I don’t think I’ve seen it that clearly before; the anxiety we all felt watching the old dog’s pain and confusion died with him. I can’t say it has been quiet around here because Preacher Man hasn’t stopped barking since 2014, but I do confess there were days my mind wandered. I’m a woman of a certain age who does the math of my animal’s ages against my own.

Soon the message came that there was a dog in Texas. At some point, I stopped picking my own dogs. It’s not like I have no choice, but who says no? The dogs who come to me don’t need to pass a DNA test or do something to prove they’re the right dog. I swore I’d never have a terrier for instance. But the dogs stay and we find the rightness between us eventually.

This is how the Texas dog was described by Sandy, who is every dog’s hero, “He’s like part cat, part Arab, and part cardigan with a tiny bit of cattle dog tossed with the lovable heart of a lonely Labrador. You’ll love him.” Some of us are better at assessing dogs than others. 

The dog managed to catch a ride to Colorado and we met in a hotel room. He was shy and didn’t want me to touch him. I notice I don’t like strangers grabbing me either. Standing away, he almost looked familiar in the way that the right dog does. I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d known him before. But I sat on the couch and gave him time to recognize me, too. The freeze-dried liver treats helped but it didn’t take long.

The next day he came out to meet Preacher and Jack. They can be a bit overwhelming at first, but not like the sight of llamas and horses. And worst of all cats. No matter how much he barked at them, they just stared back. They mock him but the barking won Preacher over and now it’s all yipping and bitey-face. Manning held out a few hours before answering Jack’s play bow and the race hasn’t stopped since. Then, there’s the problem in the bathroom. It’s ridiculously small and with two dogs there already, he must tuck his snout and slip past them to sit in the shower. It’s a fundamental duty to protect humans in bathrooms and not something you’d trust another dog to do properly.

It isn’t that he’s perfect. Manning needs some confidence having grown up in a pandemic, so we go to the local brewpub and share a beer and some bison treats.  We have “date night” at an agility class with some sighthounds. They don’t mind lowering the jumps and he thinks they are strange and beautiful. He tears through tunnels and I howl, cheer, and try to keep up. The instructor has read Turid Rugaas’ book and we talk calming signals and her dog-version of affirmative training. I’m having a wildly good time being a student. Manning thinks, as all good dogs do, that humans talking to each other is boring, so he goes to my chair at the side and sits on his mat. He knows this will distract me from the silly human and get me there with a treat. Ends up I have a better recall than you’d think.

(Excuse me, that’s my shoe. What shoe? My crocs are sacred. Smells like manure and your feet! I’m serious, this is not okay. But it has a handle! )

Manning did a lot of shaking out when he first came, nose to tail. Some nervous itching. Calming signals, but not a lick. Licking is a calming signal, too, just not one of his. It was a big change and he’s a stoic dog. He wouldn’t want to appear desperate so he presses his body along my leg and keeps an eye on the door. He lays his big head in my lap, and I can feel the heavy warmth of every dog I’ve ever loved.

It isn’t that dogs live shorter lives and we always lose them. That’s the small picture when our hearts hurt. The big picture is that dogs are the ocean that we swim in. They give us a place to come home to; they walk us until we can rest. Dogs force us to laugh and cry, releasing our human calming signals feels safe with them. We love the individual dog because we can’t get our heads around the notion of an entire species capable of unconditional love. Horses can’t do it, and for all our bluster, humans don’t either. We’re so drawn to dogs because they understand every day that being part of a pack is what Thanksgiving is about.

We come together here to talk about horses. We’re the All-Horse Channel but for most of us, our first horse was a dog. They had the good grace to tolerate us when we whined about horses. We’re off living a fantasy because the truth about horses is that they will never be totally domesticated. We can’t sleep in a dogpile with horses. We long for a horse’s freedom, but dogs know we don’t really want that. When the horses return to the herd, we come home to dogs. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we each crave our own kind.  Dogs are caretakers. Humans think we’re tougher than we are and don’t like to take help when it’s offered, so dogs act a little silly so they don’t put us off by being smarter about this. We’re arrogant and throw words like rescue around because we like to act like we’re doing animals some big favor when any dog will tell you it’s the other way around. 

Manning is the next right dog. We’ll let it be that way. Thanksgiving is about gratitude for the abundance in our lives and dogs are the best at making a big deal out of very little. They are the living embodiment of loaves and fishes.

With a slightly weird dog leaning against my thigh, laying under my writing desk, sharing my beer, I can be more dog-like, which other humans will hopefully mistake for me being kinder. I’m trying to evolve. My heartfelt thanks to Sandy and Peggy for bringing him home. 

“And in this conditional world, it’s only dogs who believe in free love. Friendships naturally ebb and flow, the circle of life can’t be controlled or altered much, but dog love is eternal. Let there always be dogs.” -AB



 Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward 

Want more? Join us in The Barn. Subscribe to our online training group with training videos, interactive sharing, audio blogs, live-chats with Anna, and the most supportive group of like-minded horsepeople anywhere.

Ongoing courses in Calming Signals, Affirmative Training, Fundamentals of Authentic Dressage, and Back in the Saddle: a Comeback Conversation, as well as virtual clinics, are taught at The Barn School, where I also host our infamous Happy Hour. Everyone’s welcome.

Visit to find over a thousand archived blogspurchase signed booksschedule a live consultation or lesson, subscribe for email delivery of this blog, or ask a question about the art and science of working with horses.

Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

48 thoughts on “Thanksgiving is for the Dogs.”

  1. Oh Anna – I have nothing whatsoever to add to that! So sad for your lost one and mine, but so glad for the ones who “come home with us. Have to add one thing – my bathroom helpers have always been cats – mainly because she gets there FIRST!!
    Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.

  2. “For most of us, our first horse was a dog.”
    Oh so true! Years of pretending dogs were horses and working with them was free lunging, though I didn’t know that term at the time. 🙂
    I loved reading about your little pack. We have a fluffy Pembroke, a blue merle Cardigan, and a golden retriever. Baloo the Cardigan is like Tigger with Preacher Man’s bark and a deep desire to herd – anything. He is in the prime of life right now and we have had some issues with he and the just now mature golden girl. We put Baloo in a search and rescue class in an effort to give him real work to practice. He is good at it but really does not like the black lab in the class and so he’s getting practice learning how to just deal with that. Right now they’re all three flat out around me and as you say, Thanksgiving and even the day after is just better with dogs. 🙂

  3. “Our first horses were dogs…”; “Dogs are the ocean that we swim in…” You are the best writer I know and I am so thankful that you share your talent and passion(s) with us. I know how much the writing takes and I am always so amazed at the truth and beauty of it.

    • Thank you, Kathy. But part of my writing is very selfish. Writing has become such a touchstone in my life, I need it more than anyone else. So grateful for words!

      • But look at the extent of your reach, through your outstanding posts, worldwide.
        You have a worldwide audience.
        Reading my missive on the fence issue, you can see the effects of this reach.
        Keep writing, keep doing all your do, for all of us.
        Look at the effect on our horses.


  4. What a beautiful post today Anna. SO thankful for Quinn – my constant companion|caretaker|bathroom safety manager, who found me at the worst but still perfect time. (and thank you for explaining about the bathroom business – I had been wondering why I was never alone in there) ❤️❤️❤️

    • Thanks, Christian. One of my favorite parts about online courses is that I get to see people’s pets during class. Quinn does the lean on the thigh thing, He weasels under your arm. Good boy, Quinn. (Short dogs will tell you that the chair in the bathroom is lower.)

  5. I love it. I also love the way you have with words. That is a gift in itself. We lost our one eyed Lola about two years ago, boxer golden retriever. We had her brother also. Got Scooter when he was a puppy, after my Dad died, and when I wasn’t traveling back and forth to AZ taking care of things, I started looking for a puppy. I couldn’t pass up his face. A year later started looking for a friend for him and came across his sister. So I added her to our family. Several years later she was diagnosed with cancer, so made the choice to put her down. Scooter was so sad I started looking for another dog. I fell in love with another face. A 3/4 boxer/border collie. He is a hoot and big and loves to run and jump. He is now two and the older one is 8. Yes dogs make us better people. My husband had dogs on the farm growing up, but never in the house. I never had a dog growing up. So much love!

  6. Anna,
    All Hail to that — a wonderful post. I grew up with dogs, corgis (like your lovely two) and golden retrievers in Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s (well, one little Cairn Terrier, later). After that worldwide travel took me away from animals. Now, I just want to
    live with my cats, birds and horses and travel is mostly between the house and the farm, with a few fine arts trips here and there.

    As for bathroom protection — my cats serve in that function, especially one ‘Muggles’, a Black and White (the highest level of domestication among the felines).

    Old, stinky is a Siamese with liver problems and one eye. He’s 14, but in this breed, life is generally shorter. His name is Henry
    and he has always been my angel. Even with all health issues and poor sight, he still purrs all the time and protects me.
    And, of course, he has to eat every few hours and take his steroids. He’s still quite active. David and I have to clean up a
    lot in that area — Henry’s corners — but he’s the greatest companion and he tries so hard.

    CALMING SIGNALS: Anna, you probably saved my life two days ago without knowing it.
    Jack (my OTTB) was walking with me, in-hand, along the driveway of the barn (1/2 mile in length), and had stopped to nibble
    on some winter grass. Suddenly, an appendix began trotting toward the fenceline (electric) with a rather aggressive stance.
    I moved quickly to cross over the driveway to the other side, but Jack swung his hindquarters around, backed up and kicked
    out at the gelding. He caught his right hind leg in the third strand (live).

    Had I not been reading and re-reading your calming signals posts and, in fact, all your posts, I doubt I would have come through this. He panicked, and jumped, and then pulled the wire half way across the driveway. Two other people nearby just froze, and it was best they did. I knew I had to handle it myself. Jack fell sideways, but not down; he recovered and then sat down on his haunches for a moment.

    I remained completely calm, in a split second, thought: Anna…soft eyes. I softened my eyes, voice, stood close to his head, and he stopped struggling for an instant — enough time for me to plan my strategy. He was frightened, of course, but he followed my lead/cues. I just said, “Jack, you are all right, you are all right, stay quiet.” He just stopped and quietened down long enough for me to stand by his side, at a safe distance. I said, “Pick Up!” This is his cue to pick up a back leg for hoof cleaning.

    Fortunately, he picked up the RH and the line separated and snapped back into its place in the fence line. We have walked here for two years, all the way down and back as our daily one miler, in addition to 30 minutes of ground work. He doesn’t like the
    two horses in that pasture, so I am taking a new path now, alongside three ponies with whom he gets along, and his favorite mare.

    I have no idea how I managed to stay calm, other than that it was almost resignation, feeling there would be a bad injury
    All he received was a 2″ superficial scrape where the wire had removed a little hair. Once the line popped out, he was
    immediately calm — he exhaled, softened, lowered his head and walked off quietly.

    I believe that in this emergency, he fully trusted me. And, he had all his attention on me — as I thought,
    “Anna, calming signals.” I gave him plenty of loose lead at the head — that was critical. He never swung around, always
    kept his head toward me the entire time.

    Repetition of Anna’s training and advice…it is priceless. Thank you, Thank you, a thousand times, Anna. This could
    have turned out badly for both of us. It also reinforces the importance of groundwork. Several people at the barn
    never do groundwork with their horses, they ride and leave. (I do not mean running them in circles on a lunge line.)

    Mostly, we use the arena, but walking out is also important. In 11 years, I have never had a problem, other than a
    minor jump, here and there.

    All forces came to help: Invisible forces, Anna, and, finally, a Thoroughbred who has learned to trust his owner.

    Within five minutes, he had forgotten all about it, and settled in to grazing quietly. They are magnificent animals.


  7. Like Kathy commented, I, too, am always amazed by the “truth and beauty” of your writing. You make it seem easy, but we know it is not and you’ve earned your accolades by years of consistent hard work.

    It’s accurate that I had a dog before I had a horse. Sweet little chihuahua Mitzi… well, sweet and loyal with me, and fierce with people who might appear as a threat to my well being. . Her warm presence in my bed and in my life got me through some tough childhood times. Even my grandmother, who really didn’t care for dogs, fell in love with her and said if a dog ever went to heaven, it would be Mitzi.

    But these days I am all about the cats, but perhaps someday , if I live long enough, I will have another dog. This is a light and fabulous essay, Anna.

    And PS, I love the photo. You look 12 years old in it !!

    • Thanks, Sarah. Dogs and words make my life work. And three cats live here. Along with the rat pack in my studio right now. Can’t leave them out. I’m not sure Woodrow isn’t part dog. (I’m smart to know to have an animal in photos with me. They are the best cosmetic!)

  8. I’m trying to think of another writer who can say it all on subjects like this, and do it perfectly. I can’t. Thank you, so heartfelt.

  9. What a beautiful Thanksgiving tribute, Anna, to your canine colleagues. I bask in their glory. For if they make you happy (which it’s evident they do!), we who read these essays are the beneficiaries.

  10. Loved this piece! I grew up a city girl, our family in an apartment, so my dream was to some day have a dog. Horses were beyond my dreams. I am blessed to have dogs and horses and cats and birds and fish. A life way beyond my dreams. And yes the ones that bring you home are the dogs. And I must also be of a certain age, because I count my years in animals. As in, these will be my last horses. And, I might be able to have one more round of dogs & cats after these guys.

  11. For the last 12 years I’ve had, in succession, 3 Greyhounds. And they’ve been wrangled by my Cardigan. Talk about a constant agility class in my house and yard.
    Corgis rule…and we all give our thanks to you.


  12. Great essay. We are down to one old somewhat stinky Malamute and a clowder of 7 inside cats. There are outside cats and my horses. One can never do anything without supervision.

  13. …”dogs are the ocean that we swim in.” … I love that!
    I have sawm in some rough waters when a dog lick saved me…
    Thank you Anna for the sweet piece 🙂

  14. I was listening to the radio the other day and heard the lyric “He has more dogs than friends…” My first thought was ‘what a great line… that sounds like my dream life!’ Then I did a quick bit of mental math, and my second thought was ‘wait a minute…’

    Guess I’m already living my dream life! Thank you for a great Thanksgiving reminder.


Leave a Comment