When the student is ready the teacher appears…Buddhist proverb

Steve Duno and Flavio, Lou's last canine friend and "student"

In his book, Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Story of Lou (St. Martin’s Press) , Seattle-based pet behaviorist and author, Steve Duno, is the student, ready to receive the lessons of a pup he rescued from a Northern California hillside.

Nearly six-months old and flea infested, why this dog Steve came to call Lou chose to present himself to a total stranger while his pack of siblings retreated back to the wild remains a mystery.  Little did Steve know just how much this dog would change the course of his life.

Last Dog on the Hill tells the moving story of a special bond between a man and his dog.  Together Lou and Steve, a former school teacher, tutored the kid of celebrities in Los Angeles, apprehended armed robbers and a rapist and worked as a team to rehabilitate dogs just a step away from death row due to behavioral issues caused primarily by their owner’s ignorance.

With his movie star looks, and soulful eyes, Lou had a profound effect on all he met during the course of his 16-year life. By choosing to be rescued by Steve off that California hilltop, Lou, a shepherd-Rottweiler mix claimed his heritage as a member of the Working Group, and his role as one of man’s best friends forever.  Although no longer with us, Lou’s lessons continue to teach through the writings of his loyal guardian, Steve.

Do you think some people have a way with animals?

 I think that certain people are “natural” pet owners- they seem to have an innate rapport with dogs and/or cats.  I wrote about that in my books Be the Dog and Be the Cat.  They are able to see things from the pets POV, and therefore make great owners.  In my case, I had an idea of what pet ownership might be, from Lassie and Old Yeller and Rin Tin Tin…  but the reality was a bit different. 

As a young boy without pets of your own, how did you get your pet fix?

Pet fix?  I had a cranky parakeet named Chipper, who’d strafe the room trying to poke your eyes out.  And I read dog books and watched Lassie.

Who influenced you in the pet industry, did you have any role models?

 Hmm.  I didn’t know of any trainers other than Rudd Weatherwax, the owner of Lassie.  He got those collies to do some cool things.  When I was a kid I didn’t think you could make a living from dogs, unless you were a sheep herder…

Do you think we should encourage young people to explore careers in the pet-industry?

 Careers in the dog field are, well, somewhat hard to get into.  To be a vet takes years of school and money; and learning to train well takes years of hard work.  Kennel work is tough, as is daycare work.  Many dog walkers do make some good coin though.  But sure, I guess that kids should know that pets can provide not only companionship, but a living as well.

Do you think there are other potential Lous out there?

Sure I do…  but it takes the right dog.  Perfect genes; most dogs wouldn’t have the goods.  The dog has to be fairly strong, big, confident, sociable yet dominant and patient…  not easy to find a dog like that.  Lou was a natural; I didn’t teach him to do it.  He just knew.  Lou was a natural teacher with kids.  They love dogs, provided the dogs are kind, tolerant, gentle.  Dogs are natural teaching tools; how can you beat the lure of a good dog?

Do you think all dog owners need to seek out the services of a professional dog trainer?

 I do not think everyone needs professional help with a puppy or dog; many are pretty competent.  Years ago people were all good at it, as dogs were vital workers in the family/farm etc.  You had to know canine behavior back then.  Today though too many people treat dogs like trust fund babies and not dogs.  They do not know dogs anymore.  Those people need help!  A few classes in the beginning can work wonders for them.

What should a dog owner look for when choosing a trainer?

Pick a trainer who you like.  Watch them work a dog; does the dog respond to them, are they confident?  Authoritative yet inspiring?  Look for a trainer who emulates your third grade school teacher; loving yet confident and strong- someone with gentle power.

What about Lou’s littermates that chose to go down the other side of that hill?

 Oh sure- Lou had seven or eight littermates, but they were all skittish and flighty.  I saw them all- similar looks to Lou.  He was the only one willing to interact.  The others would have not been good pets I think…

You have written several “how to” books, was the writing of this more personal work very different for you?

Memoir form was easy for me, as I have a long history of writing fiction in addition to prescriptive non-fiction.  It was a relief in a way.

How do you find the promotional side of the book business?

Hmm.  I like meeting people on the road, and talking about the book.  But the responsibility to promotions is a heavy load sometimes; I’m a better writer than a promoter.  Writers are by nature introspective people- to expect them to also be salespeople is hard for many.  But I am a ham, so…  traveling can also be very tiring.  and road food…  oh the road food.

Thanks to Steve (and Lou) for sharing their story during this 82nd observance of National Dog Week.

To learn more about Last Dog on the Hill and Steve visit these sites:

www.steveduno.com

www.moderndogmagazine.com

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