Cassie is a smart dog. She’s like that really smart kid in school who starts acting up because he’s already reading 4 grade levels ahead of everyone else. So with Cassie I practice a line of training called, Nothing in Life is Free. I use it for everything from going in and out of doors, putting on leashes, saying good morning while I’m still in bed but most of all, at feeding time.

Cassie loves her food but I don’t just put her food in the bowl and walk away. That would be too easy. Sometimes I start off slowly using a game similar to the “shell game” where I put a few pieces of food under some, but not, all of the bones. First she has to “find it” by smell, then she has to lift the top off in order to get to her food.

But usually dinner time is about Buster and Leo. Buster is on the left and Leo is on the right. (I didn’t name them that, that’s what they’re called. The Buster cube and Leo.) Before she can have breakfast or dinner the first thing Cassie has to do is find wherever she has left Buster and Leo. She knows “find it” and she knows their names so I have her find Buster and tell me. She puts her paw on it and barks. Then I pick it up. Same thing with Leo. Once I put her food in them I put them on the floor and make her wait.

Cassie’s release word is “danke” so before she can eat I’m saying things like wonka, fonka, bonka. I do a bunch of fake words and then throw in the real one. She pounces on Buster first and proceeds to roll him around the room until she gets all the food out. There’s a bit of a maze inside Buster and she has to keep rolling it until the food works its way up to the top and out of the hole. Leo works a little differently. The holes are smaller and rolling doesn’t work. She has to pick it up and throw it down to get a few pieces of kibble out.

Doing this has stretched her eating time from three minutes when she would just inhale everything in her bowl to about twenty minutes of working the puzzles to get the food out. It challenges her brain and she realizes that if she wants to eat, she’s going to have to work for it.

Writing isn’t easy. Sometimes you just have to be patient. You need to sit and wait, ignoring all the wrong words until the right words come along. Sometimes you know what you want to write about but you can’t find the right vehicle for the story. You have to sniff around until you find it. Sometimes getting the right words down in the right way is like working those pieces of food out of the Buster cube. You turn them over and over again and only a few of the right words fall out but it’s enough to keep you going. Sometimes the story fights you every step of the way until you want to throw it across the room. And maybe that’s what you need to do, get mad at it because if you’re mad, you’ve got your emotions involved and if you’ve got your emotions involved the story is going to reward you. Eventually.

There’s no quick and easy path to writing a book or getting published or staying published. It all takes time.

Nothing in life is free. Not for dogs. Not for writers.