The Legend of “Shoebox” Millie and her 17 children


My grandmother is legend.  My father is one of seventeen children!  This is not an exaggeration.  And they all came from the same man and woman…


My grandparents: Mildred and Sherman Stevens


I call them Grandpa and Grammy.  I come from what any person, people-group or culture on earth would call a “large” family.

This post will be a more personal look into my Stevens family legacy and (of course) beneficial info about dogs and canine behavior.

Dogs also tend to be from large families.  Some people call them packs.  They live in large social groups.  Whenever a dog is having a problem behaviorally they will manifesting a problem socially.  It can always be traced to how they interact with the owners, the other animals in the home, and, of course, the neighboring animals or people in the environment.  Social behavior is always the key.  Is the dog using “cut-off” or “calming signals?”  Or is the dog presenting more fight/flight behaviors and habits of over-excitement?

Personally speaking, I find it humorous and even bordering on the ridiculous when a mom or a dad freaks out because they are having trouble dealing with their couple of kids.  Many parents jokingly, and often seriously, complain or act as if it is so extremely tough dealing with a couple of playful kids (I’ve fallen into this category too, occasionally- I think we all do from time to time)  But if you can imagine what my grandfather and grandmother had to deal with for a moment and then adjust your whining attitude, shut up and take the time to go play with your kid I’m sure you’d have a much better day and I know for certain you’d be a better parent!

Our children are only young and wanting our attention for a little while.  Then they become teens and, like a common criminal, don’t want any measure of attention drawn to their covert activities excepting the attention it takes for us to read the “KEEP OUT” sign on their door.   I’m sure if more of today’s parents could walk in my grandparents shoes for a week or two they would grow leaps and bounds in the masterful parenting category.

On the subject of parenting, canines are highly respected in the world of science.  The family group is very patient but still firm as many contribute to raise the pups into adulthood.  Sociability and calmness are key.  They are taught the rules of social spacing and body language, how to play, how to calm down if the older canine says to calm down, self control of their energy levels, how to hunt and eat, what is and isn’t theirs to claim, how to touch and be touched -smell and be smelled and, of course, many other things but most importantly how to survive by living together peaceably.

When people talk of “Alpha dogs” they usually misrepresent them and talk of domination.  The true alphas are patient yet firm parents who spend their lives raising pups into balanced adults.  They are fantastic peacemakers.


A couple of true Alphas in this life – they work for the benefit of others and know how to run a successful team!


I have always joked that after having seven or eight children I’m sure it’s just as easy to deal with seventeen because you can just delegate more responsibility to the older ones.  Make them your workers so to speak. A good leader always attempts to multiply himself.  This theory of mine would only work though if you did a good job raising the older ones! So don’t start cranking out the kids just yet.

The average litter of a dog is six pups.  Obviously this varies based on health, age, breed (size) but it averages out to around six.  That’s a family of eight.  Not as big as my dad’s family but still not too shabby, especially when you consider that (in the wild) some of the previous years siblings stay with the parents and become “uncles” and “aunts” for the new pups.

My father and his many siblings (and my grandparents) were all very athletic.  They all excelled in sports.  This came from natural talent, of course, but I also believe a couple other factors helped to develop the natural athleticism.  One reason was that they had enough brothers and sisters as there are players in most organized sports!  They could literally play a full court game of basketball (5 on 5) and still have subs left on the bench.  Another factor was that there wasn’t a ton of money to go around and sports generally are cheap (especially when the whole team lives together!)  Combine these reasons with a time when kids weren’t morbidly obese, addicted and indoctrinated all day by TV or computers, or had ridiculous phones glued to their faces but instead spent actual time outside and you can see a recipe for making better athletes.


My dog Rambo leaps for the Frisbee!  How’s this pic for capturing a canine athlete in action?

Dogs are athletic.  Plenty of dogs can run at the average speed of 32 miles per hour!  Some can run faster, Greyhounds can do 45 mph!  Dogs can leap, spin, and dance with the best of them.  If trained properly and the body type or breed of the dog allows many dogs can learn to rock climb, jump and scale over very high walls, wrestle larger creatures/people to the ground, herd much larger numbers of animals successfully, leap off docks at incredible distances, make amazing, flipping and leaping catches of balls, toys and Frisbees, and, if socialized, dogs even handicap their wrestling or play to be able to play at lower energy levels and with much smaller or weaker individuals. They are excellent athletes and the number one (land) endurance athlete on earth!

All my family loves to joke and fool around.  We are quick-witted and can be brutally honest.  Little to nothing is sacred.  A “tough skin” comes with the territory.  There are little to no brats like you may find in a very small family.  The emphasis was not on “That’s my toy!” or other material things but instead on getting along and playing with each other.

A famous and textbook brat, Veruca, wants things her way all the time.  Typical of an imbalanced dog but naturally (out in the wild) very rare and un-canine like.

I recall my dad laughing as he told us a story when he was little………..

At Christmas time the siblings would sometimes wrap up some of their old items and give them as gifts to their brothers and sisters.  Eventually my Grandparents were forced to call a halt to that method of gift-giving after a few jokers started wrapping up their old, used underwear.  I can just hear Bing Crosby or Andy Williams singing a lovely carol about that!


My dad is the big lad making the goofy face next to the Christmas tree

Anyway, the point I’m making is that play and teamwork was actually necessary.  The sheer large numbers of beings living that closely together calls for cooperation.  And playing, whether some sport or making fun of each other or someone else, can and does function as a sort of stress reliever.

In canines this method is used often.  It is used by the wolf packs Alphas and by the Omega.  The Omega, instead of being a sniveling weakling like the traditionally propagated beliefs, are in reality, more like the class clowns and are experts at relieving tension.  The idea is – “Chase me, chew me, nip me, just don’t seriously fight and injure or kill one another.”

Wolves and dogs should all be specialists at tension relief and have what are called, “cut-off” or ,”calming signals.”  These signals are used constantly in the dog language and are what allow for pack living.  The Alphas are fantastic teachers and peace keepers who use these signals readily.  These are what set the canine apart from many other solitary predators.

Stevens Family Reunion…


Stevensfest 2011

Just some of the family (many could not make it)

Just some of the tribe (many could not make it)

We had a Stevens Family Reunion a couple years back.  I think there has only been three or four official reunions over the years due to the large numbers it’s hard getting folks all together in one spot at one time. It was so great to spend time with the family.  We played our instruments, played sports, told stories and jokes, explored New Hampshire and reconnected.  My wife, Amalia, commented to me about how marvelously everyone got a long and how there was no drama.  I think that is an interesting point coming from someone who wasn’t born into the family.  She noticed the difference of how to function in a giant family.  Almost a selflessness that each individual shows to or for the benefit of the group.

My Grandparents, Parents, and Siblings and our spouses and kids (2011)

My grandparents, parents, and siblings and our spouses and kids (2011)  I’m the devilishly handsome bloke on the right (near the gorgeous brunettes: my wife and daughter)

The StevensFamJam    I'm on the mandolin.

Impromptu Stevens Jam on the beach 
I’m on the mandolin (near center of pic).  Loved every second of jamming with the pack.

Being part of a team and being playful and athletic is a big part of the Stevens family…possibly even a survival tactic.  Very similar to dogs.  All intelligent animals play and dogs are masters of it (see my post “Slugs Do Not Play. Worms Do Not Play” and check out my Five steps for Perfecting Play in your pooch!)  In order for group play to occur there has to be some level of control.  Human example: If you smack someone in basketball a foul is called.  Canine example:  If a young dog jumps inappropriately on an older dog that older dog will “call a foul” …with a bite if need be.

Living in packs also causes competition and there are few people I’ve met in life more competitive than the members of the Stevens pack.  We want to win.  Dogs also want to win.  Winning means surviving and that was passed down to dogs from their great, great, great, (et cetera), grandparents, the wolves.  This is also one big reason why dogs are master manipulators and it is second nature for many dogs to attempt to one-up their owner to get their own way.  The dog will clearly communicate what it wants and it is up to us to agree with the behavior or to disagree.


“Shoebox Millie” Stevens in her old seat at the church they used run (my Grandpa Sherm was the pastor) in an extremely small town in New Hampshire.

Anyway…I hope this post gave some of you my clients and followers a look into my family/personal life and sort of answered the commonly asked question of how or why I’m so good at dog behavioral rehab and training…maybe…I just come from a family who are more like dogs?  And coming from me… that’s a high compliment.


One of my grandmother’s autographed pics from when she used to sing on the radio


–This post was dedicated to the passing of a Legend.  My sweet Grammy “Shoebox” Millie, born only 2 pounds, the doctors thought she wouldn’t survive, did she prove them wrong!  When Millie was an infant her mother had to keep her warm in a shoe box in the stove!  She went on to have 17 children and many, many grand-kids and great-grand-kids.  A mother of many, a world traveler and missionary, talented (she used to sing and play on the radio) humorous, and kind, a selfless woman who left an amazing legacy.

My legendary Grandmother “Shoebox Millie” weighed only 2lbs at birth. Her mother kept her warm by placing her inside a shoe box and in their stove!  She went on to live an amazing life and had 17 children (and many, many more grandchildren and great grandchildren!

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.


Grammy, you left this earth with a legacy of love and humor and now heaven is much richer.  I love you.

And love to all my many Stevens relatives out there and to the best Parents and Grandparents a guy could ever wish for.

Stevens Strong

“With Smiles,”


(If you liked this article and are interested in more on dog behavior and human behavior order my HOT Listed book, Dog Myths!  It will open your mind to an entirely new and unique world that most trainers and behaviorists miss!)

Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to BITE You! by Garrett Stevens