The power of a photo

This post is going to be even less Wordless than usual, but it speaks to the power of a single photo.

This one:

Lovely Linda

Since I started volunteering at an animal shelter, I’ve deliberately not plastered “sad dog” photos all over Facebook. I take dogs on walks and try to get photos of them with my phone that show how fun it would be to bring them home. I don’t like to see sad pictures in my feed and didn’t think anyone else would either. I also felt like people would get tired of seeing these pictures and either tune them out, unfriend or block me.

Last week, I walked two dogs who had been returned to the shelter after living in homes for months. I passed Linda, the German shepherd above, looking so lonesome. Partial as I am to shepherds, I went into her kennel to say hello. She wouldn’t even let me pet her. I sat in the corner hoping she would come over to me. She didn’t, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone.

Later, I posted the picture of one of the returned dogs and almost didn’t post the one of Linda, because it violates my self-imposed rule: Happy dogs only!

But she just broke my heart. She had been surrendered by her owner, who got her as a puppy from a friend, because he was moving and couldn’t take her. She’s only 10 months old.

Of course I don’t know the whole story, and life is unpredictable … but people should not get dogs when they don’t know where they’re going to be in 10 months. The explanation sounds so casual, too. “Got her from a friend.” Who knows? Maybe his friend is the world’s most reputable breeder, but it’s unconscionable for a purebred German shepherd puppy to wind up in a shelter. Any purebred puppy really. If we’re making these dogs on purpose, let’s ensure they have homes to live in.

Plus, she’d already had at least one bad experience, so she is afraid of other dogs, the surrendering party reported. Poorly socialized and now isolated in a kennel.

I posted the picture because I knew someone would want a young shepherd like her.

I was right. The photo came as close as anything I’ve ever posted to “going viral.” I shared with a local German shepherd rescue, the Humane Society reposted it, and a writer for wrote about it. Hundreds of people shared and commented and wanted to adopt Linda. People in Montana and New York asked if she could be transported. (No, but did it occur to you to contact your local animal shelter? They have dogs.)

The shelter got so much interest they had to stop taking applications. They selected a wonderful home for Linda.

What’s the message here? I’ve been posting pictures for a year and this is the first time this has happened. Do people just like German shepherds better than other breeds? Is it because she’s young? Or because the photo tugged on people’s heartstrings?

I think it’s a combination. Being a purebred puppy helped Linda’s case, and the sadness of the photo spoke to people. I was reminded of hearing Joanne McGonagle of The Tiniest Tiger speak at last year’s BarkWorld:

Putting a Face on Your Message: This session discusses the power of one face and how a single image will make your message stick with your readers. You will gain an understanding of psychic numbing and how to avoid turning off your readers when discussing everything from animal adoption to pressing animal welfare issues. You will learn why focusing on positive results and giving a message of hope is important if you want to touch the heart of your reader and motivate them to take action. 

I got that: Psychic Numbing. If I’d posted sad photos of every dog at the shelter, you might have missed Linda. If I’d posted links to every German shepherd rescue in the country, people would think, Oh, there’s too many. We can’t save them all. 

The last part of the blurb is what had me confused. I held back from posting sad pictures because I didn’t want to turn off my audience. But maybe when there’s just one sad dog, people can hold onto hope. If we can find a home for that one sad dog, the problem is not insurmountable.

The next day, Linda had a flood of visitors, and although I wasn’t there, here she is after being plied with hot dogs.

Visiting day

And here’s Abby, a small chocolate lab mix who was brought back to the shelter after several months. Through no fault of her own, she was placed in the wrong home for her. She’s a little reactive to other dogs on leash, but absolutely wonderful to walk, knows what to do with a tennis ball, gives nice kisses, and has a behaviorist’s seal of approval. She deserves another chance.


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Lucky and Ty find families

Two of my long-suffering buddies at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley have been adopted! Lucky, as in L is for Lucky, and Ty, seen here in this photo by Tracey Salazar.


Tracey Salazar Photography

Salazar and another photographer, Lara Grauer, are working with The Dugan Foundation and Pawsitive Alliance to spread the word about dogs who keep getting overlooked in shelters. Both Lucky and Ty were featured recently, and both were adopted within days!

Lucky and Ty also were both sponsored in a newspaper ad that ran after the Humane Society’s Black Cat Auction. At the fundraiser, there were keychains with pictures of all the adoptable dogs and cats for sponsors to choose from. I was torn between Lucky and Ty, and almost went with Lucky, because of his disadvantage as a pit bull type dog, but then I overheard a man say he was looking especially for a pit bull to sponsor, so I handed him Lucky’s keychain and sponsored Ty myself.

2015-04-18 19.29.08

What this tells me is that exposure gets dogs adopted. And great photos are essential. However Ty and Lucky’s new families came to find them … WHOO-HOO!!

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What’s so great about being positive anyway?

This month’s Positive Training Blog Hop theme is reviews. Product reviews actually, but I’m going to review myself instead. Or rather, my effort to use All-Positive language during April’s A to Z Challenge.

It wasn’t that hard to come up with topics for each letter… what was hard was expressing my point of view without using any negative language.

Look at that last sentence. Based on my own rules, I couldn’t use “wasn’t,” “hard,” “without,” or “negative.” I found ways to work around words that either conveyed something bad (“hard”) or focused on what was being taken away, rather than what was being given (“without”). At least I hope I did. It’s possible I slipped up. Let me know if you catch anything.

Even when one has an optimistic, upbeat attitude, one tends to use a lot of these words. I had to work last weekend at an event where some Karelian bear dog handlers demonstrated how the dogs train bears to leave people alone. This saves bears’ lives because they don’t have to be euthanized. Awesome, right? My Instagram post read, Not hard to talk me into working on a Saturday if dogs will be there. I could have written Easy to talk me into working on a Saturday… but I didn’t.

It’s interesting to realize how often we frame our experiences by talking about what something isn’t, instead of what it is.

What does this have to do with dog training? I think you know.

Positive training is the best! But we spend a lot of time talking about what it isn’t. We don’t use aversive methods. We don’t use punishment… except when we do.

I read up on the quadrants of operant conditioning for my Reward-based post and was reminded that negative punishment isn’t as bad as it sounds.

I couldn’t talk about it then because both of those words violated my all-positive pledge, but I’m pretty sure no puppy would live to adult doghood without some negative punishment being employed during the nipping phase. With both Isis and Leo, we thought the nipping would never end. We had scratched and bruised ankles, and Leo actually tore a few jacket sleeves by jumping up and biting our arms during walks.

I can’t even say for sure that negative punishment worked, because I kind of think you just have to wait for them to outgrow the nipping, but the only way for both you and the puppy to come out alive is to remove yourself or the puppy from the situation. Time out.

That’s negative punishment. Taking away something good (you) to decrease the repetition of a behavior (biting).

I just discovered this David the Dog Trainer in the negative punishment link above, so I haven’t full vetted him. But based on his website and the video below, I think he gets it.

This is why “reward-based” is a great way to describe my positive pet training philosophy. Read the story of how positive training helped my reactive dog Isis in my book, Bark and Lunge!

Positive TrainingThis post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Join us on the first Monday of every month to promote positive pet training and share advice and experiences. The hop is open all week long! The next hop begins June 1st with the theme of training multiple pets.

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Z is for Zen

Dogs are my Zen

Kari and Dogs

The other day I filled out some paperwork for massage therapy. It asked me what I do to relax, and I should have written Walk my dogs. Walking shelter dogs has the same effect (although I’d prefer that Mia and Leo believe they’re the only dogs with this effect on me).

See my sweatshirt in the above photo? It says Dog is my Zen. I saw it across the room at Dog Is Good‘s booth at the SoCal Pet Expo and thought, If I ever needed another gray hoodie, this is the one.


My doggies bring me so much peace and joy every single day. I love coming home to their sweet faces and waking up to them each morning.

There’s ample scientific proof that dogs (and cats, too, I guess) are good for you:

Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.

From WebMD:

Along with treatment, pets can help some people with mild to moderate depression feel better. … “Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance,” Cook says. It will remind you that you are capable – that you can do more than you might think.

My favorite evidence, from HelpGuide:

Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with dogs, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time.

Need I say more?

We did it! Thanks for joining me on my All Positive A to Z Challenge. I used all positive language in my posts in honor of my book, Bark and Lunge, about how positive training helped my reactive dog Isis. At least I hope I did. Have a look at all 26 posts to see if I slipped up anywhere, and let me know!


Also, please join me for the Thursday Barks and Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog.

Heart Like a Dog

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Y is for Yes!

Pictures of Isis that make me want to shout, “Yes!”

Isis did all these tricks because she wanted to, though I’m sure our affirmations reinforced her habits.

“Yes!” is a marker word of choice that can be used in place of a clicker.

At first, I was skeptical about clicker training. Who wants to hold something else in her hand in addition to the leash and the poop bag? (This was pre-PoopPac.)

The handling method I used to finally get Isis to walk nicely on a leash involved a leash with two points of contact, a Halti, harness, treats, and a clicker. Somehow I managed this even though the gear actually requires four hands.

Clickers are ideal, because as Karen Pryor writes: “It means one thing only: a reward is coming because of what you did when you heard the click.” However, similar results can be achieved with a marker word as long as it’s timed well and distinct to the dog.

Pryor adds: “You can use a word—obedience instructors like the word yes—and it will work a lot better than treats alone.” (She goes on to say clickers are better. She’s a purist.)

Kikopup explains Clicker Training:

We’re closing in on the finish line! For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Read the story of how positive training helped my reactive dog Isis in my book, Bark and Lunge!


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X is for Xerxes

Since my Isis post has me on one kind of watchlist, an alternate X is Xenu, to get me on another. Both make great dog names, right?

While I had Isis’s name in mind before we met her, Rob and I spent more than a week deliberating on what to call Leo.

Since Isis is an Egyptian goddess, we went through seemingly every name from Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Hindu mythology. Also, superhero names. I’m pretty sure I offered up Leo when I ran through astrological names. (Aries is another good one).

Rob came up with Leonidas from the movie 300, Leo for short. Therefore, Xerxes is the obvious choice for our next dog, right?

Can you believe that little dude is now five years old and 103 pounds??

That's Leo on the right, and a runner-up on my lap. Let's call that one Xerxes.

That’s Leo on the right. The runner-up on my lap, let’s call him Xerxes.

For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Read the story of how positive training helped my reactive dog Isis in my book, Bark and Lunge!


W is for Window Film

This one’s for the mailman.

While we appreciate Leo’s gifts as a guard dog, sometimes the view outside the front windows is overstimulating. I considered his window reactivity a minor concern, but delivery men might tell you a different story.

Blinds obscure the view from the outside, but clever dogs are able to peek between, chew, and paw the slats. As a result, one of our windows has been bare of blinds for quite a while now, offering a clear view in and out.

I’d heard window film suggested for reactive dogs, to alleviate the stress of witnessing all the activity outside, and finally was motivated to put some up after seeing a lovely bamboo pattern on a glass door at my craniosacral therapist’s. It totally goes with our Asian-inspired home decor.

I bought the bamboo film online, along with an application kit. It was easy to apply, and has stayed up for weeks. I love the way light comes through, and look how chill Leo looks in these photos. That was immediately after I put it up, and all I asked for was a sit.

He still barks, of course, but at a farther distance from the window. Much like the calming cap, the intent is to filter out the distractions somewhat, allowing him to relax more.

For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Read the story of how positive training helped my reactive dog Isis in my book, Bark and Lunge!


Monday Mischief

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