Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes

(updated Sept. 2015)

A memoir


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Indie Excellence

Bark and Lunge received a 2015 Indie Excellence Award and was selected for the Sponsor’s Choice Award. It also won a Gold Medal and a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite.

The Dog Knight Rises

Last weekend I fulfilled a longtime dream… I dressed Leo in a Batman costume. I was inspired by Super Cooper’s Instagram page. The costume from Petsmart is a 2XL and it’s a little snug. Maybe after a couple of photoshoots, I’ll cut off the cape for Leo to wear separately and sew the Bat symbol from the front onto his ThunderCap.

We took the Caped Crusader (and his sister, who doesn’t care for costumes) to the Dog Days of Summer event to raise money for the Whatcom Humane Society. He impressed us by jumping in the bobbing-for-tennis-ball tank. But then he had trouble getting out. Kind of an embarrassing moment for the Dark Knight.

If you’re wondering about the sticker on Leo’s head, it’s a “fifth paw” bindi from Tails-a-Wagging. They give them out every year and give a prize weeks later to the dog who keeps it on the longest. Both our dogs’ bindis fell off by this morning.

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Eight moments of Zen

Thanks, Forest Poodles, for inviting me to share eight photos of happiness. Here they are, my eight moments of Zen.

Reading with my pups

This is pretty much my perfect day. Reading on the beach with my dogs. I have it as the cover photo on my Facebook page, on a sticker on the back of my iPhone case, and printed on my business cards. No one’s asked me what book I’m reading. It’s Poser by Claire Dederer.

Isis, Summer 2010

My sunshiney Isis in the summer of 2010. She loved her pool, and her soccer ball.

Selfie with my sidekick

I take more dog selfies than I do solo selfies. Here’s one with Mia during a lunch break on a day when I took her to work. Rob had been taking her to his work more often than I was at that point, so this is me reclaiming her as my sidekick.

Snuggle Bug

This is a selfie too, although I’m pretending to be asleep. Most mornings, the dogs wait to jump on the bed until I’m in the shower. Sometimes I have to get back in bed and snuggle with them before getting on with my day. Leo is my snuggle bug.

Christmas Mia

When I was in grad school in 2001, the internet was still pretty new. The girl with the computer next to mine discovered a hilarious picture of a kitten online. Whenever things got slow or stressful, she’d bring the picture up and we’d laugh our asses off. That’s sort of how I feel about the above picture of Mia. Rob took it at his work while I was in Los Angeles for Christmas. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile.


This is Abe. I made a video of him at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley and almost cried when it resulted in his getting adopted. And almost cried again when he got sent back for barking too much. He did finally get adopted again for real.


Eight-week-old Leo, the day we brought him home, June 2010.

Isis under the dogwood

I took this photo of Isis on an October afternoon with perfect light. It was one of several awesome photos that day and I never did anything with it until my book cover designer picked it for the cover image of Bark and Lunge. She cropped it perfectly, and I’m still not tired of it, even after staring at it on the book cover, T-shirts, postcards, and banners.


Please enjoy the FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggyTo Dog with Love and My GBGV Life. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!  

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Carcass Beach gets a new name

That semi-private beach I take my dogs to … secretly I’ve been calling it Carcass Beach.

See, the first few times we went there, we found several – several – deer carcasses. This beach is near a hunting community, so my guess is that people strip the meat and hide they plan to use, and discard the carcasses on the beach. Kind of gross, but since fish carcasses provide nutrients to river systems, maybe the deer carcasses are good for salt water.

carcass-beach mia

Mia sniffs some bones that have been pretty well picked clean. No new carcasses lately.

Earlier this summer, we discovered this huge piece of driftwood, which my friend Leigh Bardugo pointed out resembles a dragon. Upon our return last week, the driftwood told me the beach’s true name.


Henceforth, we shall call this place Dragonwood Beach.


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Freedom Friday

I finally got the Freedom Harness for my doggies!


I’ve been wanting to switch from the Other brand of front-clasp anti-pull harness since that company was bought out by a company that sells aversive dog tools. But Leo was really accustomed to that harness. He doesn’t even try to pull when I walk him on it, but does pull if we use a back-clasp harness or clip the leash to his collar. The old harness doesn’t even fit that well – it hangs a little on his chest – but it’s been working.

So I was in no hurry to get Leo a new one.

Mia is pretty much perfect in every way, and is capable of walking nicely with her leash just clasped to the collar, or with a front-clasp harness, or with a back-clasp harness. Except when she doesn’t. Now and again she pulls. Usually when there’s the scent of deer in the air.

After a recent walk around Rob’s parents’ neighborhood when Mia strained against the leash the whole time, I ordered her a Freedom Harness. I had seen it on some dogs at the Pet Expos, and knew it was the one I wanted.

Mia’s is rose pink and has a coordinating 10-configuration, double-ended leash. While Mia is a candidate for no-hands leash walking (except when there’s deer in the air), she walks best with the leash fastened both to the front and back.

mia harness

When you order online, Jessica MacDonald, inventor of the Freedom Harness, asks your dog’s weight and chest girth, and pre-sizes the harness. Quite handy, because the fit is very precise. I especially love the velvety fabric of the strap that goes across the chest.

So I went ahead and ordered one for Leo in kelly green. It fits him much better than his old harness.

leo harness

The Freedom Harness is designed so that the “control loop” on the back signals to the dog to stop pulling. Since Leo is very used to having a similar loop on his chest, he pulls a little bit more with this new harness, but he’s learning.

A cool feature of the 10-configuration leash is the detachable handle. I took the dogs to a beach where I used to let them run off-leash until Leo lost his privileges. Since then, I’ve clipped a long lead to his collar. Now that I have these longer, double-ended leashes with detachable handles, I can walk the two of them together from the parking lot to the beach, by attaching one of the handles to the ends of both leashes.

tandem dogs-2


Then, I can let Mia off leash and attach the leashes together, with a handle at one end, creating a long line for Leo. If I want to let him go in the water and drag the leash, I can detach the handle so it doesn’t get wet. Genius.


Here’s Leo draggin’ his leash(es) over a piece of driftwood that looks like a dragon.

fitDogFridayPlease enjoy the FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggyTo Dog with Love and My GBGV Life. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!

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When you know better, you do better

I accidentally posted the perfect blog last week for this month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop theme: Improvements/Successes. If you haven’t read Leo vs. the Track Team, check it out after you read this one, and be sure to hop on down the Linky List of my fellow bloggers.

To continue on the theme of Improving as a Trainer, I’ll share a Maya Angelou quote that resonates with me: “You did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.” (I’ve seen several versions of this quote, and I don’t know which is her exact phrasing, but this is the one I use.)

Many of us in the Positive Pet Training world have pretty strong feelings against the use of aversives like prong collars, e-collars*, or throwing cans of pennies at our dogs. As someone who used a prong collar for a couple of years before I knew better, I’m tempted to run up to every dog wearing a prong collar that I see and tell their people what I know.

But to be honest, I’m weary of dog owners telling each other what to do. Does anyone ever change anyone’s mind? Have my fellow positive pet training blog friends ever gotten into it with someone on the other side, an aversive trainer (or as I believe they call themselves: “balanced trainers”) – and actually gotten through to them?

It’s easier to communicate with people who are like I was: uninformed. My strategy is to tell people what worked for me, and why those other methods were counterproductive for me, and hope to plant a seed. That’s why I wrote Bark and Lunge.

I spoke at a couple of Amazing Pet Expos this year, which was awesome because they have an all-positive policy. No shock collars or prong collars or electric fences sold there. Plus, I was pretty excited at the Seattle Expo that a couple of German shepherd rescues were there. And then pretty disappointed to see prong collars on their dogs.

Maybe they just need to read my book, I thought, approaching a pair walking German shepherds past my booth. I handed them a postcard for my book, explaining that it was about all the mistakes I made with my first German shepherd, and how I learned to fix them.

“Did you use a prong collar?”

“Yes, that was one of the mistakes I made. Positive reinforcement is what worked for us.”

“We don’t allow adopters to use positive reinforcement.”


“We don’t want our dogs to come back. We require people to take training classes using prong or e-collars.”

I was thrown, and kind of embarrassed. This was just a few minutes before I was scheduled to give a speech about how a prong collar messed my dog up. Was this rescue group going to think I was specifically going after them? Did they even know that the Expo has an anti-aversive stance?

Kari speaks

It went great. Most of the people pictured bought books. And then the expo rep asked me to speak a second time after the guys from that Animal Planet show Tanked skipped out early.

The rescue woman’s remark really rattled me. It is unfathomable to me that positive reinforcement is being blamed for dogs being surrendered to shelters. I can accept that there are dogs trained using aversives who turned out fine, but I haven’t heard any actual examples of dogs for whom positive training failed utterly.

It’s a scenario that just does not make sense. “Well, I tried rewarding my dog for what I wanted him to do, but I find we have a much better relationship when he does what I want because he’s trying to avoid getting a shock.”

I follow a lot of German shepherds on Instagram. The other day, one posted a video practicing a perfect recall. In the comments, the poster described how she used an e-collar, “just to get the dog’s attention.”

After a big sigh, I wondered if I should unfollow this pretty little German shepherd. Or should I speak up? Am I overreacting? Are e-collars harmless? Are they better than positive methods?

I’m grateful to this blog hop and Lauren at ZoePhee in particular for sharing Kikopup’s video about positive interrupters, reminding me of a way to get your dog’s attention without electrical stimulation.

*E-collar stands for electronic collar, or shock collar. Funny aside: On the board at the shelter where I volunteer, it said “Use e-collar if needed” next to one of the dogs. I almost had a heart attack until I figured out that they meant Elizabethan collar, as in the lampshade dogs wear after a vet visit so they don’t lick their stitches.

Positive Training

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week – please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!

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