Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes

(updated Nov. 2015)

A memoir


On sale now!

NIEAseal-2014-Winner-200 (1)Best-Book-WINNER2015-gold
Bark and Lunge has received three national book awards:

Indie Excellence Award and Sponsor’s Choice Award, the USA Best Book Award, and a Gold Medal and 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite.

Buy the eBook from Amazon, Kobo, Nook, or Google Play.

Buy the paperback from IndieBoundAmazon or Barnes and Noble. Your local bookstore can order it for you too.


Looking ridiculous doesn’t make us unconventional

The theme for this month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Unconventional Training.

Even though I look strange squealing “cheesy” at my dog when strangers walk, run, ride, or roll past us, I don’t think my String Cheese Method is unconventional at all. Reward-based training, to me, is the most basic, obvious method of training anyone to do anything.

And yet, we still see prong collars and shock collars and people who think screaming at a stressed dog will de-escalate the situation.

I just got back from another flawless walk with my two German shepherds. For more than a year, I’ve had Leo’s leash reactivity fairly under control. We manage, we train. Two weeks ago, I would have said, “Leo does really well on walks when I can see the triggers coming. Of course, he’ll still bark if a bike or a jogger comes out of nowhere.”

Until last week when a jogger zipped around a corner at us. And I was doing the worst thing ever. I was distracted by Pokémon Go. (Shout out to ZoePhee for finding a way to use Pokémon to aid in training, not distract from it!) Fortunately, Leo was also distracted … by peeing. I saw the jogger before Leo did and I said Cheesy and Leo didn’t bark! It was glorious.

On tonight’s walk, he saw a couple of bicycles, and not only did he not bark, he didn’t even seem stressed.

At the risk of repeating myself: Reward-based training works.

If only there were a training guide to help people with reactive dogs who have been getting the wrong memos.

Oh, wait! There is!


Trainer Annie Phenix’s best-selling book The Midnight Dog Walkers has answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. As soon as I heard the title and saw the cover, I knew this was the book I needed when I struggled with my first reactive dog Isis.

My book about her, Bark and Lunge, is the story of what happens when owners follow “conventional” (old-fashioned) training methods. Now that The Midnight Dog Walkers exists, my greatest wish is that positive, reward-based training becomes the obvious, conventional solution for reactive dogs and their people.

The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are welcome. Linky List open through Sunday.

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Dog Park Art

While I’ve been trying to convince the Internet that saying Police Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter is racist, and explaining that it’s not helpful to try to be inclusive by saying All Lives Matter, Rob has been creating Dog Park Art.

Kiddie-pool Leo

Kiddie-pool Leo (apparently Leo signed this one)



Sparkle Pups

Sparkle Pups

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Comfort a frightened dog


Have you ever heard the ridiculousness that you’re not supposed to comfort a scared dog, because it will reinforce the fear? So not true.

From 4PawsUniversityFear is an emotion. Emotions are involuntary responses. 
Reinforcement refers to an increase in behavior. Behaviors are voluntary responses.
Fear is something you feel. Behavior is something you do.

From Suzanne Clothier:

If fear CAN be reinforced, it’s not by having something nice happen to you while you’re feeling afraid. For example, I’m afraid of ladders. When a ladder got knocked onto my brand new car and dented it, I said, “Oh no, my fear has been reinforced.” But if you put your arm around me and said, “It’s okay. I’m not going to let the ladder hurt you or your car ever again,” that wouldn’t make me more afraid of the ladder. It would not reinforce my physiological feelings of fear.

Not to make this all about me, but I want to clarify this ladder phobia. I’m not afraid of falling off a ladder, I’m afraid of having my hands pinched in it. I’m also afraid of fireworks blowing off the hands or killing someone I know and love. I’m not scared of the sounds of the explosions, but I haaaate them. I also hate leaf blowers. Do not get me started on leaf blowers.

I’m noise-averse, not noise-phobic.

Many dogs are noise-phobic.

Somehow, despite Leo’s barrier frustration and Mia’s anxiety, I lucked out when it came to noise phobia. Fireworks bother me more than they bother the dogs. I wish people didn’t set them off themselves. Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals, save your fingers, and allow people with fearful dogs to find a safe place away from those shows.

This year on the 4th, I was in an airplane from Portland to Bellingham between 10-11 pm. I could see blasts of light over one in every ten houses or so. It was incredible. I enjoyed it because I couldn’t hear them, but I felt bad for every dog between those two cities. These silent fireworks seem promising, but listen to the video – they still make noise when shot off.

Rob’s dad stayed with the dogs until we got home, “because of the fireworks,” but they couldn’t have cared less. I let them out in the backyard when I got home, and we could actually see fireworks over the roofs of our neighbors’ houses (which, btw is totally illegal), and the dogs were, like, “Whatever.” I told them how brave they were.

This post, rambling though it may be, is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Read PuppyLeaks’ post for a more thoughtful discussion about Comforting a Fearful Dog. Then hop on over and read the others.

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Never Drink Alone

Mia and Rob and beer

Mia’s limp is getting better. Thanks for all the well-wishes last week. Rob felt bad that Leo was getting to go to the park without her, so he took her out for a beer. Maybe that explains why she’s been wobbling when she walks. Too bad Rob wasn’t wearing his Hundhaus Hefeweizen shirt.

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Queen Mia B

Queen Mia

Photo by Rob

The B stands for Bear. Mia Bear.

I’m starting to feel like a senior dog blogger, but maybe that’s how things are going to be now that she’s 12(ish). She started limping severely the other day. So wobbly she wasn’t seeming to put any weight on her rear left leg. Two people I told this to said, “That happened to my dog/cat. It was cancer.”


Anyway, had her checked out today. No sign it’s cancer or a torn anything. We’re mixing up her meds and letting her rest and I expect she’ll be feeling better very soon!

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Writing outside with wifi and dogs



I am so close to finishing my novel, Fight Like a Lady. And by finishing, I mean writing an ending so I can go back and revise the hell out of the beginning and middle. The climactic scene involves a gun, so you can imagine how much I felt like working on it when I heard the news Sunday morning about the largest mass shooting in recent American history.

love is love

Found this on FB. Would love to give credit if I knew who made it.

For the record, I am an LGBTQ ally. And I support, with all my heart and soul, a ban on assault rifles. Truly, I hate all guns and my original plan was for my fictional world to have no firearms at all. Or cigarettes. But I changed my mind.

I would love to tell you I was banging out my ending in these awesome pictures Rob took of me in the backyard on Sunday. The ugly truth is that I’m doing research, looking at grisly photos of gunshot wounds, feeling rather disgusted by the combination of search terms I’m typing into Google.

At least I got to do it someplace beautiful with creatures I love by my side.


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Facing adversity with positive training and string cheese

Lovely Leo
Leo’s leash-reactivity has been so well controlled that I decided to increase the criteria with a more challenging walk.

Just kidding. We accidentally encountered unexpected triggers because we went later than usual.

We walk this route a couple of times a week, and it involves passing some sports stadiums. There are often games on these fields, but not usually on all of them at once. With members of the public attending. This evening, people had parked their cars along the sidewalk and were walking toward the entrance to the stadium in greater numbers than we’ve seen.

I successfully cheese-cheesed Leo from barking at the pedestrians, until one of them, apparently having forgotten something, turned and ran back toward his car. I saw him do it, but couldn’t get far enough away, so Leo barked and lunged. The ball-capped dude looked very apologetic and actually said he was sorry, so either he recognized that running at a German shepherd was not the best idea, or he was trying to get on my good side so I wouldn’t let my dog bite him.

At that point, we moved onto the grass in front of a fence around an apartment complex, to create some distance between ourselves and the pedestrians. The grass feels like a public space, even though I guess it’s not. My dogs shit here all the time. I pick it up every. single. time. But I have seen other dogs’ poop left behind there before. Which probably explains what happened next.

An old dude comes out of the complex and walks toward us. I’m strategizing the best plan of escape when he growls, “Get your dogs off the property.”

Okay, but I can’t because there’s nowhere for us to go that won’t lead to barking and lunging. I don’t say that, just turn and walk the other way, remaining on the grass until it’s safe to go back to the sidewalk. He mutters a couple of other things at me.

And Leo did not react! He only barked at the guy who ran directly at him, and only a little, and even that guy forgave him!

Honestly, I’m comfortable with where we’re at. I manage Leo pretty damn well. He doesn’t bark and lunge a lot, and when he does, I’m prepared, and I get over it. But that old guy bothered me.

Obviously, we couldn’t continue on our usual route, so I did something unorthodox and took them them down a wooded trail I’ve never been on before because I have no idea where it leads. What if joggers pass? Or bicycles? Couldn’t be any worse than the current state of our usual path.

We saw no one, and it was lovely, and I contemplated walking there again someday. We cut through the woods to a paved path that led back up to where I’d parked. A couple of bicycle cops looped around below me, and I had a flash of worry that the old guy had called the cops on the trespassing German shepherds.

As the cops started pedaling up toward us, I said, “My dog barks at bicycles, so . . .” And they kind of nodded, like, whatever. While they passed, I cheesed-cheesed him to a ridiculous degree, adding praise like, “I know! This is stressful! You’re doing so well!”

And. He. Did. Not. Bark.

Which would be a terrific happy ending, except then a kid whizzed downhill toward us on his bike, and I couldn’t get Leo cheesed fast enough to keep him from barking.

Oh, well. Two out of three ain’t bad.

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This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hophosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. The Linky Link will be open through Sunday.

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