Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes

(updated Nov. 2015)

A memoir

BarkLunge

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.

 

Our Christmas Tradition

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Every year we take the dogs to a tree farm and pose in front of our tree before Rob cuts it down. Following on my earlier post this week, Leo continues to impress me. He sat down, even lay down, while I set up the tripod. People walked by, and I did reward him with cheese, but I don’t think I had to.

So so proud of my little bug. Mia’s no slouch either.

2016-xmas-fam-vert-touched

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The gift of Leo

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop theme is
The Gift of Positive Training.

Proving what a perfect boy he's grown up to be, Leo lay down and waited for us to set up for our Christmas photo shoot.

Proving what a perfect boy he’s grown up to be, Leo lay down and waited while we set up for our Christmas photo shoot.

Oh, what a gift it has been. Leo’s leash reactivity has gotten so much better. I’ve started saying he’s cured, which is not entirely true, because he still exhibits barrier frustration, but man, I’m going to have to scroll down a bit to even find the last time he had what I’d classify as a “reaction” on a walk:

Okay here:

Sept. 8, He barked at two bikes coming from opposite directions and an off-leash dog. Barely registers on the reactivity scale. A dog barks at an off-leash dog? Who wouldn’t?

June 7, We had a particularly challenging walk and he barked and lunged at a bicycle after successfully NOT barking at a bunch of other stuff.

That’s two leash-reactive incidents worth reporting in the past six months. What it’s shown me is that success begets more success.

It can be hard to wrap your head around when you’re in the thick of reactivity. While trying to get Isis to accept Leo, we had what I considered a debacle where the dogs played for a few seconds for the first time ever … and then got into a fight.

Me and Isis in front of our chosen tree in Dec. 2010.

Me and Isis in front of our chosen tree in Dec. 2010.

A trusted trainer, who wasn’t there at the time, said, “It does sound like you had some minor success. It might be better next time. Remember that repetition of behavior creates habit. It they have a couple of good sessions, it would increase the chance for success.”

At the time, I thought, Yeah right. How are they ever going to forget hating each other?

Sadly, they never had the chance, but six years later, I’ve seen the concept realized: repetition leads to habit.

Example: Leo barks at bicycles from the car. Unchecked, he’d develop a habit of doing this, so he’d get in the car, expecting to find things to bark at. We got him out of this habit by using a Calming Cap. Now, if we forget to put it on him, or if he takes it off himself (sneaky bugger), he’s not searching out the window for things to bark at.

We have to be careful they don’t backslide. On a recent solo afterdark walk with Leo, I noticed a flashing light behind me. Good thing too, because it gave me time to ready the cheese. Leo didn’t react to that bicycle as it passed, but the next time we encountered an unrelated flashing light, he flinched, expecting it to be something scary.

The gift I want to give fellow people with reactive dogs is: Have hope. Work to have more successes than failures. You will see improvement.

Leo’s gotten so good, that a few times recently, he has seen a trigger across the street before I do (because it’s dark). I’ll feel him tense up on the leash and then he whip his head back to me.

Hey, did you see that? I’m supposed to get cheese now, right?

Yes, my darling boy. You get all the cheese.

All the cheese

Proud of my Leo

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Sibling Rivalry

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, although it doesn’t deserve to be. It contains a few examples of what not to do, but hey, maybe that’s what I’m known for.

It starts with a success story.

Last month, my mom was in town for a week, and I’m thrilled to announce that we’re past the stage where I’m terrified of what my dogs will do when we have visitors. A month or so after we got Mia, the dogs got into a couple of scary fights during my mom’s visit. Since then, I hadn’t let Leo loose in the room with her. I’m not worried about aggression, but I don’t trust him not to jump on her when she enters the room. He’s 94 pounds and she’s 5’2″, so you know, that felt risky.

This year, I decided to usher in a new era. Mom was with me when we brought Leo home as a puppy, after all. They should be reunited! With my mom securely seated at the kitchen table, with treats in hand, I let Leo in from the backyard, and had her throw treats at him. Yes, of course that made him sniff around her more than she cared for, but only for a few seconds before he wandered off, and eventually, returning to lay down at her feet.

I cannot overstate how happy this made me. What a huge relief to not have to leave Leo outside. To have my family all together!

Everyone gets ice cream at my birthday party.

Everyone gets ice cream at my birthday party.

 

We had a hiccup a few days later. To celebrate my birthday, we had cake and ice cream. I served up two bowls of vanilla ice cream for the dogs, and wanted to take a picture to document the cuteness. Then I did something so stupid. I pushed the bowls closer together to get a better shot.

They got in a snarling fight about it. With Rob’s parents and my mom there to witness. Rob and I struggled to separate them and move Leo through two rooms to get him into the backyard (without him redirecting a bite on either of our mothers). Then I tried to reunite them too soon, and they got into it again, and in separating them on opposite sides of the chain link, I fell down, bumping and scraping my knee in the only injury of the whole kerfuffle.

I ran up the hill in the backyard and lay down on one of the mats outside Rob’s studio, hoping Leo would join me. He raced up, looked at me, ran back down the hill, then ran back up again. And down again. I lay there for a few minutes. I might have been a little drunk. We’d just come from kind of a weird dinner at a fancy restaurant where we’d had to wait 45 minutes to be seated despite having a reservation. They’d offered free prosecco while we waited, and I’d had a kir royale with my meal.

Not THE kir royale, but A kir royale.

Not THE kir royale, but a kir royale.

Everyone in the house assumed I’d run up there to cry. But I felt fine. This fight was not a big deal, and I totally knew what caused it. Me!

I walked back down to the chain link, got some dried lamb lung, gave it to each dog on either side of the fence, then opened the gate and let them reunite. All was right with the world again.

My mom asked, “Which one of them started it?” As if I could even tell. “Me! I started it.”

Rob was rattled, but if I know what started the fight, I know how to prevent it from happening again. No one got bitten. No one was bleeding. Not a big deal.

Think I learned my lesson?

A couple of weeks later, I was giving Leo his eye medicine near the back door. There’s something weird about this eye dropper, making it really hard to get the drops out. I was holding onto his face for longer than any dog should be expected to have his face held, with my face really close to his, and I could tell he was getting tired of it. Am I about to get bitten in the face? I wondered, just before he launched away from me onto Mia’s face.

Rob had just dozed off on the couch and was rudely awoken by the snarls and my shouting for him to come help me separate them.

Maybe I’m completely delusional, but again, not terribly troubled by this fight. Clear cut barrier frustration. I was holding Leo back, doing something unpleasant. Note to self: Do not administer Leo’s eye medicine when Mia is two feet away.

Again no one got hurt and a few minutes and a few pieces of lamb lung later, everything was back to normal.

I used to be really traumatized by this kind of thing, because it was a sign that I’m a terrible dog parent, and meant my dogs would never get along. But Leo and Mia have a five year history of mostly getting along, and most days, I’m an above-average dog mom. They have enough bite inhibition not to hurt each other, and Rob and I have figured out how to separate them without getting bitten ourselves.

Am I enlightened or just jaded? Do your dogs fight? How do you handle it?

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Rescue Dogs published in UW journal

uppercut

I’m thrilled to announce that Rescue Dogs, an excerpt from my work in progress, has been published in the University of Washington’s Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing.

Warning: The story depicts dog fighting, and includes some graphic violence. Read it here. (starting on page 67.)

I’ve been working on Fight Like a Lady since 2009 (it started as a NaNoWriMo book!), although not steadily: I wrote Bark and Lunge during that time. It’s so close to being done, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Dilly dog

I also entered the first several chapters in 2016 Ink & Insights Writing Contest, where it placed in the Top 10 of the Apprentice category. I was very flattered that one judge wondered why it wasn’t submitted in the Master category. (Because it wasn’t finished!)

More about Fight Like a Lady.

Senior doggie aging with grace

Sweetheart

Mia had a bit of fur shaved last week at the vet. She’s been so itchy, they wanted me to be able to get the medicine to the skin. It’s not a great haircut, so Mia’s been rocking some adorbs hoodies while it grows back. I bought a couple of new ones too, because I think it could be a while.

She also had a funny looking bump aspirated and pathologized. Usually my vet leaves long voicemails for me with test results, and I hadn’t heard back from him. I thought maybe he was waiting to deliver the news in person this week when I brought Leo in. I started researching cancer treatments, and wondering whether my vet accepts the Care Credit card.

Last night I checked the email account I don’t use very often and found a message from the vet: “mixed inflammatory cells. No cancerous or neoplastic cells were seen.”

Yay!

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Three times I spoke up for my dog

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Often, people with reactive dogs are overly concerned that others will judge us for the uncontrollable, barking, lunging, frothing beast on the other end of the leash. We need to get over that and just worry about our dogs.

I have gotten better and here are three examples where I was proud of speaking up on behalf of Leo.

1. For some reason, people like to ride their bikes on a path through our only unfenced off-leash area. This field happens to be next to a sewage plant. There’s signage at the top of a path, which I’ve wanted to supplement with “Off-leash dogs. Bike or jog at your own risk.” Or even “Walk your bike, please.”

Recently, we were working our way down the path when I noticed two bikes at the top of the path. They had a choice of directions; one featuring a view of the bay, the other the scent of sewage. If they came down my way, we were screwed. There’s no place to step off the path. I know because once I tried avoiding a jogger and fell embarrassingly down a hill. The jogger of course wanted to stop and help, and I was like, just go! Instead of letting the cyclists decide our fate, I called up to them, “Please don’t come this way. It’s an off-leash dog area.” And they didn’t.

2. Clearly I have forgotten what it is like to not live with one’s romantic partner, because it baffles me to see young people kissing and hugging in parking lots. So we’re walking up a path and I can see cars parked at the top, and the heads of a couple of people, and I’m thinking, whyyyyy are you parked there? when a shepherdy looking dog starts wandering down the trail. I called out, “Are you walking your dog down this way?”

The dude said, “No, we’re just hanging out.” And put his dog in one of the cars, and we were able to pass.

3. While this next one is a success story for Leo, it pissed me off to an unreasonable degree. It actually happened on the same walk as #2. We walk around a big sports complex where we can see triggers coming from a good distance. I had just bagged up some poop and was headed toward a trash can when I saw a 60-year-old guy on rollerblades, like it’s the goddamn nineties! I turned the other way and cheesed Leo while I tried to assess where Roller Dude was going. Of course his destination was the same trash can. Once he threw away whatever, he headed in our direction.

So we’re on the sidewalk, and he’s rollerblading down the middle of the street. Leo rumbles, like, a little bit, but honestly, I’d had more trouble managing him the night before during an encounter with a deer. Yay! Good boy, Leo. We throw out the poop and continue down the street. And then, Roller Dude skates back down past us again! And Leo rumbles again just a little bit and I’m cheesing the hell out of him, and he’s wonderful, but I’m watching this guy skate to the end of the block in the middle of the street like he’s motherfucking Gretzky. I mutter to my dogs, “This guy’s an asshole.” And he turns around again to skate past us a third time!

When he does, he turns to us with this shit-eating grin that probably wasn’t meant to mock me so much as to say either, “Ain’t life grand?” or “Look how cool I am on my rollerblades.”

I say to him, “Could ya not keep skating past us?”

We got to the end of the block before he had time to make it back our way again, so who even knows if he would have, or planned to but didn’t, because I so bravely spoke my mind. But it sure made me feel better.

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