An Inspiring New Dog Food Pyramid

Leo decorated his Pyramid with some scrimshaw (to borrow Theodore's term of art) before he figured out how to get the food out.

Leo decorated his Pyramid with some scrimshaw (to borrow a term of art) before he figured out how to get the food out.

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop theme is mentors and inspiration. If you’ve read Bark and Lunge (and I recommend you do!), you know I have a complicated history with trainers. The first few gave very bad advice. Then we met a positive reinforcement trainer who changed our lives by helping save Isis from our earlier mistakes, but in the end, the experience was mixed.

We’ve met lots of positive trainers since then, but have been become complacent in our own little world where we don’t train our dogs to do anything except not misbehave (too much). A trainer I wish I’d met back in the day is Annie Phenix, whose book The Midnight Dog Walkers is practically a companion piece to mine.

More and more, I find inspiration from dog people I only know online. These include the hosts of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days, both of whom have become Facebook friends, too. Other dog bloggers I consider internet friends and inspirations are Groovy Goldendoodles, Wag ‘n Woof, My GBGV Life, and ZoePhee.

Then there’s my weird obsession with dogs I’ve never met whose people I don’t know either. I’m often heard to say something like, “So there’s this dog I follow on Instagram…”

My absolute hero is Pibbling with Theodore, and I can’t remember how I first found him, except that it was on Facebook. He’s a fight bust rescue, and his mom is a trainer, and he is so handsome I just can’t stand it.

Shortly before Christmas, he posted a picture of a Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramid. Inspired, I ordered two immediately. (I’ve written before about how the benefits of food puzzles.)

And now, I hope to inspire you with this video of Mia and Leo enjoying their new food dispensers, which we call “Eggs.” See how much fun Leo has even when nothing’s coming out?


Positive TrainingJoin the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop! Hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days, the hop begins on the first Monday of every month and runs all week long. This month’s theme is My Training Mentor or Inspiration, but all posts about positive training are welcome.

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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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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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That stupid Pack Leader myth

Who's the boss?

Who’s the boss?

The dog world is having the hardest time freeing itself from the pervasive myth of Dominance Theory. Not even positive trainers get it right all the time. The first reward-based training class I took began like this:

The trainer explained that all our dogs’ problems began at home. “Does this sound familiar to anyone? Your dog free-feeds, meaning he eats whenever he wants. The bowl is always full.”


“He can go outside whenever he wants, through a doggie door…”

Not at our house.

“There are toys all over the place. He decides when to play, with what, and gets your attention with a nudge or a bark or a whine.”


“Maybe your dog nudges you with his nose. ‘Hey, I’m here. Look how cute I am.’ And you play with him.”


This was a problem, according to that trainer, because our dog thought she was the boss of us. The trainer went on to forbid us to allow our dogs on the furniture, a mandate Rob and I couldn’t stick to for 24 hours.

To my great disappointment, I recently read a similar scene in a book called Fetching by Kiera Stewart:

Corny is asking him questions. “What kind of rules do you have for her?”

“Rules?” Mr. Dewey looks confused. “Well, I’d prefer of course, that she’d go outside to relieve herself.”

I know Corny doesn’t like that answer.

“And is she allowed to jump on the furniture?”

He laughs. “Allowed? Well, I don’t allow it really, but she has her own mind about that. But then she’s not a shedder, so it’s not too big of a problem.”

Mr. Dewey doesn’t know it, but he’s failing this interview. Miserably.

“How much exercise is she getting?”

He looks down again. “Well, I used to take her on walks, but now she’s gotten a lot more difficult to manage.”

F, Mr. Dewey. F. You have officially earned an F on this interview. Even I can see that.

“Mealtimes? When are they?”

“Well, I just feed her when she’s hungry. She gets a little antsy if she has to wait.” He chuckles a little, but I notice his fingers go up to his lip scar.

I sort of wish I could stop him from talking now. It’s like watching a train wreck happen. Thankfully, Corny stops questioning him. “The problem,” she says, “is that Kisses thinks she’s in charge.

“… Look, I know you love your dog. But right now Kisses is in charge, and as bossy as she may get sometimes, she doesn’t really want all that responsibility. Someone’s got to be a pack leader – and if you won’t take over that role, Kisses will, whether she wants to or not. It’s instinct.”

No! It’s not instinct! Dogs do not think they are the bosses of us!

Let me interject that I’ve quit more books than I’ve finished lately. Notably, The Dog Master, which I was really looking forward to, because it was written by the author of A Dog’s Purpose and is about the domestication of the first dog, something I requested someone write a book about. I just didn’t buy the relationship between man and dog in the early pages and gave up on it.

Once it became clear that Fetching, a young adult book published by Disney, was using Cesar Millan as its reference text, you’d think I’d quit this one too, wouldn’t you?

Not yet. I’m still intrigued by the synopsis: Olivia has just about had it with the popular kids at school… If only Olivia’s classmates were more like the adorable dogs she helps her grandmother train—poorly behaved, but improvable. Wait…what if her tormentors’ behavior actually could be modified using the same type of training that works on dogs?

Olivia and her friends start innocuously enough by changing their body language to “train” their classmates, and I’m pretty sure the book won’t endorse using shock collars on people.

What’s frustrating though, is that no matter how positive the rest of the training methods are, readers are going to walk away thinking dogs need their people to be Pack Leaders.

I again quote from Victoria Stilwell’s book, Train Your Dog Positively:

The irony is that to believe dogs see us as their pack leaders actually requires that we first anthropomorphize dogs by assuming they share our human concern regarding rank and what others think of us.

… the entire concept that we must assert our claim to the throne of pack leader before our dogs is based on a mirage. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that dogs are completely motivated by a burning desire to become pack leader over their human counterparts. At some point in this theoretical exercise we must necessarily decide to disregard the simple truth – that dogs are well aware that we are not, in fact, dogs.

… It is time, therefore, to finally retire the term pack leader – especially when it refers to humans interacting with dogs. Domestic dogs don’t live in true packs, and even if they did, we, as a different species, wouldn’t be a part of them.

Positive TrainingThis post is part of the Positive Pet Training blog hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Rubicon Days & Tenacious Little Terrier.

This month’s theme is National Train Your Dog Month. To learn more about my journey to understanding Positive Training, read my book Bark and Lunge, winner of three national book awards.

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Top 6 Dog Books for Veterans Day

I was reminded how much respect and gratitude people in this country have for veterans when I went to Disney World last month with Rob’s dad, a career Navy man. When he wore his Retired Navy hat, total strangers thanked him for his service all day long, sometimes bringing a tear to his eye.

Today, as I’m seeing all kinds of social media messages thanking veterans, or lamenting that we don’t do enough for our veterans, I have the answer: Give every veteran a dog.

Here’s my supporting evidence:

Until-Tuesday-Book-CoverUntil Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalván

This book captures the heartbreaking challenges veterans face when they return from war. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone comes back from war without serious psychological damage, and in Montalván’s case, he struggled with physical injuries as well. The healing power of his relationship with his service dog Tuesday is nothing short of miraculous.

I didn’t warm up to this book right away, I think because it begins with a description of Tuesday’s training, before the author knew him. Tuesday didn’t come alive as a character to me until later in the book, when Montalván describes their strengthening relationship. I loved reading about their illicit games of fetch after dark in a closed Brooklyn park, and my heart broke reading about the bus driver who humiliated Montalván by insisting Tuesday isn’t a real service dog.

51YYFNfdHaL._SX462_BO1,204,203,200_Reporting for Duty: True Stories of Wounded Veterans and Their Service Dogs by Tracy J. Libby

I received an advance copy of this book, which was officially released yesterday. It’s a hardcover coffee table book, and makes an excellent follow-up to Until Tuesday. It tells the story of 15 veterans and the service dogs who rescued them. You’ll appreciate this book if, like me, you think every nonfiction book about dogs should include dozens of color photos.

In addition to poignant stories of veterans and their dogs, Libby describes (and photographs) prison puppy programs, the history of therapy dogs, and rescue and breeding programs that provide dogs to veterans.

18740From Baghdad, With Love by Jay Kopelman

Sometimes dogs and soldiers rescue each other before they even come home from war. Lava is a puppy found by a unit in an abandoned city in Iraq. It’s been a while since I read this one, so I’m quoting the publisher: “Despite military law that forbids the keeping of pets, the Marines de-flea the pup with kerosene, de-worm him with chewing tobacco, and fill him up on Meals Ready to Eat. Thus begins the dramatic rescue attempt of a dog named Lava and Lava’s rescue of at least one Marine, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman, from the emotional ravages of war.

“From hardened Marines to war-time journalists to endangered Iraqi citizens, From Baghdad, With Love tells an unforgettable true story of an unlikely band of heroes who learn unexpected lessons about life, death, and war from a mangy little flea-ridden refugee.”

6260262One Dog at a Time by Pen Farthing

Did Lava’s story hit you in the feels? Do you wish more could be done to help the homeless dogs in war zones? Pen Farthing is a British Royal Marine who orchestrated a stray dog rescue effort in Afghanistan.

From Publisher’s Weekly, “Already burdened with the responsibility of overseeing and protecting his 20-man crew of Marines, Farthing becomes consumed with the suffering of the strays and risks his own life to rescue them … Soon he finds himself developing plans to save strays from dogfighting, a centuries-old local tradition that usually requires the removal of ears and tails without anesthetic, and adopts a former fighting dog he names Nowzad. Today, Nowzad happily resides in the Farthing household as his owners continue their quest to save thousands of suffering strays.”

cover-suspect-1Suspect by Robert Crais

This has made my list of top books before, and is officially my favorite Robert Crais book. Obviously, I’m biased because it’s about a German shepherd. But I have pretty high standards for dog books. Way higher than my standards for suspense novels.

The main doggie character isn’t a service dog, but a retired bomb dog who lost her handler to an explosion in Afghanistan, and her new partner, who lost his partner in a shootout.

Some of the chapters are written from the dog’s point of view, but not in a cutesy way. Crais nails the way German shepherds feel about their people. He also depicts accurately what it is like to live with a German shepherd, what it’s like to drive with one sitting astride the console between the seats, scanning the view out the front windshield.

The Promise by Robert Craiscover-promise

So… I haven’t actually read this one yet because it just came out yesterday. But it’s a sequel to Suspect and features Crais’s flagship character, Elvis Cole, World’s Greatest Detective, and his partner Joe Pike (a veteran).

Here’s the blurb: “When Elvis Cole is secretly hired to find a missing grief-stricken mother, his first stop on that rainy night is an ordinary house in Echo Park. Only the house is not ordinary, and neither are the people hiding inside: A wanted killer on the run from police and a vicious career criminal with dangerous secrets of his own.

“As helicopters swirl overhead, LAPD K9 Officer Scott James and his German shepherd, Maggie, track the fugitive to this same Echo Park house … ”

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How to respond to a stolen photo on the internet

While scrolling through Instagram this morning, I discovered a 2007 picture of my very own baby girl, Isis, three and a half months old, with a soccer ball in her mouth. Normally I would be thrilled that The German Shepherd World reposted my photo, since that’s entirely what the feed does. Except…  I’ve never shared this picture on Instagram, and it was credited it to someone else who has a private Instagram account.

I stared at the photo on my phone, sure it was my photo of my dog, but had this iota of doubt. Like, could it be someone else’s dog in the snow with a ball in her mouth? Wearing a pink collar like hers, with what seems to be a small black tag like hers, and bushes in the background that resemble mine? When I got to work, I found the original, and tracked down a couple of blog posts where I had shared it, and asked The German Shepherd World to correct the credit in their post (and make it up to me by telling their 42,800 followers about my book, which all German shepherd people should read).

I haven’t heard back yet, but in the meantime, in the spirit of this unwitting Internet Sensation, I doctored my own photo.


Because creating a silly meme is the only defensible reason to steal someone else’s photo.

UPDATE 10/21: The German Shepherd World has corrected the photo credit on Instagram. The woman who was originally credited tells me her 10-year-old daughter sent the photo in, with proper attribution, and didn’t mean to take credit. Which doesn’t explain where she found the photo or why she’s sending other people’s photos to a third party.

Monday Mischief

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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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U is for Understood

Kari and Isis 2010

The best part of publishing Isis’s story, Bark and Lunge, has been getting feedback from other dog owners who relate to our experience.

Some fellow dog-bloggers have been very kind to review the book on their sites, and I’ve excerpted their reviews on my Media page.

Last week, I commented on this great post by The Pet Mom about adopting older dogs. She responded to my comment, I responded back, and this led to her buying my book and tweeting about it. That alone was thrilling, but then she emailed me after finishing the book.

Among her kind words were these: You went way above and beyond what most pet parents ever would. Her sweet, happy, precious personality shone through the book as well, and I too fell in love with Isis — what a beautiful, wonderful girl! I really wish I could have known her.

I wrote the book so people who have challenging reactive dogs would be able to find answers more easily than I did. I wanted them to feel understood, and to know there are others going through the same thing.

Of course all writers want to hear that readers enjoyed the book, but as a parent to a challenging dog, to hear that readers connected with Isis as a character, and wished they could have known her — that makes me feel understood.

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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J is for Job

I’ve often heard that dogs need jobs. A bored dog is a destructive dog. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.

Full disclosure: Leo and Mia live lives of leisure. I’ve tried finding a career path for Leo. We’ve done Rally-O, nose work, jogging. We have agility equipment in the backyard. Leo will do the A-frame two, maybe three times in a row. Apparently the dog walk is too narrow, or too high, although both dogs have run the one at Sunny Lane.

I have proof that Mia did it:


My original idea for a J post was Jump. I planned to show Leo jumping the hurdles in our backyard. Leo let me know that he’d rather play with his Jolly Ball, and I honored that.

So… a life of leisure for Leo it is. He’s happy, we’re all happy. If he were getting into trouble at home, we’d start sending out his resume again.

For an example of how having a job saved a dog’s life, I give you Wallace. He was the subject of a book that I blogged about a while back, and is the subject of Fern Camacho’s The Great Dog Adventure interview with Wallace’s owner Roo Yori.


Click here to listen to The Great Dog Adventure Podcast.

To me, what’s so inspirational about Wallace’s story is how persistent his people were. They tried everything. Kind of like me with Leo, except Wallace really took to the flying disc. And tug. A highlight of this podcast is Roo’s description of the tug machine he built for Wallace in the garage.

The right job will challenge a dog’s mind and body, and bring happiness and peace into your home.

For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Find out how I discovered the benefits of positive reinforcement training in my book, Bark and Lunge!

If you enjoyed The Great Dog Adventure podcast about Wallace, click here to listen to Fern interview me about Bark and Lunge!


I is for Isis, the most beautiful name

Every year that I do the A to Z Challenge, I will be for Isis.


My beautiful doggie, Isis, was named for the Egyptian goddess and protector of health, marriage, and wisdom.

Whenever you hear about the other ISIS, think about how many women and girls (and dogs and cats and ferrets) are named Isis in the world, and consider using the term ISIL like our president does.

I’m enormously proud of my book about Isis, called Bark and Lunge. I also think I made a prophetic decision to change the original subtitle, which was The Isis Story and used to be in the URL for the book’s website.

While that change was for the best, I still sing out her name with pride and wear it tattooed on my foot.