Speaking up for positive training

Several of us in the positive training community were distressed a few months ago when a company that sells shock collars courted dog bloggers to convince them of the virtues of aversive training. It felt like we were backsliding. Were these methods coming back into style?

I’m happy to tell you that at least one organization is moving in the other direction. Amazing Pet Expos, which has put on nearly 100 events across the country since 2009, is now an all-positive event.

In 2013, Sheila Rilenge, president of show development for the expo, announced:

… we made a major change this year by prohibiting companies and trainers who use aversive techniques from participating in our event. Trainers or behaviorists (or any other type of exhibitor), may no longer sell or demonstrate pinch collars, choke collars, heavy chain collars/leads or electric/shock collars at the (St. Louis) Pet Expo; this also includes invisible fence products. We also won’t tolerate Alpha rolls, hard neck or body ‘pokes’ and leash jerks.

I met Sheila last year at BarkWorld, and upon hearing their policy, knew I wanted to participate. On Feb. 21, I will take the stage at the SoCal Pet Expo at 1:45 to speak about positive training.

My Pet Naturally

Reading at My Pet … Naturally in Los Angeles


For this installment of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, I’d like to share a bit of my presentation for the SoCal Pet Expo… except I haven’t prepared it yet.

Since Bark and Lunge came out last summer, I’ve had four readings where I talked about aversive training, the damage it did to my dog, and why I now advocate for force-free training. I tailored my speech for each group: at the Humane Society and Village Books, I spoke about my first failures with chain and prong collars and the realization that the “corrections” were exacerbating Isis’s reactivity to other dogs. At My Pet … Naturally in Los Angeles, I sprinkled in a bit of our experience with raw feeding. My most recent reading was at Sunny Lane, one of my positive trainers’ facilities, where I read the first scene that took place there.

The SoCal Pet Expo will be the first audience that isn’t there specifically to see me. I only have 30 minutes. I’ll have to introduce myself and explain that I’m not a dog professional, just a regular ol’ dog guardian. (I hope no one walks away at that point, thinking “Why should I listen to what this chick has to say?”) At my other events, I’ve started out by reading the prologue from my book, then skipped ahead to some training scenes. This time, maybe I won’t read at all, but instead summarize the overall experience and lessons learned.

I remember how inspiring Victoria Stilwell was at BarkWorld 2013. Here’s an article about her talk there a few years earlier. That’s what I’m going for. I may not have a TV show, or an accent, and I won’t be wearing boots, because I’ll also be standing at a booth the rest of the day. But I know I can match her passion.

Positive TrainingFebruary is Responsible Pet Owners Month, and this is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier, and My Rubicon Days. You’re invited to share your posts about how responsibility relates to training, or any other positive training topic!

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Packing for BarkWorld. What to wear?

I am queen of the convention circuit this year. Whether for fun (Emerald City ComiCon, Power-Con), work (Tribal Habitat Conference), enhancing my craft (Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat), or a blend of market-strategizing and craft-enhancing (PNWA).

Next up is the social petworking conference BarkWorld! Sadly, Mia and Leo will not be joining us, but based on the realization in my last post, perhaps that’s for the best. They need to guard the house anyway. Still, I know I’ll miss them all weekend as I watch other attendees accompanied by their furry friends.

Meanwhile, I’ll be passing out business cards and Bark and Lunge stickers, and I even have a couple of Advance Readers Copies of my book to seduce potential endorsers.

We planned to wear our various Dog is Good T-shirts. Rob’s got “I like big mutts and I cannot lie” and the “Hundhaus Hefeweizen” version of “Never Drink Alone.” I’ve got the aforementioned “Promise to my Dog” shirt, along with “Never Walk Alone” and “Dog is patient, dog is kind…”


In today’s inbox, I had a message from BarkWorld telling me, among other things, that the attire is “business casual.”

Now, I may have a somewhat skewed idea of appropriate attire, having lived in the Pacific Northwest for 10 years, but I really thought our doggie T-shirts would fit right in. Then I watched a video of last year’s BarkWorld, and indeed, there are a lot of men in button-down white shirts. Plus, I’ve been warned that the conference rooms will be heavily air-conditioned. So now I’m tasked with accessorizing my Dog is Good shirts with a little cardigan or something that will dress me up to at least business casual.

Writing in Community

I keep telling one of my coworkers how antisocial I am, but he doesn’t believe me. That’s because I interact with him mostly through online chat and the very occasional in-person meeting. When I do meet with him and the rest of my team, it’s a welcome respite from the relative isolation of my day-to-day work. We chat and laugh, and I talk really fast and all of that gives the impression I’m a friendly people-person.

Our last meeting really energized me. Lots of ideas were hatched, and my mind raced the whole rest of the day. I felt super passionate about my work, which makes me one of the lucky 30 percent who doesn’t hate my job.

But because I’m antisocial — or to use the personality type, an introvert — I seek out isolation to recover from the high of interacting with other humans.

I noticed this at the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, which was a wonderful experience all around. Toward the end of each evening though, I was eager to curl up in my bunk with a book, while many of my fellow writers were hitting the bar. Nothing against the bar, mind you, I loved the time I spent there with my writer buddies before dinner. But at the end of a long day of learning and talking about writing, I wanted to be alone.

sleeping lady

Lucky for me, the Chuckanut Writers Conference last weekend was in my neck of the woods. I could fill up on writerly knowledge, then go right home to Rob and the dogs. But the sense of community I feel at these events is as important as the time I spend reflecting on what I’ve learned.

Writing often is a solitary pursuit, so I welcome the reminder that I’m not alone. I hunger for the buzzy sensation I felt in my fingertips as Wendy Call finished her presentation examining the ways we “transmute life into art.” I was confused at first by her slides of man’s first expression of the written word. Then she asked us to write down our first memory of experiencing something as beautiful. Our first experience with the written word.

My pen froze above the index card. I couldn’t conjure a single genuine memory, just stories I have heard about myself as a child. I closed my eyes and pictured that weird lined gray paper with the dotted line between two solid lines. Was that recycled paper? Is that why it was gray? Or was it newspaper paper?

I remembered a spinning ballerina doll with a bun on her head. The commercial showed girls putting their finger on top of her head while she spun, but when I imitated that, her hair tangled around my finger, cutting off the circulation. I wouldn’t say that ballerina was my first memory of something beautiful, but that’s one of my earliest memories.

Call’s next two questions were the ones that revved my writing engine. What would you change about the world? It can be anything. First thing you think of.


Not sure if that’s even true, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind.

Next, what is the burning question you are trying to answer with your latest project? And if you have a firm grasp on this, congratulations, you’re way ahead of most people.

How is dogfighting different than mixed martial arts cage matches?

Now of course, I know the two are completely different, but I need to find a way to answer that question in my novel.

Here’s the kicker: In closing, Call told us to consider the relationship between the answers to those last two questions.

When she asked us what we would change about the world, she didn’t say it had anything to do with our writing projects, and yet, racism is related to my story of fighting dogs. Prejudice against pit bulls is a form of racism.

Who knows what any of that means, or what I’ll do with it, but moments like that, learning from other authors, sparking ideas — those experiences keep me going and remind me what my passions are.

In the background: A freeway falls into the river

Skagit River Bridge

For the Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background, I give you Interstate 5 collapsed into the Skagit River. Allow me to zoom out so you can see how close my old office used to be to this freeway.

bridge collapse diagram

This bridge has been in the background of my life for the past 10 years. From late 2006 through 2013, I could see it from my office window. Leo and I used to walk right there all the time, on the dike along the south side of the river. I still travel across the bridge on a regular basis, or rather, I did until yesterday. Earlier this year, my office moved across the river, about a five-minute walk off the right-hand edge of the photo.

It takes a lot for Skagit County to make the national news. Like a mentally ill man getting his hands on a gun and killing six people, for example. Or a freeway falling into the river. Three people were injured, no one was killed after an oversized truck knocked Interstate 5 into the Skagit River at about 7 p.m. last night.

Think about that. A catastrophic failure of engineering on a public roadway, and no one was killed. Mentally ill man plus handgun: six dead.

I’m just saying.

Building a blog tribe


I never used to care how many readers I had.

When I first started blogging in 2002, I was afraid to attach my name to it, afraid to put myself all the way out there. I wanted to write publicly, but didn’t necessarily want people knowing who I was. I was living in Prague and wanted family and friends to know what I was up to. Family members followed my blog, but very few friends did.

I don’t envy those of you who blog as a profession. I can’t imagine being dependent on hits for my income. To me that’s really scary. I want to blog what I want to blog and not worry about my following.

For most of its life, Rhymes with Safari had about six readers, and that was just fine with me.

As I get ready to start querying agents for my memoir, Bark and Lunge, I’m constantly hearing that I need to build a platform. I need to show prospective agents and editors that I can attract a following. They want to know that more than six people will buy my book.

To that end, I’ve joined some social networking groups aimed at expanding one’s blogging reach, and I’ve more than doubled my Twitter following… to a whopping 96 tweeps.

I’ve made a few changes around here. I bought the domain KariNeumeyer.com a few months back, and you’ll notice that’s now the default URL. Right now, both KariNeumeyer and RhymeswithSafari will get you here, but I may not renew RhymeswithSafari.com a year from now.

I’ve also been advised to establish myself as a dog blogger, and not blog about unrelated topics. That way, publishers will recognize that I am the right person to write a memoir about loving an aggressive dog.

Interestingly and probably unfortunately, my dog posts don’t attract the most readers. My travel posts last year seemed wildly popular among total strangers.

In Brooke Warner’s book What’s Your Book? she talks about losing interest in a travel writer whose blog wasn’t entirely about travel. I feel for that blogger. I wouldn’t be able to sustain a travel-only blog year-round, not the way I blogged during my last trip.

I probably could write about nothing but dogs, but I fear that would get boring. Post after post about Leo chewing a piece of furniture, or Mia stealing his toys. I mean I could look at pictures of my dogs forever. Could you?

Besides, there are lots of dog blogs out there. There’s only one KariNeumeyer, and she also likes to talk about movies, and describe her experiences at the walk-in clinic and emergency room.

I am allowed to write about writing and the process of getting published though, so at least this post is acceptable.

Getting organizized in 2013

You know that feeling like you left something behind? Or there was something you were supposed to do? Or you walk into a room and forget what you walked in there for?

Yeah. That.

My first day back at work after the holiday, I overslept egregiously. Mind you, I like to sleep in, but rarely do I actually OVERsleep to the point that I open my eyes, see that it’s 9:30 and think, OMG WTF how did it get that late?

See, since Rob started his new job, I’ve been driving him to work every morning. While I was in Los Angeles over Christmas, he drove himself, and we never discussed whether he’d drive himself or if I’d drive him this week. So I expected him to wake me at 7:10 yesterday. He did not.

I unhurriedly got myself together. (What? It was the first day back after a holiday. Besides, my office just moved. All I had to do this week was unpack.) As it turned out, I needn’t have gotten to work any earlier than 10:30 anyway, because the furniture had not been delivered and the Internet not hooked up. So I went home to work the rest of the day there.

Today, I set an alarm, got out the door closer to my usual time, and was halfway to the office when I realized that I left my cell phone at home. Normally, I wouldn’t go back for it, but since the phone hasn’t been hooked up yet at the new office either, it was my only means of communication. After turning around and going back, I beat yesterday’s arrival time by a half hour.

Still no Internet, but I spent the morning decorating my wall. My new office has very high ceilings, and I have even more Salmon Homecoming and Festival of the River posters, so I’ll need to get a ladder in there to finish the job.

wall (13)

I love that bulletin board. I mean, I really love it. Love it so much I’ve even blogged about it before. There’s a open space in the center for a picture of Isis, which I brought home with me, because it wasn’t secured very well and I didn’t want it to get lost when the bulletin board got moved. (I love it so much, I wanted to move it intact.)

I almost didn’t hang the bulletin board today, because as you can see, it requires two nails. I started to mark the space on the wall when I realized that I didn’t have a level. Leaning the board against the wall, I thought, “I’ll bring a level next week and hang it then.” I went ahead and hung the framed print on the left. Rob got that for me at a garage sale, and it shows a tribal canoe paddling past the Seattle skyline, Space Needle and all. Then I hung the framed Seattle Times article below  it. The front page article from summer 2010 used photos I took of the epic Fraser River sockeye fishery.

By then, I thought, what the hell and went ahead and hung the bulletin board. I may have had to hammer in one of the nails twice. It may or may not actually be hung straight.

If you know anything about me and Rob, you know that I’m the self-described uptight one, and he’s the easygoing one. So it struck me as funny today, the yin and yang of our frame-hanging personalities. I get so eager to see stuff on the walls, I’ll stick pushpins in without a thought to layout or angle. I’ll hammer a nail, step back and see that it’s not straight, pull out the nail and hammer it in again.

Rob takes measurements. He uses a level. He puts thought into the matter. He is precise.

Before I met him, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to use a level to hang a bulletin board. I didn’t even own a level. I made do without one today, and I think my wall looks spectacular.

Hazy shade of autumn

I apologize to my new readers and old friends who grew accustomed to my daily postings. I surprised even myself with how often I blogged during my trip. Now that I’m back home, my goal is to post at least once a week, but I’d love to find as much wonder in my daily life as I found during my travels. Treat every day like an exciting adventure.

Jet lag’s always worse coming home, and an 11-hour time difference is one of the hardest to overcome. Add to that the resurgence of my head cold, and I’ve been in kind of a fog since we got home Monday. I’ve been sleeping fine. Getting out of bed is the hard part.

I’m back at the office today and felt like I was fading to black just before lunch. Eyes glazing over, thinking, If I just had a bed (or a couch) I could fall asleep right this second. I considered going home, but instead decided to grab a bite and take Mia for our regularly scheduled noontime walk. I can’t guarantee I’ll last until the end of the day, but the fresh air (and mango shrimp and rice) revived me quite a bit.

Yet another reason dogs in the workplace are a very, very good thing. She gets me up and moving. I was tempted to just eat and come straight back to my desk. Too tired to walk. But that wouldn’t be fair to her. So we strolled through a woodsy trail that is both roadside and riverside. I unhooked Mia’s leash as we got to the stretch that is protected from the road. Usually, she trots off ahead of me, but today, she looked over her shoulder with a huge smile, like “I’m so happy you’re home,” and walked beside me a little longer.

Trapped at my house with my two best friends

Seems like lots of people already are having cabin fever thanks to Snowpocalypse 2012: Pacific Northwest. Not me. Remember, I spent two straight weeks in a chair without going farther than 20 steps out the back door. We had Christmas lights on the front of the house for more than a week before I even saw them.

I’ve been waiting eagerly for snow for months and I’m so happy that my trip to Hawaii last week didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of this weather.

Here’s where I was a week ago:

I’m not sure when exactly I became one of those ladies who can’t travel because she doesn’t want to be away from her dogs, but I had a hard time leaving them for a whole week. Rob’s parents usually dogsit, but since they were the ones taking us on this trip, that wasn’t possible. I kept telling myself I was being irrational. Like, would I REALLY rather stay in freezing, gray Washington and go to work instead of spend a week in Waikiki? No, of course not, but it took me a full day of vacation before I could let myself relax completely, give in to paradise. And oh, my, was it a wonderful trip. We all got along so well and it was absolutely worth leaving my doggies for seven days, although really, I think we should give some thought to going to a beach resort that accepts German shepherds.

Rob took these pictures the day we left and I looked at them longingly every day:

After we got back last week, I worked from home for a few days, went into the office Friday, had yesterday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And now…Snowmageddon! Mind you, I have my computer at home and I can get as much done here as I would if I braved the icy roads, so technically, I’m still working. Everyone else in the universe is playing. Snow Day!

Also, I have a new camera, so it’s actually my JOB to learn how to use it by taking these pictures:

Pet therapy

I’m lucky to live in a region where it is socially acceptable to bring your dogs everywhere. Even if you can’t take them into a store or restaurant, no one looks at you funny if you leave them in the car.

My workplace also is a fairly dog friendly place. I’ve been on salmon spawning surveys with dogs that tromped through the creeks, and didn’t necessarily come when called. One natural resources department has a dog as an unofficial staffer; He even has his own reflective construction vest to wear on habitat projects.

Last Wednesday, the day Isis died, I had Leo with me. We went to a couple of restored estuaries to take pictures. While officially, perhaps I’m not “supposed” to take my dog to work, I couldn’t help thinking that no one would blame me for taking Leo along. We had a wonderful day taking long scenic walks, but boy, would it have been boring without him.

Three different times during the day, I had flashes of something terrible happening to Leo. What if the tailgate of the SUV opened and he went flying out the back of the car on the freeway? What if a hunter accidentally shot us? What if one of those barking dogs broke through its wooden fence and attacked us?


Anyway, I have a feeling no one would blame me for bringing Leo to the office now, either.

My alternative lifestyle

While on vacation the three days before Christmas, I decided to pretend I’m a different kind of writer. The kind the writes from home.

I volunteered to turn in 10 pages at my fiction writing class on the first day back after the break. On top of that, we have another writing assignment we’re supposed to read out loud.

Between the days off this week and two next week, I should be able to write 10 pages easily. But I’m having a hard time. I can’t visualize what it is that I’m writing about, is the problem, I think. Sentence construction like the previous is another. Problem.

I should just write write, not care if it’s good and go back and revise later.

If I were self-employed, this is what my day would be like:

  • Take Leo to the dog park from 9-10.
  • Play with Isis in the backyard.
  • Shower.
  • Sit at computer and check e-mail, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Eat.
  • Maybe write something.
  • Take Isis for a walk.
  • Play with Leo in the backyard.
  • Write?
  • Talk to Rob when he gets home from work between 4 and 5.

Given this, I did write 1,000 words yesterday. While walking Leo a short while ago (we skipped the dog park, it was raining), I decided I would have a solid 2,000 words by the end of the day and also make some headway on the other assignment, which is to write obituaries for some of my characters. Harder than I thought it would be.

I’m hungry.