A is for Accentuate the Positive

Welcome to the 2015 Blogging A to Z Challenge.

My theme this year is All-Positive, which means I will be discussing only positive methods of working with my dogs. I believe very strongly that rewarding dogs (or anyone) for the things they do right leads to a reciprocally respectful relationship.

As an added linguistic challenge, I will use all-positive language in my posts. Better to stick with what works! Look at the good in the world. Celebrate the wonder and the splendor. Accentuate the positive! (See how I’m letting the first line of the song lyric speak for itself?)

This is my family. They make me so happy. Every day.

This is my family. They make me so happy. Every day.

 For more about my journey to discovering the benefits of positive reinforcement, read my book, Bark and Lunge!

A

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Free book!

Hi gang,

Just a quick post to let you know that Bark and Lunge is free on Kindle through Feb 3. I hope you’ll check it out, if you haven’t already. As a thank you to anyone who helps spread the word on social media, if you post about Bark and Lunge’s Kindle promotion and link to me on TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, you will be entered into a random drawing for a FREE Bark and Lunge T-shirt.

BarkLunge

Bark and Lunge T-shirt

You can also buy the paperback version of Bark and Lunge at these independent stores:

Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225, (360) 671-2626
and
My Pet Naturally, 12001 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064, (310) 477-3030

Your local bookstore can order it for you too. Just ask! 

(and Go Seahawks!!)

Top 10 Books for Dog Lovers

Top 10 books for dog lovers

It goes without saying that the greatest gift you can give any dog lover this Christmas is my book, Bark and Lunge, but I’ll assume because you’re reading my blog that you already know that.

Here are ten more books to give the dog lover in your life. I have extremely high standards for dog books, so inclusion on this list is high praise indeed. I’m not like those reviewers on Amazon who say, “I love any book that has a dog in it.”

From left to right, my recommendations are:

Suspect

1) Suspect by Robert Crais (fiction)

Suspect is about a cop who lost his partner in a shootout, and a military dog who lost her handler to an explosion in Afghanistan. I’ve read all of Crais’ books and this is officially my favorite. 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.

Crais does a masterful job conveying Maggie’s body language and how she alerts to smells. Early on, I wished there were pictures. I wanted to see Maggie beyond the silhouette on the cover. Turned out, I didn’t need photos, because she is written so well. What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.

dog inc

2) Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend by John Woestendiek (non-fiction)

I never gave much though to what actually happens in order to clone a dog, and to be honest, I was more interested in the emotional ramifications when a dog is cloned. What’s it like for the humans? For the clone?

Woestendiek does a fairly good, if repetitive, job explaining the science. First, an egg must be harvested from a dog, and then a surrogate dog must carry the embryo. Probably dozens of times in this book, Woestendiek writes that the DNA of the cloned animal is put into the egg and then zapped with electricity. Hundreds of dogs have been experimented on, and hundreds of mutant puppies born and killed in the quest to bring dead pets back to life. It’s a gruesome business, and sure, maybe acceptable if the end goal is curing cancer, but not for our amusement. I recommend this book to anyone who’s ever wondered about the ethics of cloning pets.

romeo

3) A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans (non-fiction/memoir)

A Wolf Called Romeo mixes non-fiction narrative with straight-up encyclopedic non-fiction about wolf behavior. In general, I prefer story, but perhaps one must understand wolves in general to truly appreciate how extraordinary it was for this black wolf, Romeo, to spend multiple winters fraternizing with the citizens of Juneau and their dogs.

Most dog owners will appreciate the interplay between Romeo and domesticated dogs, and enjoy learning about the differences/similarities between these evolutionary cousins.

I hadn’t realized how rare it is for a human to be injured or killed by a wolf. As reported here, there have only been TWO human fatalities believed to have been caused by wolves in North America.

Part-Wild

4) Part Wild: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs by Ceiridwen Terrill (non-fiction/memoir)

Another book that is part memoir, part wolf encyclopedia, Part Wild is more emotionally involving than A Wolf Called Romeo. It is about a woman raising a companion wolfdog. Terrill makes a lot of the same mistakes naive dog owners make, only the stakes are higher because Inyo is more volatile and more aggressive than your average canine.

This is also the story of Terrill’s emotional health and interpersonal relationships. It’s a cautionary and heartbreaking tale about bringing a wild animal into your home and your heart.

Hit by a Flying Wolf

5) Hit By a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Real Life with Dogs and Wolves by Nicole Wilde  (memoir)

As a fan of Nicole Wilde’s blog about dog behavior, I didn’t expect Hit by a Flying Wolf to so closely echo my own experiences. How reassuring to learn that an expert has struggled with a dog as much as I have!

The first half of the book contains stories about four of the dogs Wilde has lived with, and the second half concerns wolf rescue. The first dog, a long-haired German shepherd, had the same fear of high-pitched noises that my dog Mia has. Mojo, her “soul dog,” was the crossover dog who helped her learn that positive reinforcement training is more effective than using old-fashioned choke collars. I have a special affinity for Bodhi, who came from a shelter and shared my dog Leo’s penchant for doing things like “grabbing a trailing hand and chomping down, or jumping up in front of me and placing teeth around my arm, exerting a disturbing amount of pressure.” Bodhi’s story hit home the most for me, because it illustrates how much dedication is needed sometimes to get through to a troubled dog, and shows that it’s worth it.

A major highlight of this book are the color photographs. It bums me out when photos in dog books are grainy and black and white, or worse, when there are no photos at all. I want to see the dogs! Wilde is an accomplished photographer. Not only are the animals described vividly in prose, but the images of the dogs and wolves also are stunning.

Wallace6) Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls by Jim Gorant (non-fiction)

I think “The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls — One Flying Disc” is probably the best subtitle of all time, but it doesn’t address the aspect of Wallace’s story that I most relate to. Wallace started out dog aggressive. Maybe he was just experiencing barrier frustration when he lashed out at other dogs while in the shelter, but he was in danger of being euthanized. Lucky for Wallace, Roo and Clara Yori stood up for him.

By channeling Wallace’s drive into flying disc, Roo Yori effectively gave his dog a “job,” something trainers will tell you dogs need to keep them from developing bad habits and behavior problems. From that point on, Wallace seems never to have another aggressive episode. Another aspect of Wallace’s story that resonated with me is that even when it seemed like the sport was rough on Wallace’s body, Yori kept playing disc with him. Yori recognized that Wallace’s love of/drive for the disc was so strong, that Wallace would play long after the lights at the park went out

tulip7) My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (memoir)

I saw the cover of this book on a poster at my local bookstore and read it long before I was a dog author. It’s a completely charming account of a man and his dog. Any writer who is in love with his dog wants to put into words how beautiful the animal is, and do justice to every expression and behavior, and Ackerley achieves this.

A lot of the book is about Ackerley’s efforts to mate Tulip, not because he wants to raise puppies, but because that is what nature intends for female dogs in heat. At the very least, the book is an education in the mating of dogs in captivity.

Originally published in 1956 and set in England, it’s also interesting to read about the attitudes toward companion animals at the time.

tuesday8) Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalván (memoir)

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. Then, I was completely won over by scenes of illicit games of fetch after dark in a closed Brooklyn park.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone comes back from war without serious psychological damage, and in Montalvan’s case, he struggled with physical injuries as well. The healing power of his relationship with Tuesday is nothing short of miraculous. The book is heartwarming and makes me wish every returning veteran could have a service dog.

dogs_purpose_sm dogs_journey_sm9) A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron (fiction)

Okay, this is a two-fer, because A Dog’s Journey concludes the story begun in A Dog’s Purpose. Something about books written from the dog’s point of view get me * right here * (points to heart).

Cameron takes us inside the mind of a dog who reincarnates a few times until he discovers what his purpose is in this world. Having the narrator die and come back created suspense. As he lived his life as golden retriever Bailey, I was very afraid something terrible would happen to him.

During each of his lives, the dog is a completely believable character. I loved his view of the world and his affection for his people. I was completely charmed by this story. One of my top five dog tales.

The Dogs of Babel

10) The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (fiction)

This is my number one favorite book. I read it years ago, and I still think of it nearly every day when I refill my dogs’ water dish. See, the main character, Paul, wants to teach his dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback named Lorelei, to talk so she can tell him how his wife, Lexy, died. He starts by trying to get Lorelei to say “water,” and in doing so, he takes a drink from her water dish and thinks, “I should use soap more often when I clean this bowl.”

That’s an extremely small part of what stuck with me. The novel accurately depicts depression (both the husband’s and the wife’s) and grief, and the role a dog can play in a family. My heart broke for the dog when she searched the house for her dead owner. I also love the subplot about the wife’s mask-making. I finished the book with tears streaming down my face, which I promptly buried in Isis’s chest.


Okay, so technically, I’ve given you a list of 12 books, if you include the sequel to A Dog’s Purpose and my own book. Consider that my Christmas gift to you.

In case this is your first time here, this is my book:

BarkLunge

Did your favorite dog book make the list? What did I miss?

Good writing is hard work!

It’s Pacific Northwest Writer Blog Hop time!

The hilarious and very smart Tiffany Pitts, author of Double Blind, tagged me with the following four questions about the writing process:

What am I working on?

Right now, I’m busily promoting my first book, Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes, which has been so rewarding and fun, but it’s time for me to get back to work on the novel I started in 2009.

Fight Like a Lady is about a young woman who competes in mixed martial arts and rescues dogs from dog fights. Officially, I will resume work on it in November.

It didn’t start out being a dog book; the focus was meant to be on mixed martial arts, but evidently, I have a calling, and that is to write about dogs. I’m looking forward to adding a Fight Like a Lady page to this site, complete with a summary blurb, but first, I need to get a picture of a blue pit bull to represent Apollo, the leading dog in the book. We saw a really cute blue pit bull puppy at the dog park a few weeks ago, but I didn’t have my phone or other picture-taking device on me, so I didn’t get his picture. Hope we see him again.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I don’t know of any mainstream novels about women in mixed martial arts, so I’m hoping to break some ground there. The Battered Hearts series is the closest I’ve found, but that’s erotic romance, which my book is not.

There is an emerging category of fiction that fits between young adult and adult adult, which they are calling “new adult.” Most of the popular titles in this category tend to be erotic romances as well. I hate to say that my book differs from others in the genre because it is not erotic, so I’ll put it like this: I think there is a market for fiction about a young woman in her early twenties, when she is out of college, but not yet on the path toward her life’s work, when she is trying to figure out what that might be.

But there is a romance in it. And sex. Perhaps I should make the sex steamier to sell more books.

Why do I write what I do?

I chose mixed martial arts because I wanted to write about something I knew a bit about, but where the character was not based on me. My earlier novels in progress were all thinly veiled memoirs. Then I actually wrote and published a memoir, and I certainly could write a few more of those, but not until I know how they will end.

I didn’t know I had a memoir to write about Isis until after she died. Only then was the narrative arc of her life clear. I may have a memoir to write about Leo and Mia and future dogs; we’ll have to see how their lives unfold. Other memoir topics I could explore are being “a little bit mentally ill,” and being “shacked up and child free.”

Writing is part of who I am. In the past few years, it’s become increasingly clear that dogs are my passion. That’s why I write about them. No offense, but I like them better than people.

How does my writing process work?

Quite a bit like this Peanuts cartoon I’ve had on my bulletin board for roughly 10 years:

IMG_0417.JPG

I write a word. I get up and pace around the roof of my dog house. I write another. Sometimes I eat a cookie or take a nap. Frequently ideas come to me while I’m walking my dogs.


I hereby tag:

Nancy Schatz AltonNancy-IMG_8445, ParentMap contributor and author of The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book, as well as an upcoming memoir about parenting challenges.

and

Cinthia Ritchie
Cinthia Ritchie, a marathon and mountain runner in Alaska and author of Dolls Behaving Badly, which was called “a fun read” by Publishers Weekly and “a compelling debut novel” by Booklist.

Would you clone your dog?

When asked who would play us in the movie of Bark and Lunge, it’s easy to cast the roles of me and Rob. Right now, I’m thinking Kristen Bell and Chris Pratt, but I’ve also thrown out Claire Danes and Jennifer Lawrence for me, and Matt Damon and Andrew Garfield for Rob.

The real challenge though, would be casting Isis. Someone suggested we clone her, which actually, is a possibility because we have some of her baby teeth. Think of it … we could shoot the movie throughout her life, just like Boyhood!

It would be a true test of nature versus nurture. I’ve often thought that if we had socialized Isis correctly, if we’d never put a prong collar on her, Isis would not have been a totally different dog. She might have been less fearful or leash-reactive, but she still would have nipped our ankles with her needly puppy teeth, and pulled on the leash, and loved soccer balls and licking ears and lying across my body like a cuddly Isis blanket.

But if we cloned her … if we really could do it all over again, would a dog with Isis’s exact genetic make-up be the same as Isis? Would she be predestined to die young or could we prevent her early death?

I can take the fantasy pretty far. I picture bringing baby Isis into this house, where Leo would be way more accepting of a new puppy than Isis was of him. And she’d have big sister Mia to keep her in line. If Isis had Leo and Mia’s ankles to nibble on, would that make her less likely to nibble ours?

How much would I be willing to pay to create a genetic match? I feel like if I could pay on credit, I’d pay any amount to have four more years with Isis. But that would be selfish. I should spend that money on finding homes for shelter dogs.

Still … I’d do it for science.

Would you?

Snoopy's Dog Blog

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For the first time, I’m also joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop!

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A writer writing about writing (about dogs)

My friend Tiffany Pitts, author and mother to an awesome shepherd named Thor Michaelson, invited me to participate in a writerish blog hop. I mention Thor Michaelson because 1) this is a dog blog and 2) Tiffany and I met through Thor.

I’d been following Thor Michaelson on Facebook for several months when I happened to find myself sitting next to Tiffany at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference last summer: “Is your name Tiffany? I’m obsessed with your dog!”

Who says it’s hard to make new friends as an adult?

Tiffany is the author of the hilarious and smart sci-fi novel Double Blind, which is the first in the Thanatos Rising series. I highly recommend it, especially to the cat people among you who will appreciate my favorite character, Toesy.

Blog Hop

Note: I rearranged the order of the questions for the benefit of readers who come here looking for stuff about dogs.

Which part of researching your current novel was most interesting?

My current project is a novel called Fight Like a Lady, about a female mixed martial arts fighter who rescues fighting dogs. I developed an affinity for pit bulls from watching Pit Bulls and Parolees, and despite not having any pit bull friends of my own, created several pit bull characters. Earlier this year, I started volunteering at the Humane Society of Skagit Valley, and discovered that everything I fantasized about rescued pit bulls is true. They’re friendly and cuddly and have huge smiles and most of them let me kiss them on the head. I know I shouldn’t go around kissing dogs I’ve just met on the head, but I can’t help it.

Prior to this experience, I had written a scene at an animal shelter where all the volunteers are old ladies who are afraid of the rescued fighting dogs. I hope that when my friends at the Humane Society read it, they won’t think it’s based on them. I might need to rewrite it.

Where do you like to write?

I have two different writing desks at home, but right now neither is in any condition to foster creativity. The first is in the guest room, which is decorated like a little girl’s bedroom with Disney posters and other artifacts from my Hollywood days. (Note: No little girl has lived there since we bought the house.) We squeezed Rob’s old desk under the window and it is a nice writing space with a view of the rhododendrons, but it’s also hot in the summer, and right now, the room is a complete mess, with piles of clothes I mean to give away, and shoes and purses heaped on the floor. I can’t really even get to the desk, although that is where my laptop rests when she’s charging.

A few years ago, I created a space for myself in our library (which at one point was the only room in the house without a TV). I pushed a balance ball chair up to a sturdy old table of my grandmother’s. But right now the table is piled up with books and papers, and not suitable for writing.

Now that I have a lovely, lightweight MacBook Air, I can write anywhere. I am writing this from a recliner in the TV room.

How important are names to you in your books? How do you choose them?

Rob and I had some trouble coming up with a name for Leo, our second dog, and I recycled some of the vetoed names in Fight Like a Lady. In my memoir, Bark and Lunge, the names mostly were predetermined, but of course, I named the main character, Isis, in real life too. I still think it’s the most beautiful name in the world, and wish it weren’t the acronym for a terrorist organization in the Middle East. Looks like I picked the wrong summer to release a book about a dog named Isis.

I changed some names in the memoir, always with some connective thread that made sense to me. A dog named Belle… like Michelle, My Belle; I renamed her Rita, like Lovely Rita, Meter Maid. Shoot, now I’ve outed Belle.

I named Vicky, the heroine in Fight Like a Lady, based on what her fight nickname would be. She thinks fight promoters will call her “Vicky Victorious,” but instead, they latch onto her last name, Bergman, and call her “The Iceberg.”

Do you read your reviews? How do you respond to the bad reviews (if you get them)?

I understand writers (and actors and directors) who have a policy against reading their reviews, but when I only have ten reviews so far on Amazon, of course I’m going to read them all. (Hey, advance readers… don’t forget, I’m counting on you to post a review!)

I’ve been steeling myself for the inevitable mean reviews, but my feelings haven’t been hurt yet. I got my first one-star review the other day, and totally agree with it. The reader said my book was “How NOT to train a dog.” Yes, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what my book is. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it or relate to it.

I would never respond to a negative review on Amazon or Goodreads, but one critical reviewer also commented right here on the blog, so I’ve had a conversation with her about some of the things she didn’t like. I understand where she’s coming from.

What are your favorite books to give as gifts?

I give away almost every book that I read. Usually to my mother, or a fellow author, or a fellow dog-lover, depending on what the book is. I’m trying to think of a book that I’ve given more than once. A Dog’s Purpose, I would give that as a gift. Or Robert Crais’ Suspect.


Pam HelbergI hereby tag Pam Helberg, a brilliant writer and friend who’s written beside me in both a fiction and memoir class, and at numerous cafes, conferences and retreats.

Pam Helberg is working on her memoir, an intimate look at what happens when the Perfect Lesbian Family falls apart, a story by turns humorous and heartbreaking. Her essay “Body Language” appeared in the anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religion Seal Press, 2013, and her essay “Don’t Hold My Hand in Pocatello,” will be published in the Ooligan Press anthology Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity in Winter 2015.  Pam is currently working on her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Antioch University in Seattle.

Please visit her at pamelahelberg.com

And then go look at some pictures of dogs and cats.

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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.