C is for Cheesy!

As regular readers know, my leash-reactive German shepherd Leo has made great progress lately as a result of what I call the Cheesy Technique. Based on the CARE for Reactive Dogs program, I’m creating a positive association with the things he enjoys barking at. When he sees those things, I give him a special treat he only gets on his walks: string cheese.

As you can see in the video, Leo has learned to turn his head to me when he feels stressed. This is great success! I have a bit of dialogue in the video that deviates from my commitment to all-positive language, but I kept it in the video, because it is a prime example of What TO Do when a child is running toward your leash-reactive dog. Leo and I both handled it beautifully, if I do say so myself.


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

fitDogFridayThe FitDog Friday Blog Hop is brought to you by SlimDoggyTo Dog with Love and My GBGV Life. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!  

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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!


BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop

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Training versus management for leash-reactive dogs

leo smile

A few years ago, I decided we were going to cure Leo of his reactivity to bicycles. We planned to walk around the campus of the nearby university where Rob works, with Rob’s bicycle. We started with Rob walking beside the bicycle, and Leo was totally cool with that. Then, another bicycle whizzed past, Leo barked and I crouched to the ground and started to cry.

It all felt so hopeless because there’s no place where I can truly control the environment. We tried a few more times, then switched back into management mode. Since I can’t train Leo not to react to bicycles, I decided, I’m just going to walk him in places where we can more easily avoid bicycles.

However, there’s no place in town we can truly avoid bicycles, so what this really means is that I walk Leo in places where I can see bicycles coming from farther away, and guess what? I’ve been able to do more than manage him.

Fern Camacho of The Great Dog Adventure discusses the difference between management and training in a few of his podcasts. Most recently in this one about leash reactivity. I would add a caveat to his suggestion to stand in front of the dog to break eye contact with the trigger. If you have a redirected biter, like I do, this can lead to a bite on the leg. That’s why I use treats.

Leo has a very short scale of reactivity. He goes from mildly concerned about a stimulus to full-blown reaction very quickly. Rewarding him with food when he’s just past the concerned phase has led to actual progress in counter-conditioning him to the trigger. I carry string cheese in my hand on our walks, and when I can use a stimulus as a teaching moment, I let him see the thing, then say “Cheesy” to get him to look away from it to take a bite of cheese. I let him look, I give him cheese, until we’re past the thing.

As the stimulus (bike, jogger, dog) gets closer, he takes the treat harder and harder, which hurts my fingers, but lets me know how far past his comfort zone we are. That’s training, because he’s gotten more comfortable with triggers at shorter distances. Now, when he sees a scary thing, sometimes he looks to me for the cheese instead of barking and lunging at the thing.

Management is when I try to “distract” him by stuffing the cheese in his face and getting him out of there. It doesn’t always work.

But I’ve gotten so good at it that sometimes what I think will be management turns into a training moment.

The other day, while walking the pups around Rob’s parents’ neighborhood, an old man on a bicycle headed straight for us. “I don’t know what do to,” I said, as I turned and walked in the other direction. Leo looked over his shoulder, but didn’t bark at the guy, and somehow I timed it perfectly to lead Leo into a driveway and behind a shrub that didn’t block his view of the bike, but prevented him from lunging at it as it passed by. I was running low on cheese by this point on the walk, but still I cheesy-cheesed him until the bike was gone.

Unfortunately, my skills are no match for bizarre uncontrollable moments like the following.

While walking the dogs at night, adorned in their flashy Dog-E-Glow collars, Rob carrying a flashlight and me wearing a headlamp, we darted across the street to avoid a jogger. We darted back, and then saw what looked like a single light moving slower than a car. A bicycle. We darted back across the street into a driveway and hid behind some bushes.

The cyclist pulled over at the mailbox directly across the street and turned off his light. What the hell? What’s he doing? “I don’t understand what’s happening,” I said, not caring that the dude could hear me.

Since he wasn’t moving, we tried to continue on our way. Rob asked, “Are you just pausing?” as I stumbled over an uneven patch of grass and fell to one knee.

“I kind of live here,” the guy said, turning on his bright light, shining it in our faces.

Rob said, “Our dog barks at bicycles,” while I said, “Cheesy cheesy,” trying to keep Leo’s focus on me, but come on, how much can we expect a German shepherd to take? He started barking.

Since there was no sidewalk on our side of the street, and the guy said he lived there, and Leo was already barking, we crossed back over on the other side of the guy, and kept walking. Turned out, the guy didn’t live there, but next door to the house in whose driveway we had hidden. So the genius turned around and rode beside us (Leo still barking) back to his driveway, saying, “I saw two people lurking in the bushes, what was I supposed to think?”

Oh, I don’t know, we had two dogs and were wearing various accessories designed to make ourselves visible, what kind of malicious mischief could we possibly be up to? He was supposed to think, Those are two people walking two dogs, minded his own business, and ridden into his own damn driveway.

Okay, yes, I do see how we looked strange, and we do have some weird crime on our block. If Rob saw people hiding in our own driveway, he would have confronted them too, but not in our neighbors’ yards. We expect weird behavior in those driveways.

Lesson learned. The whole thing was very embarrassing, and sadly, makes me reconsider our fairly successful strategy of hiding in people’s bushes.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training blog hop, hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Shout out to Rubicon Days for putting Bark and Lunge in her positive training toolkit. Also for the reminder that positive dog trainers should never feel like dorks for wearing treat pouches (or fanny packs) and doing weird things like chanting “Cheesy cheesy,” every time another person passes by, or you know, hiding in people’s driveways.

Positive Training 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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Conversation with a cat lady

An elderly lady walked out of my office building as I crossed the parking lot. She stared at me as I neared her, and I realized that she was trying to read my shirt.

Me: It says Never Walk Alone.

Her: Oh, that’s a very good idea.

I turned around to show her the back.


Me: It’s a dog-walking shirt. It’s not where you walk, it’s who walks with you.

Her: I walked with my husband for fifty years.

Me: Do you have a dog?

Her: No, I have a cat.

Me: You should get a dog.

Her: We had three cats. The neighbor’s dog ate two of them. He said, “Maybe a coyote got them.” I said, “No, a black dog got them.” My neighbor had a black dog.

Me: So I guess you’re not a dog person…

never walk

Shed shaming

dogs in chairs

I have a phobia about inviting people in my home. Not because these two critters aren’t hospitable, it’s just that there’s no place for a person to sit without getting covered in dog hair.

You know those signs, T-shirts, and dish towels that say “No outfit is complete without dog hair”? That pretty much describes my wardrobe. I’ve accepted this. I’m okay with it.

Reusable grocery bags are a problem, though, because there’s no hair-free place to keep them in my car. I used to have a plastic tote where I kept the bags, along with my outdoor gear for work, but that was when I only had one enormous dog. I removed the tote to make room for Mia.

A grocery checker sneered at me once and said she could refuse to use my bags because they’re a health hazard. Lady, you think I don’t know my hairy reusable bags are disgusting? Lately I’ve just been paying the extra five cents for paper bags. I’ve tried washing the reusable bags, but the dog hair is stuck in there pretty good. I’d throw them away, but that seems wasteful. Guess I should get a different style of bag.

I used to vacuum my car before having it serviced, but somewhere along the line, I decided to own it. This is the Pacific Northwest! Our cars are dirty! Our dogs are big!

I had to make a repeat visit to the dealer this week because my dashboard lights went screwy after I had two bulbs replaced. (Boy, was that a waste of money. In hindsight, I would rather have burned out defrost and A/C lights than pay $120 in labor to have the guy futz back there, bump my other bulbs and make then go out intermittently. My car may be filthy, the interior chewed up by dogs, but apparently I’ll throw money away on superficial things under the naive impression I’m taking good care of my vehicle.) Usually, I don’t even see the mechanic who works on my car. When I pick up my car, it’s cheerfully waiting for me in the parking lot.

This time, the mechanic called me back to the inner sanctum to show me that my dashboard lights up just fine. And if it goes out, just give it a smack. Then he sent me out the front door while he drove my car around.

When he climbed out of my car, he quite conspicuously brushed off his pant legs. Because what could be more repugnant than having dog hair transfer from the seat of my car to his mechanic’s uniform?

Have you ever felt so completely shed shamed?

The Good Dog Park v. The Bad Dog Park

Photo Feb 16, 1 38 02 PM

Queen and King of the hill at the “bad” dog park

There are lots of reasons not to take your dog to a dog park, and most of these have two legs and spend their time texting when they should be watching their dogs. But sometimes, especially when it’s cold and rainy and your dog barks and lunges when he’s on a leash, you really just want to take him somewhere to run off all that energy. We do walk him, but he’s kind of a meanderer on a leash. We have a fenced backyard, and we play games with our dogs meant to stimulate their little brains, but Leo tires himself out best when he can run with other dogs at the park.

In my community, there are two dog parks where I have at various times been a “regular.” When Isis was first old enough to socialize, she did not have a reliable recall, and was prone to do things like run away from me during obedience class tests. I started taking her to the one dog park in town that is fully fenced. I loved watching her race around with the other dogs, once she stopped being afraid of them.

What I learned later is that this is the “bad” dog park, where owners (like me) who have no control over their dogs go. The crowd there is a little rough and tumble.

I thought I’d found the answer to all of Isis’s excess energy needs when I discovered the “good” dog park. While it’s not fenced, the play area is down a trail and bounded by a hill, and Isis never once attempted to escape. She did however, start to show fear aggression toward smaller dogs, and we had to stop going there.

Leo is extremely well socialized with other dogs, so for the past few months, we’ve been taking him and Mia to the “good” dog park quite a bit. Mia didn’t do much playing with other dogs. She liked to run around with her ball in her mouth. Not sharing it, not wanting any humans to throw it for her. But she seemed to enjoy lying on the ground watching the action. Most of the time, Leo romped with the other dogs, and if there was no one fun to play with, we threw him a ball.

Occasionally there would be a clueless owner who let her five-year-old child run onto the field wielding a Chuck-It, her face at the exact height of an excitable Lab mix. You’ve all heard stories about dog park fiascos; I can’t top those. Really, this dog park is as close to ideal as I think a dog park can get.


For some reason, joggers and cyclists seem to think it’s a good idea to jog or cycle on the gravel trail that runs alongside the off-leash area. Granted there aren’t loose dogs there 24 hours a day, but I want to hang a notice next to the sign for the off-leash dog area that says, JOGGERS AND CYCLISTS WITHOUT DOGS, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? and THIS IS NOT A GOOD PATH TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO RIDE A BIKE.

It’s not a very scenic trail. It literally smells of sewage because it runs past a wastewater treatment plant. There was a time the trail led to the bay, but at the moment, it’s blocked off because of construction and you can’t get there from there.

Despite Leo’s penchant for barking and lunging at bicycles and joggers, sometimes he completely ignored these distractions at the off-leash park. Other times he ran after a cyclist, but not to any disastrous end. However, the last time we went to this park, he ran up to a jogger and clearly frightened her. I get why she was scared, even though he didn’t bark or jump on her, but my attitude also was kind of, “Hey, lady, I don’t bring my dogs to your track! Why are you jogging through my off-leash play area?”

Bottom line: It’s our fault for not having strong enough voice control that we can call Leo away from a jogger or a bicycle, so he lost his “good” park privileges.

Today, we returned to the “bad” park, enclosed by chain link to keep the joggers out. Calling it the “bad” park isn’t fair to all the lovely people and their dogs who were there, but it was a boisterous crowd. Mia was scared. She chomped on her ball and stuck pretty close to our sides. A dog barked in her face to incite her into play, and her hackles went up. Leo did a lot of running around, which was the whole point, after all.

As responsible dog owners, we kept a sharp eye on our dogs, as well as the other dogs. I was prepared to leave at the first sign of inappropriate behavior, but we didn’t see any. At one point, Leo joined a group chasing after a dog who had tucked its tail under. I called him away and headed for the exit gate. Happily, he obeyed and we were on our way.

Is this like taking my badly behaved child from a playground in suburbia to a park in the inner city? How are the dog parks in your community? What are the signs that you look for that tell you it’s time to leave?

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How to walk a “normal” dog


Things that have happened during my recent mellow meanderings with Mia:

1. A loose dog ran down the middle of a busy street toward us. We crossed the street to see if he had a tag on his collar, but he did not. We walked with him up a cul de sac where we found a neighbor who told us the dog just roams loose all the time. I was not entirely satisfied with this answer, but the dog stayed in the cul de sac. Short of calling animal control, I didn’t know what else I could do.

2. A couple was jogging with a dog across the street. I quickened my pace because Mia and the dog kept sneaking looks at each other. The couple must have crossed the street and slowed their pace to walk behind me, which I only realized when I turned around to go back for a poop bag I’d left behind. When I saw them, I said, “Oh, sorry.” And they said, “No, you’re fine,” walked around us and jogged off on their merry way.

3. While walking at night, we saw a man and a dog heading toward us on the same side of the street. So accustomed am I to veering very far around all other warm-bodied creatures, I swung a wide berth. The man asked if his dog could say Hi, so we moved closer. The man told me his dog’s name and said he was 12 years old. Since it was dark, I hadn’t realized how gray the dog’s muzzle was, or that he appeared to be a pit mix. Our dogs sniffed each other very politely. I wondered later whether the man thought I was trying to avoid him because his dog was a pit bull. He may well have considered it his duty to show me how friendly his dog was, when really, my only concern was that I not make anyone uncomfortable by bringing my scary German shepherd too close.

4. While walking at night, with a reflective light attached to Mia’s collar, I saw a blur of white in the street up ahead. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized it was a light-colored dog being walked on a leash. Maybe its owner was trying to swing a wide berth around us, but they still passed pretty close. The dog lunged toward us excitedly, so I let Mia sniff hello. Did I have another option? There was nowhere else to go, but I suppose I could have tried to hustle her past the other dog without them meeting.

The other dog reared back its head and yip/snarled (yarled?). Sounding mildly exasperated, and yet also mildly surprised, the owner said to her dog, “What’s that about? Was it the light?” I was 10 steps ahead at that point and wanted to say something reassuring, because boy, have I been there. But I also know the most helpful thing the non-reacting dog can do in that situation is get out of there.

I called back a very socially awkward mumble that was supposed to convey, “You know, maybe it was the light around Mia’s neck. But don’t worry about it. You’re fine. Your dog’s fine. We’re cool. Have a nice night.” I think what came out was: “Huh, yeah, mayb.” (sic. I didn’t actually say the last syllable of “maybe.”)

Now, I don’t know if that’s the first time her dog has ever been unfriendly to another dog, but I do know that saying something like “What’s that about?” is a reflex when you have a reactive dog. One must give the appearance to other dog owners that one knows one’s dog has been inappropriate.

The last incident really drove home the fact that I do not know how to walk a normal dog.

Social mores likely vary among regions. In some parts of the country, I’m sure it’s considered very rude to let your dog anywhere near another person, but here in the Northwest, we are beyond dog friendly. Our local bookstore even welcomes pooches.

That said, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to veer away from other people walking their dogs, as I attempted to do with the man and his pit bull, or let them get within sniffing distance, as I did with the woman and the light-colored dog.

Both felt wrong to me, but either is fine by Mia, because she is a “normal dog.” Her hackles might go up if she doesn’t like what she smells, she might notice another leashed dog at a distance, but generally speaking, she’s not going to bark, lunge, and pull me off my feet. She’s not going to snarl, snap at, or bite another dog.

Leo, on the other hand, is not allowed to walk around our neighborhood, because he would not have handled any of the above situations well. He would have barked and lunged at all those dogs. Actually, he might have made the best impression in that last scenario. If I let him pull on his leash right up to every dog he sees, to let him get a good sniff, I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t bark and lunge at them. Fairly. But I don’t let him do that, because as dog friendly a town as this is, I know better than to let my 100-pound German shepherd get all up in everydog’s face.

What should the rule be? Do I have to call out to every dog-walker I see: “My dog’s friendly. Is yours? Can she say hello?” Because you know there are lots of people who will say yes, even when the answer is no.


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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.

My “normal” dog

The magic of Mia is that I can take her anywhere. Truly. She doesn’t even need a leash; she sticks right by me. Even on a leash, she doesn’t bark and lunge at any of the usual suspects.

My original plan for the Festival of the River was to take Mia with me both days, but then I decided to leave her at home the first day while I set up the booth and got a feel for things. As last year, I watched dogs walk by all day long and looked forward to having my buddy with me the next day.

When Rob and the doggies joined me that evening, we left Leo in the car while we picked up a few items I’d left at my booth. After we set up our tent in the woods, I took Mia on a second trip into the crowd to get a slice of pizza. Both times, she was an exemplary ambassador for the German shepherd breed, accepting oohs and aahs of admirers with a quiet grace and politely greeting other leashed canines large and small.

mia tent

The next morning, as we walked Leo and Rob back to their car, I said, “I’m so proud of Leo. I consider this weekend to be a complete success. Of course, now that I said that, probably Mia will have a complete meltdown. Ha ha ha.”

At the booth, I tethered Mia’s leash to a table as I rearranged my display boards and put out brochures, stickers and temporary tattoos. I set out a bowl of food and water. Early arrivals strolled between the booths, and before I even noticed the white pit bull and its owner, Mia barked at it.

Oh, no. No no no.

A few minutes later, another pair of dogs sparked the same reaction. A biologist working a booth across from me called out, “Kari, I don’t think your dog likes pit bulls.”

True, one of the pair was a pit bull, but I knew this wasn’t a breed-specific reaction.

“If she’s going to bark at every dog that passes by, this is going to be a long day. Ha ha ha,” I said. But I was thinking, If Mia barks at every dog that passes by, no one with a dog is going to stop at my booth, and people who are afraid of German shepherds aren’t going to stop here either. This was a really bad idea.

What am I going to do now? I can’t leave her in the car. I can’t just leave the festival. I have no cell phone reception, so it’s not like I can easily call Rob to come get her.

I had these thoughts because I have a history of owning reactive dogs. Leo’s barrier frustration makes him bark at passing dogs. If he were off leash and allowed to run up to every dog he saw, he would be perfectly friendly. I think. But because he is a redirected biter, I will not test this hypothesis.

Mia is not reactive. I knew she didn’t mean any harm by her barks, but her intent was irrelevant. I could not have a barking German shepherd at my booth.

Mia was unconcerned about other dogs on leash the night before, so what was the difference? Being tethered to a table?

Maybe I’ll just undo her leash and let her roam around my booth. Mia walked to the edge of the booth, nearly touching a vendor of geode wind chimes, and peered behind my vinyl curtain. The geode vendor gave me the stink-eye, so I leashed her back up.

I kicked myself for leaving Mia’s rubber Chuck-It ball in the car that Rob drove home. I tossed her an apple-shaped stress ball in hopes that she’d occupy herself with tearing it up for the next twenty minutes. She sniffed and ignored it.

Think, Kari, think. You know how to solve this problem.

Positive reinforcement. I filled a poop bag with treats and stuck it in my pocket. The next time I saw a dog approach, I gave Mia treats. My initial strategy was to get her to associate treats with the passing dogs, but Mia is so food-motivated that she was distracted enough to seem not even to notice the other dog.

An airedale, the same one we saw tethered to an RV earlier that day, lingered with its owner at a neighboring booth. Mia noticed her and barked a few times. I redirected her gaze in the other direction and wondered, Am I going to have to do this all day?

As it turned out, no, I didn’t have to do it all day. Either the positive reinforcement worked, or Mia just got used to the idea that other dogs were going to walk by. (Or both.) I gave her treats every time I saw another dog coming, but I also worked my booth, meaning I put temporary tattoo application and fish consumption rate explaining above Mia management. One guy entered my booth as I was treating Mia and I thought she might bark at the approaching dog as soon as I took my attention away from her, but she didn’t make a sound, and when I finished with the other guy, the dog was long gone.

While Mia may have driven off a dog-fearing festival-goer or two, she was a major attraction for many, many more people. Far more people asked, “Can I pet your dog?” than asked me to explain the importance of raising the state’s fish consumption rate, although you can bet I used Mia as an opening.

Here, Mia proved to be the bomb-proof dog I know her to be. At one point, I was concerned briefly she might frighten a toddler mid-pet by barking at a passing dog, but she did not. Perhaps strokes from a toddler are as positively reinforcing (and/or distracting) as a handful of treats. Other children cuddled her, rolled on top of her, and even put their sunglasses on her. (I wish I’d gotten a photo of that one.)

Mia and I both relaxed and I was so happy to have her with me. Her presence brightened my day. Gave me someone to talk to during the slow stretches in the afternoon.

As much joy as she brought me, and as much as I know she loves being by my side, it occurred to me that Mia might not actually be having the best time ever.

I had a similar feeling the night before, blissfully snuggled with Rob and the doggies in our tent. Rob had gotten stuck in horrible traffic on the way into the festival, and nettles scraped his legs as we set up camp.

“Are you having fun?” I asked.

“I’m just trying to get through it,” he said, perfectly amiably. I love that about Rob. The outing didn’t meet his expectations, but he didn’t punish me for it. Like Mia, he was there for me, making sure that I had a better time than I would have alone, but not getting all that much out of it himself.

That’s what our dogs do for us. If you asked Mia, she’d tell you she’d rather go with me anywhere than get left at home. But as the responsible adult, I recognize that bringing Mia to the festival was more fun for me than it was for her.

She was bored, lying on the grass beside me for hours on end, with the occasional break to walk to the port-a-potties. Worse, the constant assaults from strangers took a toll. Late in the day, a man asked if he could pet her and Mia barely raised her head to him before letting out an exhausted sigh. Sure, whatever, I’m here for your amusement.

My last post illuminated what I learned last weekend about managing my barrier-frustrated dog, Leo. I also learned a lesson about my perfect, normal, senior dog, Mia. Next year, I won’t force her to work the festival with me. (And Rob doesn’t have to drive down to camp out with me. Unless he changes his mind.)

Sleep tight, Mia Bear, you worked hard.

This post is part of a Senior Pet Awareness blog hop, brought to you by BlogPaws.

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Leo wants to do fun things, too

I have a T-shirt from Dog is Good that reads: “To my dog, this I promise you: I will love you unconditionally; for who you are, not who I’d like you to be. I will protect you and keep you safe. Always.”

I love this sentiment so much that I bought the shirt despite the who/whom error. It beautifully expresses the takeaway from my memoir about Isis.

This promise nagged at me when I couldn’t fall asleep Friday night. I was scheduled to work all day Saturday and Sunday at the NWIFC booth at the Stillaguamish Festival of the River in Arlington. The festival is awesome for a variety of reasons, not least being that dogs are allowed. Last year, they paraded past me for two days, and a couple of enormous Great Danes even stopped for a spell in the shade of my booth. Next year, I thought at the time, if it’s not too hot, I’ll bring Mia.

We planned for Rob and the doggies to drive down Saturday night and take advantage of my vendor’s perk: overnight camping. We like to sleep in a tent exactly one night a year, usually after a strenuous hike. This year’s lack of a strenuous hike was what I most looked forward to.

As I lay in bed on Friday, eyes wide open and mind racing, I worried about Leo. Barrier frustrated Leo. He gets along with everyone at the dog park, barely noticing the people. A bike can ride past and he doesn’t care. If he’s off leash. But, like Isis before him, he barks and lunges at so many things while on leash. Which causes him to turn his head and bite whatever’s closest. Usually Mia’s head or Rob’s thigh. Mia can handle these redirected bites, but human skin is more sensitive. His redirected bites have broken the skin. By accident of course. He’d never bite a person. Oh no, he’s friendly. But if I’ve learned nothing else, I recognize that Leo is not reliable in uncontrolled situations.

So what was I thinking, bringing Leo to a festival that attracts 6,000 people a day, where he would have to be on a leash around other dogs? I was thinking that he did just fine on-leash at Dog Days of Summer last year. I was thinking, worse case scenario, he sleeps in the car.

I was thinking that I wanted a dog I could take camping. It wouldn’t be fair to leave Leo at home while Mia went to the festival. I wanted Leo to be able to do fun things too.

I couldn’t sleep Friday night because of that promise I’d made Leo. I will protect you and keep you safe. Always.

Was I breaking that promise to put him in a situation where he might not feel safe? Where he might bark and lunge and scare people, or worse, hurt someone?

(I also might have been feeling some social anxiety about having to set up and staff a booth by myself for eight hours two days in a row.)

When I got to the festival Saturday morning, I found a shaded parking spot near an available tent site removed from the festival grounds. See? It’s going to be fine, I told myself. We’ll just keep Leo away from the crowds.

Unfortunately, someone else stole our tent spot during the day, so when Rob and the dogs arrived, we headed deeper into the woods, scratching our legs on nettles to get to a secluded spot for the four of us to snuggle into our three-person tent. We tethered Leo to a tree when he wasn’t inside our tent. Mia, of course, was allowed to wander free, since she never went far.

I was so proud of my boy. Sure he barked at a couple of people who passed by, but we kept him safe by setting up camp far enough away from the trail. I had my best night of sleep yet in that tent. I think Leo did too.

In the morning, we fed the dogs their breakfast beside the car. We didn’t push Leo over threshold by forcing him to encounter hundreds of people, but we did expose him to a dozen or so strangers in the parking area. He blithely ignored an Airedale tethered to an RV about a hundred feet away, and walked parallel to a couple of yippy dogs without incident.

Before Rob and Leo left for the day, we took the dogs down to a little river nook, where we let him off leash. Yes, we ran the risk that he would get the zoomies and escape from us, as Isis did once at the Port Townsend ferry terminal, but here at least Leo was far from vehicle traffic, and we assured ourselves that he’s perfectly friendly off leash. 

My pulse quickened when he raced up the steep stairs carved into the bank, but he came right back, and I was happy to give him those few minutes of freedom to romp and splash in the river. You can see on his face how much he enjoyed it.

leo splash

With Leo, I have to strike a balance. The back of my shirt says, “We will do enjoyable things together every day. I will guide you through this world. But above all, we are a team. I will do my best to be worthy of your love and trust.”

This weekend reminded me that my guidance and his trust in me are absolutely the key to doing enjoyable things together every day.

In my next post, I’ll tell you how Mia enjoyed working the booth with me all day Sunday.