Follow my lead

Q. How do I stop my dog from barking and lunging on our walks?

A. Don’t take him on walks.

Ha. That’s only partially a joke. Contrary to what the Dog Whisperer tells you, it does not help a reactive dog to keep parading her past the things that make her react. Remember, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. I tried that for months with Isis and wondered what I was doing wrong. It wasn’t until my trainer told me I had to stop before I could go that we started making any progress.

Technically, since I’m not a dog trainer myself, I’m not qualified to give advice on this topic. I can only tell you what my experience has been. Curing leash reactivity is a longer process than I can fit into a blog post, anyway. You’ll have to read my book when it comes out. In the meantime, get yourself a clicker and reward your dog for calm behavior at a distance far far away from the thing that makes him react. If the barking and lunging is so severe you cannot safely take your dog in public, hire a trainer who uses force-free methods.

Force-free, also known as positive only, is the key here. When I used a pinch collar, Isis’s behavior got worse. The technique I was advised to use exacerbated the very problem I was trying to cure. Ironic, huh?

Really, the best way to stop a dog from barking and lunging is to prevent him from barking and lunging in the first place.

But what do I know? Leo’s been trained with positive reinforcement only, and we socialized him in puppy preschool, so what’s his excuse? Perhaps he suffers post-traumatic stress from living with a reactive dog for seven formative months. Perhaps German shepherds are particularly sensitive to bicycles and other fast-moving stimuli. Perhaps I should have clicked and treated him and squealed “bicycle” every time he saw one from the time he was a little puppy. (I was too busy trying to keep him from jumping up and biting my arm during our walks to think of that, but I’m totally doing that with my next dog.)

Perhaps I’m the problem, and I should adopt older dogs from now on. Because in the two-plus years I’ve known her, Mia’s never barked and lunged at a single bicycle.

This advice column is part of the Weekly Writing Challenge from Daily Post.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Image vs. Text

I drafted this post before I saw this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Image vs. Text, and was struggling to pick an image to accompany it. Should I borrow Evernote’s logo, since I’m giving them free advertising anyway? Maybe Rob has a picture of me using my Nook. I was tempted to steal photos of Louis CK, Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer, or at least embed the videos I link to below.

Given the challenge at hand, I have taken a post I didn’t know how to illustrate with one picture, and illustrated it with four images.

The Next Generation of Typos

I no longer know how to write things by hand, so I’ve begun making notes to myself on my Nook and my iPod touch. Evernote seems to be designed for such things, because it syncs to become available on multiple devices.

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evernote.com

I turned off the autocorrect feature on my digital devices long ago, because I trust my own ability to spell over the computer’s assumption that when I type pissy,what I really mean is pussy. True story: my stepmother emailed my significant other that her Blackberry tried to autocorrect her message to him thusly.

In a pinch, I’ve used Evernote to jot down what could be described as a journal entry. Let me explain. In a world before blogs, people wrote things down for themselves as private documentation. Today I felt sad, or My best friend really pissed me off. Things you don’t want other people to read, but make you feel better to express.

I expect that these personal musings will be useful for future memoir or fiction projects, but because those pesky little touch screens are so small, my literal notes to self are riddled with typos. I’m terribly afraid that after my death, some historian will come across them and won’t understand that my spelling errors are a result of the technology of the time.

writing

I do all my writing by keyboard, but I still edit with a pen.

I suppose everyone else in the world has an iPad or whatever, and has been word processing remotely for years, but Evernote has been something of a revelation to me. The members of my writing group provide one another with typed critiques. On a few recent occasions, I’ve wanted to work on my critiques in places that weren’t convenient to take my laptop. On an airplane to and from a weekend getaway, as one example. In the car at the Canadian border crossing, for another.

Disney

Celebrating Rob’s birthday. Didn’t feel like taking the laptop with me.

On the way back from Disneyland in January, I wrote three critiques on my Nook, then uploaded and corrected my spelling errors on my laptop before printing. On Sunday, I planned to do the same, but when I got in the car, I realized that my Nook’s battery wasn’t charged. I handwrote (as legibly as I could) two critiques before I remembered that I had Evernote on my iPod. I wrote the third critique on the tiny handheld touchpad keyboard.

Sometimes technology really a-freaking-mazes me. And I don’t even have a smartphone that uploads photos to Instagram.

Louis CK really nailed it with this commentary. (“Give it a second to get back from space!”)

nook

Pretty sure the coolest thing about my Nook is the sticker I put on the M-Edge case.

I will say (lowering voice like Kim Jong Un’s best friends from growing up), the Nook Tablet is not a great tablet. It’s a fine e-reader and the price was right. But it’s seriously deficient in apps (none for Facebook, for example, which would have been a dealbreaker if I’d known ahead of time) and the web browser is pretty shabby. My next electronic device will be a true tablet (unless my iPod dies and needs replacing first). Probably the iPad mini.

UPDATE 3.24.13: I spent $19.99 to turn my Nook SD card into a Nook 2 Android card. This may have resolved all of my tablet complaints, namely the lack of a Facebook app. Now I just have to adjust to the Android interface, which on first use does not seem as pretty as the Nook’s. Fortunately, I can easily switch between the Nook and the Android just by rebooting the device.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Character

I’ve gotten some feedback recently that I don’t describe people as well as I describe dogs. No huge surprise, since I don’t like people as much as I like dogs. But I would like my readers to be able to “see” the human characters, or at least, that’s what they keep telling me they want from my book.

I decided to use this week’s writing challenge as an exercise to get inside the head of a tertiary character.

1 year

I have no pictures of the main human in this piece, but here’s Isis at about the time it took place. Bet you can’t tell which one Isis is in the scene.

Tracey adjusted the pouch of dog treats clipped to the front of her jeans as she waited eagerly for her new pupils to arrive. At five minutes after the scheduled start time, they finally streamed in: yippy little white dogs, a couple of mixed breeds, and two German shepherds. Plus their owners.

“Welcome, welcome.” Tracey’s eyes shined bright behind her blonde bangs. She shook off the momentary nervousness that no one would show. After all, she was a pro, having designed this class to help dogs with behavior problems such as leash aggression, lunging, barking, and growling.

A brown-haired woman in her thirties maneuvered one of the German shepherds into the room, carefully avoiding getting too close to the other dogs.

“What a pretty girl,” Tracey cooed at the black and gold shepherd. Flipping her long straight hair over her shoulders, she reached into her pouch for a cookie to offer in exchange for a sit. Without needing to be told, the bright-eyed shepherd sat and smiled happily at Tracey.

“Do you have a restroom?” the woman asked.

Tracey pointed the way, and the woman looked uncertain.

“Can she come with me?

“Of course,” Tracey said. “Dogs can go anywhere here.”

“She comes with me at home,” the woman confided.

“It’s a sheppy thing,” Tracey said. “I just love sheppies.”

Australian shepherds were her favorite; she had five at home. Notoriously hard to train, they had been her inspiration to get into dog training. She loved helping other dog owners going through the same struggles. She knew they valued hearing stories about her own dogs.

Tracey arranged the people in a circle of chairs positioned about five feet apart. Since she was a positive reinforcement trainer, she told them to give their dogs lots of treats to keep them from barking at each other. After introducing herself, she explained that all dog behavior problems begin at home. “Does this sound familiar to anyone? Your dog free feeds, meaning he eats whenever he wants. The bowl is always full.”

She paused, validated by her students’ guilty expressions. “He can go outside whenever he wants, through a doggie door. 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 budges you with his nose. ‘Hey, I’m here. Look how cute I am.’ And you play with him.”

Tracey handed out a worksheet she found especially helpful, detailing house rules that each owner should implement if they wanted to improve the dynamic with their dogs. “I know, no one likes being told to keep their dogs off the bed,” she said. “But let me tell you, one of my Aussies was used to being on all the furniture. I didn’t think anything of it, until he started ignoring me in agility class. Once you start taking privileges away, it makes a huge difference in the relationship.”

At their skeptical faces, she added, “I once had a student whose dog bit her husband in bed twice. Twice! Apparently it was more important to her to have her dog in bed than to have a dog who doesn’t bite. If I were sharing a bed with someone, I know I wouldn’t want my dogs biting him.”

She hadn’t meant to reveal her single status to her new students. Not that there was anything wrong with it. Tracey was independent, young, slender, blonde, and pretty; she would have no trouble getting a man if that’s what she cared about. For now, she was happy to concentrate on her career.