Companion piece to Bark and Lunge

Leo reads Mia a story

Leo reads Mia a story about a brave German shepherd named Maggie.

Just finished Suspect, Robert Crais’ best work!

Obviously, I’m biased, because it’s about a German shepherd.

My mom introduced me to Crais’ Elvis Cole detective novels many moons ago. I’ve read them all and the standalones as well. They’re terrific.

This one really spoke to me. Not just because it’s about a dog. I’ve read a loooot of books about dogs the past several years. I have extremely high standards for dog books.

Suspect is the yin to the yang of my memoir about Isis.

bedtime story2

Remember the other day when I said I should be reading stuff that contributes to my growth as a writer? I was all set to read Dora: A Headcase when I got a box of books from my mom in the mail.

Both my mom and my stepmom told me I’d love Suspect, because it’s about a dog, so I thought I’d just whip through it before I got back to my “serious” reading.

Remember the other day when I said that whatever I’m reading is what I’m meant to be reading?

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.

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. (I know, because Isis told me.) He also depicts so 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.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are an extremely entertaining and compelling pair of detectives, but I can’t say that I relate to either of them. Cole is the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Detective,” after all.  He’s a trifle cocky. And as much as I love Pike, he’s kind of a sociopath. So it was refreshing to read about inexperienced K9 Officer Scott James.

I didn’t think this book would have anything to do with my work revising Bark and Lunge, but oh, how it does!

Do you ever read a book and think, “That character is so totally me, if I had superpowers”? Or “if I were a princess” … or “if I were a spy”?

Maggie, the German shepherd in Suspect, is so totally Isis if Isis had gone into the service. All of the things that Isis did that were scary, we see Maggie do as part of her job. I loved reading another author – a  suspense author – describe a German shepherd barking and lunging at a suspicious person, and how it feels to be on the human end of a German shepherd’s leash.

Crais also 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. (Also, I just imagined her looking like a cross between Isis and Mia).

bedtime story3

What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.

Appropriate dog park behavior or party foul?

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo's counsel at the dog park.

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo’s counsel at the dog park.

We haven’t been to the off-leash park in a while, so we thought we’d go Sunday during the Super Bowl, when we’d have it mostly to ourselves.

Our favorite park isn’t fully fenced, but the play area is between a really steep hill and a waste treatment facility. One trail leads down the steep hill, and another leads in from the parking area. None of my dogs have ever tried to escape, although a smitten Leo did try to go home with a couple of pugs once.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought we’d have the place to ourselves. We saw a middle-aged gent walking with a border collie and Australian shepherd. Mia already was off leash, but we usually keep Leo harnessed up until we’re in full view of the play area. I consider it bad dog park manners to let a dog haul ass into the fray before the other people and dogs can see its human companion.

The man and dogs were on their way out the other end of the park, and Rob said, “Should we wait until they’re gone before we unleash Leo?” And I don’t know why, but I said, “Nah, just let him go.”

Possibly, I wanted Leo to have a chance to greet a couple of other dogs, since he hasn’t gotten to hang with any but Mia since last summer. Possibly, I didn’t want to give him the chance to start barking, like he does when he’s on leash and sees another dog. Maybe I thought that guy would be happy to see a couple of German shepherds on this bleak and rainy Super Bowl Sunday at the park.

Whatever, we were in an off-leash dog park, so we let our perfectly friendly 95-pound German shepherd off leash. He loped over to the other dogs to say, “What’s up?”

The border collie tucked her tail between her legs and hid behind a park bench for a second, before bolting away from her owner and toward us on the path, Leo in hot pursuit.

She zipped past us like a bullet and zoomed up the trail back toward the parking area.

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before,” I said, as I weighed the odds of Leo following the dog all the way out of the park, into the street to who knows where. “Leo!” He, of course, ignored me and kept running after the border collie

The man called his dog’s name, but that critter was gone. We could see Leo through the trees on the path. I looked at Rob, “You better go. Run.”

Rob trotted off in Leo’s direction, but perfect angel that he is, our boy realized the error of his ways (or else the border collie was so far gone he forgot what he was chasing), and he came back. The man passed us, looking, I would say, annoyed. Not terrified that his dog had just run away and might get hit by a car, and not overtly hostile toward us for chasing his dog away.

He said, “She’s just a little puppy.” Hmm. Puppy maybe, but not that little. I’ve seen full-grown border collies that size. He said the same thing to Rob, then trudged up the path after his dog. Was that his excuse for lack of voice control over her, or was it his explanation for why she ran screaming from Leo? Perhaps both.

In hindsight, yes, it would have been better to keep Leo leashed until the man and his dogs were out of sight, since they were leaving anyway. But we were at an off-leash dog park. Dogs are supposed to chase each other. How were we supposed to know the border collie would actually leave the park? Even if I had better voice control of Leo and he came right back to me instead of following the border collie up the path, that wouldn’t have kept the border collie from running off. But… she wouldn’t have run off if Leo hadn’t been chasing her.

As usual, my concern is that another dog owner will blame the German shepherd (and me as the negligent owner) for instigating a problem. I worry that this man thinks Leo chased his dog out of the park. In my mind, that’s not what happened, but I’m biased.

So I put it to you, readers, and not just because I want assurance that Leo and I aren’t responsible for this dog running away. Did Leo display normal, appropriate dog park manners? Are we to blame? I mean, even if the guy hoped to be the only one there, it’s reasonable to expect that a dog might come running up to you at the dog park, right?

I really hope that guy caught up to his dog.

Give doggies the gift of mental stimulation

I celebrated Christmas with my babies this weekend because I leave tomorrow for my traditional Los Angeles festivities.

the tree

I showed a lot of restraint by only buying the kids one present. To Share. Am I stingy or what?

Since it’s so dark, wet and cold around here, I’ve had to find creative ways to keep the dogs entertained. I’ve been feeding them their evening meal in puzzle toys. Based on the concept that our dogs’ ancestors used to spend a lot more time hunting for their meals, food puzzles make domesticated doggies work for their food.

According to Marty Becker, DVM, “Eating out of food puzzles takes memory, skill and manipulation, all of which help our dogs find healthier, less-destructive ways to release pent-up energy.”

Nina Ottosson’s are highly regarded. The plastic ones are durable and easy to clean. I consider $30 to $50 to be pretty expensive for a “dog toy,” but my judgment may be clouded by the fact that regular toys don’t last very long in German shepherd mouths. We’ve had the Tornado and the Brick for a few years now, and I consider them well worth the price.

Recently, we acquired the less expensive, but equally durable and easy-to-clean Dog It Mind Games, which can be played three different ways. The spin-a-whirl version seems to exercise my dogs’ minds the best.

After a few weeks of feeding them in the same three puzzles, I worried that the novelty had worn off and my kids weren’t reaping the same stimulating benefits. So I bought them a brand new puzzle for Christmas. Made by Aikiou, it’s shaped like a paw! I picked it up at our local PetStop, and was so excited about it, I told the salesgirl that I might even give it to the dogs that night. “They don’t know when Christmas is,” I explained.

Again, I showed restraint, wrapping it and putting it under the tree. This is the first Christmas that Leo’s had free roam of the house. Could he be trusted not to mess with wrapped presents under the tree? After all, he’s been surprisingly tolerant of all our decorations. He only pulls ornaments off the tree when I’m sitting right there and he wants my attention.

Turns out, no, he can’t be trusted. How could I have thought otherwise? Within two minutes he had a corner of wrapping paper and the cardboard box underneath torn open. I confiscated the present and waiting patiently until tonight, when I gave him permission to tear it open tonight. He sniffed it and wandered away.

Typical. Last night he proved that he only wants what he’s not supposed to have when Grandma gave both doggies Crunchkins edible cards. Mia enjoyed hers immediately.

mia crunchkins

Leo wasn’t sure what to do with his, and abandoned it in search of some dirty dishes to lick. Later, he pawed through the cardboard box of used wrapping paper to find the plastic wrap that the rawhide card came in, because that’s what he wanted to chew. When we got the dogs home, Leo took a renewed interest in the edible card, running around the house, looking for a place to hide it so that Mia couldn’t take it from him.

“Leo, just eat it! That’s the only way to keep it safe!”

In the middle of the night, Mia got a hold of it and noisily ate it on the bedroom floor.

So. After I unwrapped my dogs’ gift myself, and filled it and the other puzzles with their dinner, they enjoyed their shared Christmas gift. I especially like this one, because, like the Dog Tornado, it holds a lot of food.

Leo puzzleChristmas really is all about the children, don’t you think?

Leo