WOOF! Holiday Challenges

Welcome to the latest WOOF Blog Hop. We’re Working Out Our Fears about holiday challenges!
bug hut.jpg

We put our presents on top of Leo’s hut instead of under the tree. He’d open them otherwise.

My biggest challenge is leaving the dogs behind. My preference is to spend every single second with Mia and Leo. They’ve gotten so well-behaved when we take them to Rob’s parents’ house. As long as we put the butter in the microwave and out of Leo’s reach, he doesn’t get in any trouble at all. Not since last Thanksgiving, when he made off with a turkey drumstick after we finished eating.

Leo gets his own couch at the grandparents'.

Leo gets his own couch at the grandparents’.

This year, Rob and I are going to see my family in Southern California. Fortunately, Rob’s dad, Jerry, is the best ever dog sitter and stays at our house. Even though his own TV is twice as big, I think Jerry enjoys spending quiet evenings here with Mia and Leo, watching Netflix on our 40-inch TV.

I was feeling kind of guilty for making him stay here Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving night, but actually, maybe he’s happy to get out of whatever Black Thursday shopping Rob’s mom has in store.

We’re a little too reliant on Jerry when we go out of town, which became clear last month. We had two weekend trips planned for October and I had just purchased our Thanksgiving plane tickets when we learned that Jerry had to have surgery on one of the weekends we planned to be gone.

At first, Rob’s mom, Alice, said she’d stay at our house that weekend, but that quickly became ridiculous. We decided to board Leo at a place he’s stayed before where dogs get to play outside during the day. I’d hate for him to be kenneled all day. Leo is such a live-in-the-moment kind of guy, I think boarding him is harder on me than it is on him.

Because we had to leave early for the airport, we imposed on Alice to drive Leo to and from the boarding facility. This worked out great for me, because I didn’t have to suffer the agony of leaving him in the play yard and driving away.

I knew Leo would be fine. Leo is always fine. Still, I fretted. I called Alice as soon as we landed to make sure she didn’t forget to take him. And then I waited, expecting her to call me after she dropped him off. I knew she had a lot on her mind. Jerry’s surgery was the next day! When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I called their house again. Jerry answered again. I think this was the third time I’d called, the day before his surgery, to ask something about my dog. I had to. My chest was in knots. The last time I’d seen Leo was at 5 am and his big brown eyes looked so sad as he watched us load our suitcases in the car. (Rob said Leo was just sleepy.)

When Alice came to the phone, she described Leo sitting on the front seat of the truck. “He’s so tall!” I pictured long, lean Leo, head almost touching the car roof, smiling out the window, and that image replaced the lonesome one I’d been holding onto since we left the house. My chest relaxed. I actually shed a little tear.

That left Mia, once believed to be our perfect dog, but lately revealed to be a house-destroyer. It’s possible that Mia would be fine if she were boarded with Leo, but more likely she’d squeak and whistle and cry, and possibly tear apart the walls of the kennel.

Lucky for us, Joyce, the pet sitter who stayed with Mia when Rob’s parents took us to Hawaii (the last time we boarded Leo) agreed to take Mia to her house. I said, “If you have to leave her alone, probably you want to put her in the backyard.” And lovely Joyce said, “She won’t be left alone.”

How comforting is that?

Joyce picked up Mia after we left, and brought her back after Alice had retrieved Leo on the day we returned, which meant that our pups were waiting for us when we got home! Alice reported that Joyce and her sister and her little dog had “fallen in love with Mia. She can stay with them any time.”

I know how lucky we are to have such wonderful dog sitters. My chest doesn’t have to be in knots the whole time I’m away from them. Still, I always feel most relaxed and safe when we’re all home together.

What do you do with your dogs when you have to be away? Does it break your heart to leave them behind? Is it harder on you than it is on them?

Oz the TerrierDo you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, November 16, hosted by Oz the Terrier and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

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WOOF! Handler Error

You know how no parents think their baby is ugly? Sometimes it’s hard for parents of reactive dogs to see their dogs as scary.


I’m not completely delusional. Leo is a 98-pound dark German shepherd. When he barks and lunges, I know he’s a frightening sight. But I’d like to think, and this is the crazy dog momma in me, that sometimes, if he barks only a few times, maybe other people see him like I do, just a dog being a dog. Maybe they aren’t thinking, “Who is that woman with the vicious dog and why does she let him out of the house?”

We had a great walk Tuesday at the community parking lot. Mia came with, and even though Leo barked a couple of times at a slow-moving jogger, I didn’t think he sounded too ferocious, and the jogger had headphones on and may not have heard him at all. Then, a group of teens — two on foot, one on a bike, and one on a skateboard — crossed the parking lot right in front of us and Leo did NOT bark OR lunge!!! Instead, he watched them with keen, alert interest.

The next day, at the beginning of our walk, I congratulated myself that this place where I started taking Leo to expose him slowly to bicycles, and continued taking him during the winter because it was mostly deserted, has also turned out to be a great place to walk him past numerous distractions now that the weather has turned glorious. I’ve found a great route that takes us past people of all ages and sizes, recreating in all sorts of ways at enough of a distance that Leo either doesn’t react, or if he does react, I’m not completely humiliated, and in the best of all scenarios, sometimes we have a great training moment like Tuesday with the group of teens.

While I was feeling awfully pleased with myself, a man crossed our path with a Husky. I maneuvered Leo away to try to hide behind a car, but he barked a little, and then a jogger passed while the Husky was still in sight and Leo barked a little more. Just a couple of barks. Not particularly low-pitched or menacing ones. (In my admittedly biased opinion.)

The distractions gone, we crossed the street to a kind of berm that runs along an unused baseball diamond. (I’m sure it’s used at some point during the year, but not so far during our walks.) I like this berm because no one else walks on it, and we’re pretty high above the other sidewalk activity, so no one can take us by surprise.

A motorcycle went by below, and my boy gave a mighty bark and a few good lunges. I had the dogs on a bungee-like double leash, so there was some stretch to his lunge, giving me just a hint of a scare that Leo might pull me off my feet and we’d tumble down the berm.

Leo didn’t used to react to motorcycles at all, and he almost never barks at them. His reaction on this walk was the result of trigger stacking. Even though he handled the Husky and the jogger pretty well (and even though he handled the group of partially wheeled teens like a champ the night before), this combination of triggers was too much and too close together in time.

We continued our walk and I tried to remember the word for stacking. I kept thinking piling. Then I thought, A-ha! This is what I will write my WOOF Support blog post about. I better get some pictures.

I walked the dogs toward the skate and bike park, letting them sniff their favorite patches of grass. Not much was going on in the big parking lot, but after I took my attention off my surroundings and started futzing with my mobile device, two bicycles whizzed by. Leo barked. I took a picture.

Fully recognizing my handler error, we meandered back toward the lot where I’d parked. The spring evening was so lovely, I sat down on a curb to take a few more pics of the dogs. Leo and Mia watched families walk to their cars after their hockey lessons or whatever happens weeknights at the Sportsplex. And of course, while I was trying to compose the perfect selfie, two joggers went by. Leo barked. I took a picture.

And that’s why you never take pictures while walking your reactive dog.

Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, May 11, hosted by Oz the Terrier and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

Oz the Terrier

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WOOF! I is for Isis

Brought to you by the letter I and the WOOF Support Blog Hop.

I is for Isis, the most beautiful name of the most beautiful dog in the world.

Finding a picture of Isis that hasn't already been used is way harder than telling you what I love about her.

Isis the Smiley Bird in Springtime

What Do I Love About My Reactive Dog?

Funny you should ask.

After Isis bit someone, her victim referred me to a positive reinforcement trainer. Before we started work, I had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire:

Q. List your priorities. What would make life with your dog easier? What can you tolerate? What can’t you tolerate?

A. Life would be easier if I didn’t have to worry so much when taking her out in public. I would like to walk her without her lunging and barking at bicycles. I certainly want to prevent her from biting people. I would like to take her to the dog park. I would like to have visitors over without her barking at them when they arrive.

After pages of describing Isis’s flaws, I smiled at the final question.

Q. Last but not least, what is wonderful about your dog?

I loved that question! I imagined other dog owners going through this application process, fed up, ready to rehome their dog, thinking they had the worst dog in the world. Here our trainer was reminding those people to stop and remember why they had a dog in the first place. Not that I needed that reminder.

A. Pretty much everything. I asked Rob, and he said, “Her smile.” It’s true, she is a very happy, friendly dog. Very smart, affectionate, and sweet. I love playing with her and walking her (when she’s not barking and lunging at things, or pulling on the leash). I love when she rests her head in my lap. I love watching her chew on her toys and race around the backyard and chase soccer balls. Before she started getting into trouble at the dog park, I loved watching her play with other dogs.

Isis has been gone three years now, but what I loved about her … what I still love about her? So easy.


Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, April 13, hosted by Oz the Terrier, Roxy The Traveling Dog and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

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Oz the Terrier

I is for Isis


WOOF! Management Is the Secret to Success

Welcome to the second WOOF Support Blog Hop.

This month’s theme is Success, Frustration, and Everything In Between.

Reactive dog trainers talk about “setting your dog up for success.” To me, that means careful management.

Generally, I do not consider Leo a fearful dog, but he is extremely leash-reactive. After what we went through with Isis, I don’t have it in me to devote the kind of time needed to teach Leo to be bomb-proof on a leash. Instead, I manage him. I don’t walk him around our neighborhood when we’re likely to encounter a bunch of other dogs or people.

While I am decidedly not a runner, Rob jogs on a treadmill sometimes, and I knew he liked the idea of jogging with our dogs. The day we met Mia, in fact, he tested her out to see if she would run beside him. She did, and yet, he never goes running with the dogs.

Recently, during the darkest, wettest part of winter, I started walking the dogs around a well-lit commuter parking lot that used to be a drive-in movie theater. (Rob remembers when it was, but that was way before my time.) Buses arrive on the hour to return college students to their cars, but otherwise there is minimal bicycle or dog traffic, and the gravel is so uneven, I’ve yet to see a skateboarder there.

I clocked it with my car and found that the perimeter is 1/3 of a mile. I suggested to Rob that he try jogging there with Leo. He took me up on it, and a new exercise routine was born!

Mia and I went with them a few days ago to get some pictures before Mia and I went on our own walk. (I told you, I don’t run.) Leo was very distraught to see me and Mia go off in the other direction. He squawked and squawked and even backed out of his harness. Mia and I had to get out of his eyeline before he could focus on jogging with Rob.

Mia and I got back while they were on their sixth lap. I handed her off and Rob jogged with both of them for a stretch.

As far as I’m concerned, any activity that gets their tongues hanging out is a success. If we can do it without a bark or a lunge, it’s cause for celebration!

Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, March 16, hosted by Oz the Terrier, Roxy The Traveling Dog and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

Oz the Terrier

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WOOF! Working Out Our Fears

isis buddha (13)

Isis, fearsome and fearful

Where were all the Fearful Dog support groups when I was struggling with Isis? Did they not exist, or did I not understand until way too late that fear was the root of her problem? Social media was still young then, way back in 2008.

I’m part of two great Facebook communities where every day, people post questions and success stories about their fearful or reactive dogs. Truly, I am not alone.

UPDATE: During the WOOF Blog Hop, I was introduced to another Facebook group for Reactive Dogs.

I wrote a book about my experience with Isis, and am in the process of getting it published. This is probably against protocol, but I want to share some of the concerns editors had about the marketability of my book:

1) Readers will not be able to connect with the character of Isis the aggressive dog.

2) My book is not different enough from all the other dog books.

3) It is not a “feel-good” book: “Rather, I felt a lot of sadness and regret.”

I flat-out disagree with points 1 and 2, but point 3 gave me pause. It’s true! I feel sadness and regret, too! But is that any reason not to tell my story? Doesn’t the dog always die at the end? I gave the manuscript another read, searching for places where I might alleviate sadness and regret in my readers. I revised my proposal so that the chapter summaries don’t end on such a down note, and I wrote a little epilogue, describing life now with Mia.

A sad ending does not make it a sad book. We treasured every minute we spent with Isis, and she brought us joy beyond measure. If you asked her, Isis would tell you that her life was filled with an abundance of love and happiness. Writing (and reading) the book does make me “feel good.”

My true goal in writing this book, however, is to help others learn from our mistakes. To give hope to dog owners experiencing the same guilt and frustration that I felt while trying to train my “problem” dog. Bark and Lunge will raise awareness about the importance of socialization, the benefits of positive reinforcement, and the hazards of aversive training methods.

In the coming months, I will be giving away free copies of the book to readers willing to post an honest review to Amazon (and/or GoodReads or Barnes and Noble). Stay tuned!

Today is the inaugural WOOF Blog Hop. WOOF = Working Out Our Fears. Not just our dogs’ fears but our own fears of inadequacy and hopelessness that our dog will never get better. Fear that other people will think our dogs are mean.

Oz the Terrier

Do you have a reactive or fearful dog? Please join us and share your story. The Blog Hop is open through Sunday, February 16, hosted by Oz the Terrier, Roxy The Traveling Dog and Wag ‘n Woof Pets.

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