When you face a challenge with your dog, plenty of people know just what to do.
Everyone becomes an amateur dog trainer suggesting dozens of dos and don’ts. And even if some of the advice is wise, it’s hard to take it all in.
But stories catch our attention. Stories teach us. And telling stories can help dogs.
My First Dog Stories
Bringing litter mates Agatha and Christie home from the Philadelphia SPCA gave me tons of stories.
From the silly moments of incestuous girl on girl action in front of my guests to the horrifying, blood baths that resulted from their regular fights, I have no shortage of stories to tell.
But in the early 1990s, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. I had never heard of the puppy training advice of Ian Dunbar or Patricia McConnell. And I didn’t know anything about how to help my reactive dogs (reactive mostly to each other) be comfortable in their own skin.
But most of all, I didn’t have anyone else experienced with challenging dogs to talk to. I didn’t have a blog with smart readers to commiserate with. There was no Facebook to find dog training groups to join.
I felt guilty that Agatha and Christie were so unhappy. And I didn’t even know there were other people going through some of the same things with their dogs that I was experiencing with mine.
I wish I could have found a story that would have told me that I wasn’t going through my problems alone. Perhaps one that would have cautioned me against some bad choices I made. Or even shown me the glimmer of hope I found years later when I was introduced to clicker training to work with my next reactive dog, Shadow.
The Story of Isis
Kari (it rhymes with safari; no, really) Neumeyer had her own story about a reactive dog, her German Shepherd she named Isis.
As I read Neumeyer’s appropriately named memoir, Bark and Lunge (the subtitle is “Saving My Dog From Training Mistakes”), I sometimes felt like I was sitting in a horror film: “No, don’t open that door. What are you thinking?”
But more often I found reliving my own feelings that were also shared by Neumeyer in her book. In fact, I identified some repeating themes in Bark and Lunge that every person who has lived with a reactive dog (and more than a few who haven’t) can relate to:
- feeling self-conscious when our dog acts out that other people will think of us as bad dog owners
- a yearning to find that perfect solution that will “fix” our dogs and make them happy
- conflicts with our partners over training regimens (I don’t think it’s coincidence that many of the people best at dealing with fearful dogs are single)
- an unwillingness to doubt the advice of experts even when something doesn’t feel right
- irritations with other people who make managing a reactive dog even harder (especially those with unleashed dogs—can I hear an Amen?)
- guilt, guilt, and even more guilt
- and love. Lots and lots of love.
Although Neumeyer wrote of falling in love with Isis at first smell of puppy breath, I think working with our dogs who have “issues” intensifies the emotion. There is no better way to strengthen your bond with your dog than by working closely with her.
And no one works more closely with their dog than someone trying to manage a fearful dog in a stressful world.
The Story You Don’t Want To Know
I’ve read Bark and Lunge twice. And I wish I had been able to read it all those years ago when I was coping with Agatha and Christie.
So I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to read an honest and, at times, heartbreaking story of a family struggling to help a lovely and playful dog who sometimes found the world a scary place.
But I hang around with dog lovers enough to know that I have to tell you what you’re dying to know. Yes, this book was written after Isis’s passing. So if you’re reading it on the bus, stop when you get to the last chapter.
Just don’t let it stop you from reading a touching memoir of a person who loved her dog and needed a new story to help understand how to help her.
Telling Stories To Help Dogs
I like the saying:
Wise people learn from other people’s mistakes. Average people learn from their own mistakes. And fools never learn.
Wise people who don’t know how to help their reactive dogs could save themselves a world of hurt by reading Neumeyer’s story. Because telling stories really can help dogs.
Win your own copy of Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog From Training Mistakes, autographed by the author. To keep things easy, just enter a comment below stating you’d like to enter or leave a reply to this post on Facebook. I’ll select one comment/reply at random after Sunday, February 15 at midnight EST. I’ll announce the winner in Monday’s post.
You can also buy your own copy at Kari’s website.
Disclaimer: Kari Neumeyer provided an electronic copy of Bark and Lunge for me to read and review. But she did not influence my opinion in any way. This giveaway is not sponsored by Facebook.
Your Turn: Have you found it helpful to read other people’s stories when you’re trying to figure out how to work with your dog? And do you want to be entered to win a copy of this book?