Q: Did you know when you adopted Dakota that you’d be writing a book about her?
We didn’t have a clue. Dakota took us by surprise on a number of counts. We were told that she was crate-trained and housebroken so we expected to build on the foundation, not rewrite the dog from scratch. Nothing could have prepared us for the hell she plunged us into and being an avid writer, I tend to write everything down, especially stories of interest.
Writing a book wasn’t even on the agenda, however. Initially I wrote a series of articles regarding her problems and the methods we used to retrain her. These articles were posted on the internet. I started to receive feedback thanking me for sharing her story which was helping other dog owners with problem dogs.
My husband saw the glimmer of a book when he saw the feedback coming in and he urged me to compile the articles into a book. I added a lot of material that was not posted on the internet along with photographs to illustrate some of the finer points of the book. One of the biggest chapters dealt with potty training an adult shelter dog, as our dog had NOT been housebroken as we’d originally been told. In fact, she was a problem child with her housebreaking due to her having pee issues with nervous pee, stress pee, excited pee, and angry pee, all of which are described fully in the book.
Q: Is Bad Dog to Best Friend a dog training book?
Not in the traditional sense. Bad Dog to Best Friend does not tell you how to teach your dog basic commands such as sit and heel. There are plenty of dog books for that as well as free resources on the internet.
Bad Dog to Best Friend shares the journey of our first year with Dakota, detailing her specific problems and how we fixed those problems. Portions of the book are devoted to housebreaking and dealing with her chewing issues, with specific step-by-step instructions on how we successfully handled both. Weaning her from the crate was another major chapter in the book with detailed instructions on the steps we took which ensured her success.
As Dakota was a strong-willed dog who’d never been given boundaries, as well as a two-time shelter dog who’d been bounced from place to place prior to us, she came with a number of issues. Specific methods for dealing with a head-strong dog appear all throughout the book, which would fall under the category of alpha dog training and being the pack leader.
In addition, we share stories that entertain as well as teach. The dog stories cover everything from a dog eating a bag of chocolate to a dog coming in from going potty foaming at the mouth in extreme agitation. Dakota’s life has been full of stories and I have enough material for a follow-up book.
Q: Are you a dog trainer?
No. We were totally unprepared for Dakota’s problems and her level of difficulty. Had anyone else adopted her, it’s a good bet she would have ended up back at the dog pound where she would likely have been euthanized.
We devoured dog training information from a number of sources. We watched every dog training show and problem dog show offered on TV. We read dog training books from a variety of authors. We spent an inordinate amount of time on the internet reading dog training articles from different points of view. We became immersed in the world of problem dogs and dog training, soaking up every piece of knowledge we could in the hopes of training Dakota.
Our efforts were successful, though the journey was not an easy one. Today Dakota is fully housebroken no matter how excited she gets. She can be left home alone with full run of the house without any worry of chewing, trash diving, potty in the house, or damage of any sort. She’s solid. We can even take her to other people’s homes without worry.
The methods that we used to train Dakota are detailed in the book. The same methods were used to train our other dog, Sierra, who we adopted three years later. Sierra was also a rescue, but she came to us as a blank slate rather than a dog with problems. She was still a puppy at four months old, and using the same techniques we’d used with Dakota, training Sierra was a breeze.
Q: What do you think of Cesar Millan and Victoria Stilwell?
That’s a loaded question. Apparently there are radically different schools of thought regarding dog training. The supporters of each school tend to be very exclusive in their beliefs. I’ve seen many a heated discussion on the internet between followers of one school versus another. Both Cesar and Victoria have very devout followers, and there are equally devout sects who are against them both.
Victoria’s television show It’s Me or the Dog was a great help to us in dealing with Dakota and we are big fans of Victoria’s methods. We were even informally interviewed to be on the show, the story of which is included in the book. Many of the successful methods that we used in training Dakota followed Victoria’s teachings. However, we also used methods which she is not a big fan of.
We do not get Cesar’s television show so as we were training Dakota, we were unfamiliar with Cesar’s teachings. I’ve since read a number of articles on Cesar’s Way and have seen very brief video snippets from his show. For the most part, we did not follow his path though I have adopted his method of gently poking on occasion to refocus their attention on me.
Rather than get involved in the debate on which training method is better, I prefer to think of all the dogs who are put down at shelters every day. If more dog owners would learn how to train their dogs, one could hope that fewer dogs would end up at the shelters. If a dog owner learns something from Cesar or Victoria that helps them train their dog and more importantly, keep their dog in harmony with their household, then that dog becomes a success story rather than a death statistic.
Q: Should dogs attend obedience school or engage personal dog trainers?
It depends on the dog owner. Does the dog owner have the ability to train a dog on their own? If you can successfully raise a happy, reasonably problem-free dog without the assistance then no, I do not see the necessity.
If you are struggling with your dog and the dog ownership is full of frustration rather than joy, then yes, you might need the help. It doesn’t matter whether you use dog training videos from Cesar, Victoria, or others such as Leerburg or How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete, or take part in one-on-one dog training sessions. What matters the most is that you find help that you can stick with.
Some people are more comfortable with learning in person. Some do better via videos and others do best with reading articles and books. Regardless of how you teach your dog obedience, keep in mind that it goes far beyond the basic sit, stay, heel, and come. If you do not also establish yourself as the pack leader, no amount of obedience training will be fully successful.
Q: What do you hope that dog owners will learn from your book?
How to keep their dogs rather than abandoning them to the dog pound, and how to live more harmoniously with their dogs. Those would be the primary issues. I would also hope that the book is just plain good reading, enjoyable even if you don’t have a problem dog. There are a number of other neat things you can learn from Bad Dog to Best Friend which have nothing to do with dog obedience.
Q: What have you learned as a dog owner?
Wow. That’s a big question. I’ve learned that dogs are the most incredible beings. Their capacity for love, laughter and loyalty is without bounds. It never fails to amaze me how happy they are to see us. A dog’s ability to be goofy and make you laugh even on your worst day is an amazing gift that they bring into our lives. I truly believe that they are gifts from the powers that be, and that it is our duty to honor the gift and not abuse it. Dogs work with us, they play with us, they uplift, they assist, they save our lives, they make us laugh, they guard us, and their intelligence creates a unique bond with us. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Q: Tell us about Dakota today compared to when you first adopted her.
Dakota is not the same dog. She came to us stressed out, trusting no-one, and bringing a boatload of unpleasant problems for a dog owner. She was like a street-wise teenager who’d been bounced from foster home to foster home with problems and authority issues. She had a bag full of dirty tricks which she’d mastered such as chewing through a leash in record time. You could not take your eyes off of her for a single moment, indoors or outdoors.
Today she is amazing. We trust her 100% in the house without supervision. We’ve taken Dakota on several road trips and she is an excellent traveller. She’s not perfect, but she sure did come close. The only really bad habit that lingers is that when Dakota has freedom outdoors in our fenced backyard, she doesn’t always come when you call her. This one lapse is our fault, as when we were retraining her we did not focus on this particular area, choosing instead to concentrate our efforts on her indoor behavior. We vowed that our other dog would not have the same issue and worked with Sierra on her outdoor free recall, with success. Our efforts with Sierra are helping to move Dakota closer to this particular goal as well.
Q: What is the most inspiring story you’ve heard from your readers?
The most heartwarming story does not even involve a dog; it is about a son with learning disabilities. His father was dog-sitting, staying at a woman’s house for a week to watch her dog while she was out of town. The father saw Bad Dog to Best Friend on the coffee table and was immediately drawn by the photo on the cover. Once he started to read the book, he could not put it down. This is a man who does not often read.
His adult son came to visit that week and saw Bad Dog to Best Friend on the table, and the cover photo drew his attention as well. The son had learning disabilities and for him, reading was extremely difficult. He picked the book up in a moment of interest and like his father, he also could not put the book down. Here was a man for whom reading was difficult and something to be avoided, but Bad Dog to Best Friend captured his interest and he read the book cover to cover. Neither man even owned a dog at that time.
Q: What advice would you give to dog owners?
Train your dog. Become the pack leader. Be consistent. If you do not train your dog and take a leadership role, you’ll end up with total anarchy. You have the power to keep your dog out of the dog pound where he will almost assuredly be put to sleep. I’ve heard that owner-surrenders are more likely to be put down than strays off the streets. The shelters assume that if you couldn’t handle him, nobody else will want to either. Your dog’s life is in your hands.
Q: Will you be releasing another dog book soon?
I cannot offer an ETA but yes, I have two more dog books simmering. I’ve got the material for a follow-up book on Dakota offering more stories and additional dog training tips. I’ve also got the material for a puppy-oriented book. I’ve kept a detailed diary of all things Sierra and when it comes to stories, dogs do not disappoint. Sierra’s life is rich with the fascinating, the funny, the far-out and the bizarre.
Q: What is your favorite dog breed?
Two years ago I would have answered Ausky, hands-down. Dakota is an Ausky which is not an official breed. An Ausky is an Australian Cattle Dog/Husky mix. Dakota is so quirky and so much fun that I would have wanted another dog just like her.
However, I’d have to now add Catahoula Leopard Dog to the list in honor of Sierra. While I cannot say that all Catahoula’s would be as addicting as Sierra has been, she hooked us utterly and completely.
That said, I would not recommend either breed for the inexperienced dog owner. Both breeds are head-strong and independent and if you are not up to the challenge, your partnership won’t last long.
Q: Would you adopt another shelter dog?
If I were to go looking for a dog to adopt, I’d almost assuredly look for another rescue dog. We prefer to adopt dogs from shelters in the hopes of saving a life. Sierra was three days from her kill date when we adopted her. Dakota was a two-time shelter dog whose odds for success were not very high. My previous dog, Gypsy Rose, had also been a shelter dog, coming to me as the perfect dog. She’d been at the shelter a week so she couldn’t have been far away from her deadline. I never understood how Gypsy Rose came to be at the dog pound. Someone had obviously invested a lot of time training her and she did not deserve the fate that had been handed down.
Q: What are your favorite dog books?
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron is high on the list. I picked it up expecting a hokey sort of book as it was from the dog’s perspective. It was so well written that I couldn’t put it down.
James Herriot’s Dog Stories are way up there. I’ve read his stories so many times that I know most of them by heart. He sprinkles dog stories through all of his books so you can’t point to a single book.
Q: What other books have you written?
I’ve got a number of books in various stages of completion. I just put an astrophysical mystery into the hands of my editor, which means he’ll read it, notate the areas that need tweaking, and give it back to me. Once I’ve made the changes it will be ready to go.
I have a Yankee in the South book that’s waiting for an ending, and a children’s book that needs me to finish the illustrations. There’s a coffee table book which needs a few more photographs, the two dog books, and about seven other books in the idea stage.
Q: How long have you been writing?
More than forty years. The first item I wrote was a poem in honor of the television show The Flying Nun with Sally Field. In the early days I wrote poetry, later moving into short stories and articles, and finally into full-length books.
While I’ve been publishing articles and stories off and on for twenty five years, I am only now starting to officially release the books.
Q: What inspires you as a writer?
Everything! Not a day goes by that I don’t find something I’d like to write about. Time doesn’t permit them all to come out, but there’s always a story or article active in the old noggin. Even something as simple as going to McDonald’s for lunch and encountering a crew of construction workers can become a blog entry for me. Laughter is Public Silliness was the blog entry so inspired, and you can find it on my Out Loud – Amplified Whispers blog.
Q: Besides dogs, what else do you write about?
A variety of topics including humor, money, weird insects and plants, dogs and cats, ghosts, UFOs, positive thinking, self-help, how-to’s, pay it forward, business articles, internet articles, gaming articles, and a smattering of the truly bizarre.
I’m a ghost writer on a number of topics, writing articles and selling them to others who post them on the internet or publish them in magazines. It’s always strange to see an article you wrote published under someone else’s name. These types of articles are usually related to business, money, or the internet – the boring topics. The really good stuff such as dogs and UFOs I don’t part ways with. I save the weird, wild and wacky for my books and my blog, Out Loud – Amplified Whispers.