Breeds & Bites

This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week.  As I edit a scene in the forthcoming Dangerous Deeds, I’m reminded that many people assume it’s always the dog’s fault. Even more often, people assume specific types of dogs are aggressors and push to enact breed specific legislation. Like the AKC, my character Maggie Porter will tell you that breed bans don’t address the real issues of owner responsibility and training. (Read the AKC issue analysis here.)

Having been bitten as a small child I can personally testify it’s a scary experience, but in my own case I was the guilty party. I put myself and the dog at risk. Thinking back, I’d agree with dog trainer Victoria Stillwell’s assertion that many dog bites are the result of  “a perfect storm of situation and circumstance and environment.” She reminds us to focus on the behavior, not the breed. Here’s the entire clip, which I found posted to the AKC website:

This fact sheet, courtesy of the AKC, highlights key facts and statistics we should all know:

AKCDL_DogBite_2015_Infogfx650Here are a few links to help make your community a safer place for people and dogs alike:

Some dogs need space: get the facts

Dog bites: 10 risky situations to avoid

The Yellow Ribbon Project: tie a bow against dog bites 

10 risky situations to avoid

Education and awareness, combined with basic common sense, can help prevent dog bites. The scar on my right arm is a daily reminder to respect dogs and take responsibility for your own behavior.

Take the time today to share this information with your family and friends. And remember: focus on behavior, not the breed!


She’s a Winner!

underdog-ebook1Here’s a quick P.S. to my last post about the super-talented Laurien Berenson. From her Facebook page (arrow added to graphic):

Thanks to the #BookBub promotion of UNDERDOG, I am now a top twenty selling mystery author on Amazon! That puts me in very good company indeed. Thank you to everyone who gave the book a try.

Top 20


If you haven’t already discovered this author, here’s your chance! Find her work in Kindle, paperback, and NOW audiobook format! You might even find a few in hardcover.

Happy reading!

Dogs, Mystery, & More!

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of many writers, my own entry into the world of writing mysteries has been a joyful experience. Bestselling author Laurien Berenson is one of those authors who offered  support and encouragement when I published my first novel. (In fact, I can thank Laurien for helping me unravel the mysteries of Facebook and social media!)

In return, I’m delighted to recommend her books to anyone who loves amateur sleuths and dogs in mystery fiction. Laurien has been nominated for the Agatha Award (recognizing the best in the cozy mystery genre) and the Mystery Readers International’s Macavity Award. She’s earned the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Maxwell Award, presented by the Dog Writers Association of America. And in the totally unofficial but equally important (to me) category, Laurien’s books were a longstanding favorite of my mother, who loved the entire series.

Laurien has entertained readers for many years with her canine mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Melanie Travis and her beloved Poodles. The cast of supporting characters is equally engaging, and each book’s mystery is a well crafted, downright delightful read. Some series fizzle out over time, but not this one! In fact, check out what Publishers Weekly has to say about Gone with the Woof (#16 in the series):

“A sprightly pooch-packed escapade. With unexpected twists, humor, and a wealth of information about the story’s milieu, Berenson wraps up this caper in a tail-wagging finale.”


If you’re new to this series, you’re in luck! You can find every book in the series in paperback (and some in hard cover), will soon be available as audio books, and are now available as ebooks! Even better, her publisher,  Kensington Publishing Corp. is offering the first 16 in the series at super-low prices for the month of May. The first three in the series (A Pedigree To Die For, Underdog, and Dog Eat Dog) are just $1.99 each. Get #4, 5, & 6 (Hair of the Dog, Watchdog, and Hush Puppy) for just $2.51 – $2.99 each. And catch the rest of the series through #16 for $3.99.

Laurien Berenson's photo.
We don’t see publishers like Kensington offer sale prices like this every day, so don’t miss out!

Canines Make Good Citizens

In Dangerous Deeds (forthcoming), community members are taking sides over a proposed ordinance to ban “dangerous” dog breeds. Waterside Kennels owner Maggie Porter’s no fan of breed specific legislation, so when BSL opponents ask for advice, she encourages them to get involved with the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program.

Note: while the Waterside Kennels series is a work of fiction, many plot lines come straight out of the news. Breed-specific bans, for example, can be found in many states and countries.   While the Pit Bull may be the most commonly banned breed, many other breeds have been the target of legislation. The AKC opposes such bans, arguing that “Like racial profiling, BSL punishes responsible dog owners without holding owners of truly dangerous dogs accountable.”

A better answer is to develop good canine citizenship skills. As my protagonist Maggie says in Deadly Ties:

“That means teaching your dog to be well-mannered in all situations, and not to be intimidated by strangers, other dogs, or unfamiliar noises. A well-trained dog is a happy dog. And that takes dedication, patience, and discipline.”


The Canine Good Citizen program (commonly known as the CGC) is fast becoming known as the standard of behavior for dogs in our communities. The CGC is open to all purebred and mixed breed dogs. To pass the test, dogs must demonstrate ten basic skills, copied here from the AKC website . Each item links to a super-short video.

The CGC test includes:

  1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger
    The dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler.
  2. Sitting Politely for Petting
    The dog will allow a friendly stranger to pet it while it is out with its handler.
  3. Appearance and Grooming
    The dog will permit someone to check its ears and front feet, as a groomer or veterinarian would do.
  4. Out for a Walk (walking on a loose lead)
    Following the evaluator’s instructions, the dog will walk on a loose lead (with the handler/owner).
  5. Walking Through a Crowd
    This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three).
  6. Sit and Down on Command and Staying in Place
    The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay.
  7. Coming When Called
    This test demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler (from 10 feet on a leash).
  8. Reaction to Another Dog
    This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries.
  9. Reaction to Distraction
    The evaluator will select and present two distractions such as dropping a chair, etc.
  10. Supervised Separation
    This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness. Evaluators may talk to the dog but should not engage in excessive talking, petting, or management attempts (e.g, “there, there, it’s alright”).


cgc badge

 Go here  to find a CGC evaluator near you. Already have your CGC certificate? Share your experience in the comments. Photos welcome!

Celebrate Life, Land, and Beauty

April 3rd has been named Save the Ozarks Day by the city of Eureka Springs in honor of all those who worked together to preserve the beauty of our region and stop the wanton destruction of our way of life. From Doug Stowe, Vice President, Save the Ozarks:

We are coming up on the second anniversary of AEP/SWEPCO’s application to destroy a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas to build an unnecessary 345 kV power line. Its towers, placed 6 to the mile, would have dwarfed our tallest oak trees, and the clear cut right of way would have been kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations by the use of toxic herbicides….

[R]ather than gathering together as we have done in the past, we urge everyone in our community to breathe in the beauty of that which would have been destroyed. Please stand with friends or alone if you choose, in a spot of overlook or of intimate beauty and hold fast in joy and celebration the image of what you see. You have taken part in saving for generations yet to come, the beauty, sanctity and serenity of this special place..” [Read the entire post here.]

For those of you who may not have the opportunity to celebrate the moment here in the Ozarks,  here are images generously shared by Ozark photographers. Enjoy!

At this time of year, every day brings a new surprise in the woods. You have to look closely to see some of the blooms tucked among the leaves and rocks of the hillsides. Take, for example, these tiny beauties from the Viola family, captured by Madison County photographer Billy Baker Whorton:

Viola blooms Madison County Billy Baker Whorton

© Billy Baker Whorton

Turn up your speakers for this video and listen to the sound of water rushing through Bear Creek Hollow in Newton County. This was shot in the Ozark National Forest by Dan Nash, who’s with Hiking The Ozarks:


If you prefer a mix of old and new, check out Jim Warnock’s article in the magazine Do SouthAnd find more great photos and stories by Jim (with Hiker, the Wonder Dog) on his website Here’s one of my favorite shots from Jim’s website:

Cascade at Bliss Spring  ©  Jim Warnock

Cascade at Bliss Spring © Jim Warnock

Trust me when I say that water is COLD–as I learned to my chagrin when I slipped not long go when crossing a creek and water rushed over the top of my boots. (Tip: always pack extra socks!)

Here in the Ozarks, wintry conditions are still a definite possibility all through March and April or beyond. Last year, it snowed the first week of May. Some years back, we went camping one Easter weekend and the temp hit a low of 19 degrees. (The dog’s water froze in the tent!)

More often, though, April will bring sunshine and warm temperatures. And all too often those warm temps will usher in some wild weather. When I saw this fabulous photograph by Larry Waterman I was reminded of this line from Deadly Ties: “Weather in the Ozarks is notoriously unpredictable.” This shot says it all:

Heber Springs © Larry Waterman. All rights reserved.

Heber Springs © Larry Waterman. All rights reserved.

As we come to the end of our virtual tour, let me leave you with a view of the Buffalo River Valley and a line from Dangerous Deeds, the forthcoming book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series: “If I’ve learned anything since settling here, it’s that land and family are the heart of the Ozarks. The legends, the history—it all comes back to the hills and the people, doesn’t it?”          

Buffalo River Valley © Dan Nash at Hiking the Ozarks

Buffalo River Valley © Dan Nash at Hiking the Ozarks

Tracking Dog Wreckcellent

If you’ve read Deadly Ties you know the characters include a Beagle, Mr. B, who’s retired from federal service and who doesn’t track (at least not in a traditional sense, anyway). I also have a Labrador Retriever, Sam, who does track and will work with the county Search & Rescue team in forthcoming books. As part of my research for the dogs in the series I read everything I could find, followed county search teams, tagged along with handlers and trainers, and asked endless questions. (To everyone who patiently answered my questions, thank you!)

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that every dog (and every handler) brings their own personality, their own attitude, their own style to the work. That lesson comes clear in this post about two very different Beagles, written by the fabulous author, dog trainer, and animal lover Doranna Durgin. Originally posted on the Book View Cafe, Doranna has generously allowed me to repost her article in its entirety here on my blog. Enjoy!

Tracking Dog Wreckcellent

0711.connery.teeter.LJIt can be hard to work with genius.

Take Connery Beagle. He’s honest and hardworking and loves to sing his song of self, and did I mention honest? By which I mean internally as well as externally. He’s not so tangled in his inner thoughts that he gets in his own way.

But Dart’s an unusual boy. He vibrates with atomic intensity, he’s brilliant, and he desperately wants to be good and right. But he’s so emotional—and so completely devoid of impulse control—that he constantly gets in his own way.

Thus, when he can’t stop himself from stealing things from the trash, he brings them to me in confession, his mouth soft with pride and his tail wagging low in apology. When he can’t stop his jealousy, he clings to me and says, “Sorry sorry sorry!” with pleading eyes…as he growls fiercely, usually at Connery. When he knows he’s broken rules, he sprints around the house at top speed, giggling maniacally and blowing off embarrassment. He resource guards, he winds himself up tight over girls in his yard, he shrieks protest at separation from me/in need of me…

That list goes on. We’ve at least eliminated the part where he pees on my pillow when he’s upset. And when we lost Rena Beagle and he again started shrieking at intervals through the night, I gave up and brought a crate into the bedroom. Now I never hear a peep.

"Training time!  Train the Beagle!"

But he is genius. When he gets it right, he gets it really, really right. He does it with style and verve. He makes your heart flutter!

When he took his Tracking Dog (TD) test, it was 30F with baseline 60mph winds and higher gusts. Dart’s was the final track, out on the flat plain during the worst of it. No one expected him to pass.

He did.

So when he started having issues with the advanced tests—the Variable Surface Test and the Tracking Dog Excellent test—it was baffling.

It’s not that he didn’t pass (we’re talking about tests with single-digit pass rates), it’s how he didn’t pass. His behavior on the track didn’t reflect either his training behavior or his skillset.

I addressed some training issues and he very nearly passed the VST at the end of last year, though his tracking style was still entirely different from the norm. Then he did an awesome fun match TDX track early this year, with what I would have called “normal tracking” for him. But at our recently held test?

Dart hauling forward on the January TDX fun match track

Nada. Nothing. No dog.
He made the first turn without his usual confidence and then turned into another dog.

Well, eventually, if the human is lucky, she figures it out. I got an inkling at the VST and have cemented it with the recent TDX.

You see, there’s too much scent around on the track.


The tests are held on Sundays. On Saturday, the two judges, the tracklayer, and for TDX the stakers*,and sometimes another tracklayer or a newbie learning the ropes, all walk the track together.

Most people consider this a boon. Instead of a single layer of scent, it’s a whole highway being laid down–easier for the dog to follow, right? But then overnight, the scents shift and pool and age, and the next day the tracklayer walks over it anew. Three to five hours later, the dog comes along to follow the scent of the tracklayer.

*Stakers pound in tall wooden stakes at the start, turns, and end so the tracklayers lay the test track with complete accuracy while out in the field.

Dart: But the Target Person scents are tangled with two layers and all these other scents on the track at the same time! So I should puzzle out ALL THE SCENTS.

So he circles and frets and sniffs and works out all the spreading scent pools, all the while knowing that he’s not actually quite doing his job. Then he panics and picks out the nearest clearest scent and takes it.

This is usually not someone who’s got anything to do with the test at all.

(At the VST, he came within 100 yards of passing before he hit his panic point, so at least there’s that. But I believe only three people had walked that track during plotting.)

So now I’m brainstorming how to provide him with these circumstances in practice. It’s gonna take putting in a short permatrack here on the homefront and begging some volunteers to walk it in turn, creating a variety of scent tracks and ages…but only one correct, most recent scent.

In the meantime, remember that ConneryBeagle? He worked hard to pass his TD; his first test was on a track that should have been discarded (it had been fouled, and he got caught in it), and then he was sinus-sick for a couple years (which he still is, but now it’s better managed). Then he passed on a track of TDX terrain on a brittle 4F day—he was a marvel! Then I stopped training tracking with him for a year or so because we just weren’t sure it was fair to ask for tracking given his sinuses.

But fifteen months ago I threw him on a VST track for fun and he was SO DAMNED HAPPY.

So we started tracking again, and a couple months ago he did an amazing job on the VST (did not pass—his bobble was at the beginning). He, too, made it into the TDX test this year.

He ran track #5 for the day. It was unseasonably hot and dry, and I soaked him down. He tracked through a brushy arroyo, at which point the judges were (unusually) close enough so their discussion of Connery’s step-by step track through the maze of scrub, rocks, and pricker bushes was audible. After that he went three-legged until I could close the distance and pull a big cactus pod from his foot. A series of long legs and turns and back through the arroyo we went, and…


He was SO proud of himself. He sang his song of self and at home, bounded around with puppy-like glee until he curled up in his Connery Bed with waves of happiness rolling off his back.

So now Connery will track on toward the VST until he makes the decision not to, while Dart continues to refine his out-of-control geniusosity. He says it’s not easy to be a Beagle of Wreckcellence.

Tell me about it…yymm.dd.dart.storycover.28.NOT.SM

Hidden Steel by Doranna DurginDoranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.

She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…

Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of theChangespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughterand A Feral Darkness. Whee!

Not coincidentally, Doranna’s books tend to have DOGS in them!


About Doranna Durgin

Doranna’s Blue Hound Beagles posts sometimes first appear at her WordPlay blog, along with chatter about horses, high desert living, and sometimes even writing. Her Book View Cafe titles can be found right here. She can also be found at, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Murder, Power & Intrigue

I love a well-written mystery (with and without dogs), and I’m a big fan of compelling fiction that pushes the boundaries of traditionally recognized genres. I’m fascinated by authors who can take that “What if...” question and create something that keeps me reading far into the night.  And when the author is another writer who calls the Ozarks home, I want others to know there’s a great book waiting to be savored.

Most of us know the basic story of the Roman Empire’s near-unstoppable march through northern and western Europe. But did you ever wonder what might have happened if the Roman army came upon a place where the people dared to hold fast to their way of life? What if during the 5th century they came upon a place where Celtic traditions and religious practices would not yield to the ways of the mighty Roman Empire?

Imagine a valley serving as a buffer between the Celtlands to the west and the Roman Empire to the east. Imagine a place of small villages linked by rough roads and river barges, with narrow footpaths winding their way up the mountainsides to isolated homesteads. Law and order was ostensibly the charge of the soldiers stationed at the Roman garrisons in the valley, but it was the Celtic magistrates who kept the tenuous peace. Inevitably, it becomes the story of two cultures on a collision course. And there you have the premise of the Mystery of the Death Hearth, first in the Runevision novel series by the author Jack R. Cotner. From the back cover:

In a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, the Great Cross—made of Celtic gold and amber now claimed by the Roman church—goes missing along with a fortune in coins and precious gems. Murder soon follows, igniting tensions when church leaders, maneuvering for political gain, are implicated in the violent plot. When the news reaches the Grand Prefect in Rome, Enforcers are sent to identify the thieves and recover the missing treasure.

The trail leads to the Brendan Valley, where it falls to deputy magistrate Weylyn de Gort to work with those whose ways are alien to his Elder Faith beliefs. Along the way, he must find an elusive young Celt girl and her missing grandfather, unravel the mystery of an Elder’s runevision, and avoid death at the hands of an assassin as he faces the greatest challenge of his life.

mysteryofthedeathhearthThis story fascinated me from the beginning. It’s not historical fact and doesn’t purport to be. It’s a well-crafted mystery that’s set in a fictional world that might seem both familiar and foreign. Some of that familiarity, at least for me, stems from my own studies and the author’s research of Celtic and Roman lore. (Check the Author’s Note at the start of the book for reading recommendations; you’ll find some wonderful suggestions there to include the work of Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green.) I learned a great deal about ancient traditions and religious practices without feeling I was being lectured or that one culture was more significant than another. Add in a cleverly constructed plot, a vivid landscape, and characters I could love or hate, and I was hooked!

Each chapter is preceded by an original poem penned by the author. After I’d read the whole story I found myself going back and browsing the poems again. There were several “Aha!” moments as I re-read the poems and thought about the chapter and events that followed.

Mystery of the Death Hearth is available in Kindle and paperback editions (US customers:; UK:  Jack is currently working on the second in the series; you can find teasers and tidbits on his website and on his Facebook page.

And for those of you who enjoy mixed-genre short stories, check out Jack’s Storytellin: True & Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas (US customers:; UK:  From Amazon:

Inspired by generations of Cotner storytellers (all colorful characters in their own right) the author has crafted a unique collection of short stories set in Arkansas in the early 1900s and spanning half a century. Each story is preceded by recollections of family events that inspired the fictional tales.

Set against the rugged backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains, Storytellin’ brings you ageless tales of hope, fear, laughter, kindness, and retribution.

storytellin (1)

Whether your preference is for short stories or novels, funny or sad, straightforward or complex, I think you’ll find something to enjoy when reading Jack’s work. I hope you’ll give it a try!