It’s a Dog-Meet-Dog World

I’m editing scenes from Dangerous Deeds in which my protagonist Maggie Porter is leading a Good Dog! class to help owners and their dog prepare for their Canine Good Citizen test. I first wrote those scenes before Sasha came into my life, so I had to rely on information from the AKC, training blogs, and YouTube videos. And while the test items seem relatively simple, achieving consistent results with a dog of my own is a bit more complicated than I envisioned.

Take, for example, test item #8, Reaction to Another Dog. If we take our test indoors, Sasha will (probably) pass this one with flying colors. She’s been close to other dogs in indoor training situations and in retail stores, and she’s been calm and quiet every time. And those of you with Shelties know quiet isn’t common behavior!

But life as we know it isn’t confined to indoor interactions, and many evaluators prefer outdoor venues as shown in the video above. We’ve made progress in reducing Sasha’s over-the-top reaction to leashed dogs but there’s still work to be done. If I see the dog in time I can move us out of the way and put Sasha in a down-stay or a sit-stay until the dog and handler pass by. (Mind you, she usually has something to say, but she tends to mutter rather than bark.)

Our current challenge, though, is the off-leash dog.

Maybe that’s happened to you in the local park, along a trail, or even in your own neighborhood. We’ve been accosted by off-leash dogs on multiple occasions, and most recently just this past week.  We were less than a block from home after enjoying a casual afternoon walk. Two Australian Shepherds bolted through an open garage door and came in low, fast, and silent. If I’d known they were in there I would have crossed the street to give us some distance, but I didn’t see them in time to take evasive action. They ignored their owner’s commands and came straight for us. They’re young, well-muscled, and already bigger and heavier than Sasha. And she most definitely Did. Not. Like. Them.

It didn’t help to hear the owner say “They’re friendly. Just stand still.” Seriously? I have no interest in taking advice from an irresponsible owner. I saw nothing to suggest this was a friendly meet-and-greet, so I backed Sasha up while staring down the dogs. The owner struggled to get handfuls of hair (no collars!) and held them long enough for me to get Sasha safely past them.

In the days since, I’ve worked to reduce Sasha’s renewed hyper reactions around dogs in general and I’ve done my best to keep her away from known trouble spots. Just this morning, though, we came across a dog who was loose in an unfenced yard. Sasha saw him as he headed our way and, predictably, reacted by barking fiercely. The dog’s body language suggested interest but no overt aggression, perhaps because we were in the street and about 20 yards away. I put Sasha in a sit-stay between my legs, held up my hand in the classic “Stop” gesture and said “NO! GO BACK!” The dog halted and immediately turned away when his owner called him. (Excellent recall demonstrated there!) Other than her initial outburst, Sasha sat quietly and, once we moved along, looked to me for approval—which of course she received, along with lavish praise and treats. She looked back just once (a big improvement over previous behavior), tossed out one last bark and then moved on.

If you come across off-leash dogs in your own neighborhood or park, you may find a flexible response strategy to be the most helpful. Consider, for example, these excellent suggestions offered by Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA in her 2015 dogster.com article “What to do when an off-leash dog approaches your leashed dog.”  And you can find more suggestions at VetStreet.com, where dog trainer Mikkel Becker talks tactics in her 2013 article “Managing confrontation with an off-leash dog.

We’ll keep working to build Sasha’s confidence when meeting dogs, whether they’re leashed or loose. Every day brings new encounters with different dogs, and that’s great training for my Canine Good Citizen in training!

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Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, weaves a tale of mischief and mayhem that sets neighbor against neighbor and disrupts the quiet life Maggie Porter longs for. A major part of the plot revolves around a proposed ‘dangerous’ dog ordinance that’s based on breed-specific legislation (BSL) enacted in hundreds of communities across the country and in multiple countries around the world.

For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter shares the AKC position that BSL doesn’t work, in part because it fails to address the issue of owner responsibility. Unfortunately, some nefarious community members have targeted Maggie’s opposition to the proposed ordinance to further their own agenda. Their efforts generate ripples of dissent throughout the community, leading to boycotts, threats, and death too close to home.

Dangerous Deeds is on track for publication this year. Stay tuned!

Move Over Miss Marple

Move Over Miss Marple WordleI’m delighted to announce that in April I’ll be leading a course for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Fayetteville, Arkansas. More commonly known as OLLI, the institute is a division of the University of Arkansas. I’m glad to have this chance to return to a place that holds such happy memories; I earned my master’s degree at the university and taught undergraduates there for four years before moving on in pursuit of my doctorate.

During the OLLI course, we’ll be exploring the role of female sleuths in mystery fiction since the days of Miss Marple. The course is structured to run in two-hour sessions meeting once weekly, which allows participants to research authors and writing practices as well as giving everyone time to read excerpts in between sessions. I’m already collecting material to share and looking for more—see details at end of this post.

First, here’s the description for “Move Over, Miss Marple” from the OLLI spring catalog:

This course will explore the role of female sleuths in American and British mystery fiction. The first session will introduce types of female characters—both amateur and professional—in crime solving fictional roles. We’ll explore the differences in character roles and responsibilities within the context of the genre.

In the second session, we’ll discuss how the characters’ dialog and action help bring a region to life in a mystery series. We’ll investigate the way writers create a sense of place, blend fact with fiction, and address social issues and controversies as part of plotting the sleuth’s role.

Our final session will focus on the increasingly popular sub-genre of crime fiction known as the ‘cozy’ mystery. We’ll analyze key structural elements and characteristics defining a cozy mystery. Using the information developed in the first two sessions, we’ll study the variety of types and sleuths within the sub-genre.

The course is appropriate for both writers and readers looking for a deeper understanding and appreciation of women in the mystery genre.

I’ll be sending advance packets via email to registered participants and plan to include “Recommended Reading” lists and (hopefully) excerpts of books that relate to our session topics. And while the main focus is on American and British mystery fiction, I can easily extend that to Canada or the Caribbean. That’s where you all come in!

READERS: who are your favorite female sleuths? Share details in the comments (author, book/series title) and a brief explanation why you’d recommend these to others. I’ll add your name to a drawing for a free copy of Deadly Ties (Kindle or Audiobook edition, your choice). Keep for yourself or pass along as a gift!

Have a favorite website that features cozy mysteries and/or female sleuths? Share that, too! This could be a great way to drive more traffic to sites you enjoy and want to support.

WRITERS: if you have a female sleuth, I’d love to consider promoting you and your work—to include excerpts or sample chapters—as part of this course. Email dogmysteries [at] gmail dot com for details.

You’re also welcome to post in the comments of this post for additional publicity. And if you’ll suggest other authors’ work for inclusion , I’ll add your name to the drawing, too.

READERS AND WRITERS: I’d be very grateful if you’d help me get the word out via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Reblogging in part or whole is welcome with a link back to my website. My goal is to introduce course participants to as many authors, books, and websites as possible.

In addition to sharing the “Recommended Reads” with registered participants, I’ll happily post the collection here by the end of April so we can learn about “new to us” authors and celebrate books together!