The Collar Challenge

From flat-buckle to martingale collars and beyond to harnesses of all sorts–choosing the right equipment for your dog can be a real challenge! Before you go shopping, it’s a good idea to know that the dog’s breed, temperament, and strength (think “pull power”) should influence your decision.

You’ll find an ongoing debate in the dog world over the effectiveness of training tools, to include collars. My own fictional dog trainer and kennel owner Maggie Porter has firm opinions about training tools and styles. Here’s Maggie in Deadly Ties (#1 in the Waterside Kennels mystery series) addressing newcomers in a basic obedience class:

“…. Our goal is to develop good citizenship skills. 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.

“But don’t confuse discipline with punishment,” Maggie warned. “Correction is limited to what’s necessary to get the job done, and it doesn’t mean endangering your animal. I will not tolerate verbal or physical abuse of any animal, and that includes using dangerous or excessive equipment. You should use the lightest possible collar and leash. Nylon or leather leashes work best, and we’ll only use nylon slip collars during class. You’ll find all the equipment you need right here. You won’t find any prong or spike collars—I don’t allow them in my kennel.”

“My breeder told me that’s the only kind worth using,” a woman objected. At her side, a Rottweiler pup strained against his heavy choke collar and chain leash. “He says one correction with a spike collar works better than a dozen pulls on those soft collars. And besides, Adolph will grow out of a nylon collar.”

“If you correct properly, you won’t need frequent pulls on the collar. Besides a risk of damaging vocal cords, spike collars motivate through fear. That’s not the way I train.”

So…how to choose the best collar for your dog? Read on for suggestions from experts!

In this video clip, British dog trainer Victoria Stilwell discusses collar options from “great choices” to “really bad ones” (see the accompanying article for more info):

If you prefer text over video, check out this excerpt of the article “Choosing the Right Collar or Harness for Your Dog” written by Breanne Long for the American Kennel Club:

These days, there is a very wide array of dog collars, harnesses, and other contraptions made to help you walk your dog more easily. Store shelves are full of training and walking implements, and it can be confusing for owners trying to select the best one for their canine buddy.

This guide will help you decide what type is right for you and your dog!

  1. Flat-buckle collar. This is the most basic piece of dog-related equipment — a plain collar that snaps or buckles closed. Many people use this type of collar to keep identification and rabies tags on their dogs. This is a great option for dogs that aren’t prone to slipping out of the collar and that walk nicely on a leash.

    buckle_collar

  2. Martingale collar. This type of collar is a limited slip-type collar. It does tighten around your dog’s neck when there is tension on the leash, but it can only tighten as much as the adjustment allows. This helps protect against throat damage that can occur with traditional choke chains. This type of collar is perfect for dogs that tend to back out of their collars. You can see in the photo that the leash attaches to the control loop, which can tighten or loosen with tension on the leash.

    martingale_collar

To read the entire article–which includes great info about harness options–visit http://www.akc.org/content/dog-training/articles/choosing-collar-or-harness-for-dog/.

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In Dangerous Deeds (#2 in my Waterside Kennels series; now in the publication pipeline), Maggie and her entire staff find themselves embroiled in a community fight over a proposed breed ban. As you might expect, Maggie doesn’t believe specific breed legislation is effective, and she’s definitely no fan of “aversive” equipment and training techniques. When the topic of “shock” and the so-called “no bark” collars comes up, you can expect Maggie to get vocal (no pun intended) about these choices.

For the record, I personally believe in positive reinforcement and force-free training techniques. In the past 18 months, I’ve found that a martingale collar (with tags included) combined with daily training time and lots of loving attention works best  for my own Sasha. In the house she wears a quick-release flat buckle collar with tags since we routinely train with leash in the house and backyard.

If you are unfamiliar with force-free training and associated equipment, I hope you’ll explore the many resources online and consider how this might improve the quality of life for you and your dog.

 

For the love of a cat

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in Dangerous Deeds (book 2) that were inspired by real events. One of those, previously described in the post There Came Along A Kitty, is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own. There’s another scene in which Sweet Pea briefly regrets the new addition, and it’s inspired by my own cat’s early morning shenanigans.

Buddy The Wonder Cat starts every morning at oh dark early by tapping me gently on the shoulder. If I don’t immediately get up, off he goes to do whatever cats do in the pre-dawn hours, and he’s back in 15 minutes to tap me again.  Ignoring him might buy me a few more minutes of quiet time, but then he knocks whatever he can off the headboard shelf and runs laps around the room. And if none of that gets me up and moving in the direction of his food dish, he leaps straight down onto the still-sleeping dog. That’s a move guaranteed to get everybody up and moving, whether they wanted to or not. He can go from sweetly solicitous to saber-toothed snarly in no time at all. Fortunately Sasha, like Sweet Pea, is quick to forgive her feline housemate, and life goes on.

More soon! And in the meantime, here’s a slideshow of my own Buddy The Wonder Cat and Sasha, who both keep us laughing every day of our lives.

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PR, Canine Style

In the years since author Jim Warnock rescued a starving dog found on the Ozark Highlands Trail, Hiker-dog has become quite a celebrity at Jim’s book signings. (Longtime followers of this blog might remember I shared Jim’s story of how Hiker-dog came into his life in 2014 with an update here.) And as every author knows, it’s important to have publicity materials readily available for interested readers and fans. That’s why Jim created a resume for Hiker-dog, which I’m sharing here with permission. (Thanks, Jim!)

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Note: here’s a pdf for printing or to open links. Hiker-dog resume 072217 

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If you’re a fan of hiking trails, be sure to check out Jim’s book Five-Star Trails: The Ozarks: 43 Spectacular Hikes in Arkansas and Missouri  available in print and digital formats.

As I’m working on Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, I’ve been researching hiking trails across the Ozarks.  The famous Ozark Highlands Trail is almost completely on public lands, with private landowners granting OHT easement for the rest. Jim is one of the volunteers maintaining the trail, and he’s generously shared his expertise and experience, making my research much easier. (Thanks again, Jim!)

New to the trails? Wherever your journey takes you, follow Hiker-dog’s advice: “The less you carry, the better you move.”  

One last recommendation: if you’ve never hiked with a dog, reading Jim’s 12-point summary of what makes Hiker-dog a good trail partner will make you appreciate this experience.

Happy travels!

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!

Reflections of Life in Fiction

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I write mystery fiction. I write from experience, from observation, from research. The characters living in the world I create are good, bad, and sometimes both. They have virtues and vices. Some of my characters will share your view of the world and some won’t. In short, they’re the sort of people you already know or might expect to meet. And, like many people you know, some of these characters aren’t shy about voicing their opinions and fighting for what they think is right. And when opposing viewpoints collide, therein lies the conflict at the heart of the story.

My job as a writer, then, is to present those opinions and messages as part of the plot development. It’s far easier, frankly, to write a character whose values and beliefs match some of my own than it is to write a character at the other end of the spectrum. Both kinds of characters, however, are essential to the plot, so it’s my job as storyteller to present each as authentically as possible.

In Dangerous Deeds (forthcoming), you’ll find multiple characters with the common bond of military service but with differing opinions and interests. Writing these characters proved easy because I’m third-generation military. My paternal grandfather served in the Canadian Infantry in World War I, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, and I served in the U.S. Air Force. I enlisted a year after the fall of Saigon and served through the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s right through the first Gulf War before retiring from active duty in the mid-1990s. I was fortunate to serve alongside honorable and courageous men and women; the bonds we forged still hold and inform my writing.

While veterans of all ages share a common bond of service, our experiences vary and every generation has stories unique to their time. That’s where observation and research come into the writing process and allow me to create an assortment of characters of varying complexity. Take my protagonist’s neighbor Zak Henderson, for example, who was introduced in Deadly Ties. His time in uniform included three deployments to Afghanistan. If you were to say “Thank you for your service” to Zak, he’d likely nod and tell you that he was just upholding the family tradition of serving others.  Since leaving the military, he’s done his best to settle into civilian life as a single parent. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, Zak’s ready to stand in defense of what’s right.

Just like any other segment of the population, the military ranks include some who crave conflict and seek power over others. As much as we might like to believe everyone in uniform holds firm to the highest ethical standards, the reality is that some do not. In Dangerous Deeds, you’ll meet the character Karl Shackleford, former second-in-command to Sheriff Johnson’s corrupt predecessor. Karl opted for the Army rather than fall in line with the new law-and-order regime, and only came home after falling afoul of Army conduct regulations. Now he’s back on the job thanks to Veterans’ Reemployment Rights and eager to see his old boss reinstated as sheriff and resume his own position of power. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, legal or otherwise.

Some veterans return with physical or psychological wounds, and more than a few find themselves without a place to call home. Some estimates suggest that nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Another 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness because of poverty, insufficient support networks, and housing issues. That’s true for some of my characters, too.  In Dangerous Deeds you’ll meet Martin Grimes, homeless after the family’s hilltop farm was auctioned off while Martin served overseas. Now he’s getting by one day at a time, doing odd jobs that come along, spending nights rough camping in the woods not far from Waterside Kennels and wondering just what he’d been fighting for. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, he’ll have to decide, once again, where his sense of loyalty and honor will lead him.

Three men, all veterans, each with his own story to tell. Although fictional, each reflects some element of reality for military veterans today.

This week, the United States will recognize Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day in recognition of the ceasefire on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918 which ended World War I. If you’d like to learn ways to support military veterans in need, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans or learn about the Lifeline for Vets.

Veterans Day 2015

 

And the Winner is…

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Congratulations, Barbara Tobey! You’ve won the 3-for-1 Deadly Ties package prize: a Kindle edition of the book, the audiobook (narrated by the top-ranked voiceover artist Robin Rowan), and a signed paperback. Barbara, please email me (dogmysteries [at] gmail) and let me know where to send your prize! Remember you can keep for yourself, give as gifts–whatever you like!

Coming up: a sneak peek this week at Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Sharing a Love of Mysteries

One of my favorite places in the world is a library. That’s where I’ll be today, visiting with fans and friends at the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Susan Holmes Book Discussion-Signing 10-11-15

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I’ll be back here soon to share more about facts and folktales in regional mysteries. Remember there’s a giveaway in progress, so be sure to leave a comment!