1. What was your inspiration for writing a book about your own dog?
Looking back on what the 2 of us went through, through the lens of a now experienced dog trainer, I can see the same thing in so many of my clients. They suffer through the same problems. I wanted them to know that they are not alone in their difficulties with their young, exuberant dogs, that when I say, “I understand”, I really do understand! Wylie was a good teacher.
2. What makes your book different from all the other dog training manuals out there?
I know there are SO many dog training books out there, all attempting to give owners advice. Some are great, but many of them make for dry reading for the average dog owner. Let’s face it, a “how to” manual is not that engaging. I believe my book is the first to incorporate real life stories with actual training advice that directly addresses the behaviors they just read about. The reader gets to enjoy both!
3. Is Wylie really the worst dog you ever trained?
At the time, yes! Now that I look back though, most of Wylie’s issues were just normal puppy/young dog issues. She was behaving like a normal dog. I just had no idea what to do about her enthusiasm and I think I made some of it worse, before it got better. I want to help owners avoid the mistakes I made. Wylie was the worst dog, and she was also the best dog.
4. You said it took you about 5 years to write the book. Why so long?
Losing Wylie was the hardest thing I have gone through in my entire life. It’s not like I haven’t suffered losses before. I have lost my family, all of them. I’ve lost other dogs. Nothing comes close to the havoc this wreaked in my heart and head. A couple of days after she was gone, I sat down in my office and wrote out everything that happened in those last few days. I knew I needed to get it written down because I was sure I would forget it, or block it, it was so painful. I hand wrote page after page of notes, in great detail. Then I put them away. I had an idea that I wanted to write a book about us for a couple of years before Wylie died, but I always put it off. It didn’t feel right at the time. Slowly, I started jotting down ideas. I couldn’t spend very long working on it because I would end up in tears, the pain right on the surface again. I slowly chipped away. The training chapters were easier to write, but it was the stories that I really needed if I was going to reach the audience. Finally, five years later, here we are.
5. What’s your favorite Wylie story? Why?
I love them all because they bring back such vivid memories of my sweet dog, but I am particularly fond of Wylie the Kleptomaniac. The image of that little black puppy plucking all those tree flags just cracks me up. It makes my heart happy to remember her that way. That story epitomizes what Wylie was: cute, aggravating, and funny as heck.
6. What is it like to announce to the world that you have Major Depressive Disorder?
Well, I’m not going to lie, it’s a little frightening. I have always prided myself on being strong. People came to me, trusted me, because I was strong. I thought that revealing this would make me weak. When you suffer trauma at a young age, it really does a number on your brain. I can look back at all the bad decisions I made when I was young, how I was a victim of abuse, how I felt so worthless for so long, and I can trace it all back to that scared little girl. I was tired of keeping it all inside. It’s taxing. It’s exhausting. It’s unnecessary. People who have never suffered from Major (Persistent) Depressive Disorder find it hard to understand. It’s not sadness. It’s a deep pit. It’s trying to figure out how you can live the rest of your life in a dead state, one day after another day, after another day, all rolling out ahead of you in one tiring, gray, bland, hopeless length of life. It’s painful. Sometimes it got better for a while, but then some triggering event would happen, and I would crash again. Does that make sense? I have been on this roller coaster of ups and downs my whole life. I know that I will never be able to stop my medication. It keeps me stable.
7. Your training style is a kinder, gentler way. Tell me a bit about it.
I practice what is known as positive reinforcement or force free training. It’s the ethical way to train. It focuses on training what you want your dog to do instead of what you don’t want her to do, uses management of the environment to ensure the dog succeeds, and uses rewards to reinforce behaviors that you like (science tells us to use food rewards, at least in the beginning). That’s it in a nutshell. It’s not rocket science, it’s behavior science! There is no room for using aversive techniques in my training. I do not need to shock a dog, choke a dog, pinch a dog, hit a dog, scare a dog, intimidate a dog. Dog training is an unregulated field at present, so owners must do their homework, choose wisely, and be their dog’s advocate. I don’t believe any owner hires a trainer thinking that their dog will be intentionally harmed. They love their dogs. But this happens every single day and the dogs pay the price. My colleagues and I are often called in to pick up the pieces after a punitive trainer has finished their “work” with the dog. What we find are frightened dogs who disengage, or who end up biting someone. So remember to vet your trainer! Make sure they only use positive, force free techniques. If they don’t use food rewards, run the other way.
8. If you could give new puppy owners one piece of advice, what would it be?
Socialize, socialize, socialize, and do it right! This is really the only time-sensitive thing in puppyhood. The window of opportunity basically closes at 16 weeks. People think they have more time than that. They don’t. After about 4 months, dogs start losing their ability to cope with novelty without developing a fear response. They also incorrectly assume that puppies can generalize, that because their dog loves their kids, they will like other kids, or that because the puppy lives with another dog, it will therefore like other dogs. Dogs do not generalize well at all. Puppies must get out there, see the world. That said, owners must not overwhelm their dog. That’s not good either. And on top of all that, socialization should be done in a way so as to minimize health risks. Bottom line is that if people don’t properly socialize their puppy, that dog is highly likely to develop behavior problems down the road. How do owners do all this? It’s all in my book!
9. So, you have another black Labrador retriever now? Why black labs?
Yes, her name is Sweet Carolina Rhubarb Pie, Rhubarb for short. She’s nearly 4 years old now. She is very different from Wylie. Her temperament was easier, right from the start. We sought out a great breeder and looked for a calm puppy. Why labs? I don’t know. I guess I’ve always liked black dogs, and labs are such characters! I love their exuberance, their joy, their love of humans. Of course, not all labs are like that, but generally, the breed tends to lean that way. I like their size; big but not too big. I just love them.
10. Any parting words?
Enjoy your puppies. Puppyhood is so short; it will be over in a flash. Work hard on developing a great relationship with your dog. That’s what everything is based on, really.