Nick Trout’s first novel, The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, charmed readers everywhere, including here at Bark. A Boston-based veterinarian, Trout has an insider’s view of vet practices, the people who run them, and the quirks and foibles of clients and their pets. With this book, he continues the story of Patron Saint’s Cyrus Mills, DVM , reluctant owner of a small-town Vermont clinic.
Trout adeptly weaves three plot lines: the David v. Goliath nature of independent and corporate vet practices, Mills’ awkward pursuit of an emotional life, and the gamut of situations vets encounter daily. And once again, Mills finds himself the reluctant guardian of a dog—this time, a service dog with a mysterious background.
Trout writes from a place of deep knowledge and regard for the bonds people have with their companion animals, and his wry sense of humor provides many smile-inducing moments. It’s an enjoyable read.
Author of The Good Boy
What could be better than a novel that combines a strong sense of place, a fast-moving story and a dog as a primary character? Theresa Schwegel’s newest book, The Good Boy (Minotaur), fulfills all these requirements and then some; Butch, a Chicago PD K9, races through its pages in a most authentic way. Despite a busy book-tour schedule, Schwegel kindly took time to answer a few questions—like all dedicated dog people, she enjoys talking about her co-pilots.
Bark: In the acknowledgments, you thank the dogs who inspired you, Wynne and Wiley and CPD K9 Brix. Tell us more about the first two, and how you came to know Brix.
Theresa Schwegel: Wynne is my wonderfully neurotic Australian cattle dog mix; Wiley is my stomach-brained Ridgeback-Lab. They’re rescues and they’re my best friends. My husband trained them when they were puppies, and they’re easier off-leash (especially since Wynne’s herding instinct only tangles us). They both exist in Butch— his yin and yang, I suppose—as does Brix, the German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix I met when I asked a detective friend to find me a working K9. And yes—Brix is Butch’s physical model; I’d seen Bloodhounds work as well, but I needed a dog who could track and trail and detect and protect.
Bark: Your portrayal of the world of the working police dog has a lot of authenticity. Were you already tapped into it, or did it require research?
Schwegel: Research, of course. I need to see what I write, whether it’s a place or person or procedure. I was fortunate to spend time with some German Shepherds; both a trainer and a former K9 officer were kind enough to let me peek into their homes to see how a working dog lives off the clock. And Brix’s handler, Tara Poremba (now a trainer for the Chicago Police Department), was instrumental in teaching me how a dog team works; at one point, we staged a mock drug search at a neighborhood bar. Truthfully, though, I think Butch’s authenticity comes from living with my two dogs. I think Wiley would be a great K9 if I put bacon in the Kong.
Bark: Butch has a brief foray into dog fighting. What made you decide to add that element?
Schwegel: I felt Butch needed to fight his own fight, too. To be the real “good boy.” What limited research I did with regard to dogfighting was mortifying. The culture, the language, the cruelty. Despite the tough bullying scenes in the book, I could only bring myself to allude to the dogfight.
Bark: Butch really is a central character, one who in some ways drives the action, or at least inspires a lot of it. Did you start with that intent, or did it develop as you wrote?
Schwegel: I knew Butch would cause Joel’s journey, and I knew he had to go along (Joel would need someone to talk to). He became a central character as I realized he was the only one who couldn’t tell a lie (and everybody else in the book was buried under them). His “personality”—if I may anthropomorphize, because I always do— developed as a result of his interactions with Joel.
Bark: We were also interested in your choice to give Jack London’s book White Fang a role in the story; what inspired that? Are you a reader of dog books, or other mysteries with dogs in them? Any favorites or recommendations?
Schwegel: I wanted Joel to have a city map and a moral compass on his journey. White Fang is one of my favorite soul-searching books, and so it was an obvious choice. I don’t really seek out “dog” books, though two favorites that both feature dog-as-narrator are Timbuktu by Paul Auster and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
Bark: Are there any more “Murphy and Butch” books in the works?
Schwegel: I don’t have plans for a series, though I had a writer-friend recently comment that Joel would be a “pretty interesting dude” if I let him grow up. The novel I’m working on now jumps to the other end of the spectrum, as it deals with financial exploitation and elder abuse. (I must admit, though, that I’m partial to the idea of giving the detective a dog.)
“Butch did his job . He recognized threat. He defended his handler. And lately, it seems like he’s the only one who will.” In Edgar Award–winner Theresa Schwegel’s new book, Chicago PD K9 officer Pete Murphy is under siege both on the job and on the home front. Fortunately, his partner Butch, a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix, has his back. Butch is also devoted to Murphy’s son, Joel, an intelligent, intensely focused 11-year-old with a penchant for playing detective.
As in her four earlier books—all of which are also set in the city of Chicago —the people in The Good Boy struggle with professional and personal complexities. In Pete’s case, the suggestion that he had an affair with a female judge he was assigned to protect affects his job and his marriage. He’s been reassigned to the K9 unit, fellow officers keep their distance, and his wife and teen-age daughter are furious about having to move to a cheaper neighborhood. Joel, on the other hand, considers their new situation ripe with opportunities for “undercover” work. For Butch, whose specialty is drugdetection, life is straightforward: he works hard, is devoted to Pete and his family, and will defend them—especially Joel—at all costs.
The story hits terminal velocity quickly. Joel, accompanied by Butch, follows his sister when she sneaks out to a party at the home of a boy Joel knows is dangerous. As they spy on the partygoers, Butch scents drugs and leaps into action. In the process, shots are fired. The narrative follows Joel and Butch as the two make their way across Chicago, armed with a map, four dollars and a copy of Jack London’s White Fang, to the one person Joel feels can save Butch from the consequences of doing his job. As his mother frantically waits, and his sister hides her role in the situation and his father anxiously searches for them, Joel and Butch navigate some of the city’s bleaker byways.
Both Joel and Butch qualify as the “good boy” of the title. Joel is bright and innocent and loyal; Butch is honest, and honestly portrayed by a writer who knows dogs and their behaviors (she even knows why dogs’ feet smell like popcorn, an intriguing bit of trivia).
Developing Engagement & Relationship
A couple of years ago, I was walking beside an acquaintance and her Golden Retriever at an agility show. It was difficult to hold a conversation because I was distracted by her frequent leash “pops.” The Golden would start in heel position, forge ahead by a front paw or two and then would be jerked back into place.
This behavior continued for the length of our two-minute walk. Clearly, the dog didn’t understand what to do, and worse, neither did her owner. The correction was so automatic that it had become a mindless habit.
If I had mentioned it, I guarantee she would’ve denied it. She considered herself a “crossover trainer,” that is, someone who previously relied on compulsion and now uses positive reinforcement and force-free training methods.
If only I had been able to give her Dog Sports Skills, Book 1: Developing Engagement and Relationship by longtime dog trainers and competitors Denise Fenzi and Deborah Jones, PhD. The first in a series for dog-sport enthusiasts, it will also benefit dog lovers who would not willingly hurt their canine companions but lack the guidance or resources to learn humane alternatives to aversives.
All of the information is based on scientific techniques and principles of learning, such as classical and operant conditioning. This underscores the authors’ mission: “We feel that it is important to not only understand what to do and how to do it, but also why you should do it in a particular way.”
Just as important, the training exercises are simple to follow and realistic, so the reader does not have to be a professional dog trainer or dog-sport fanatic to follow through. For example, the “Slow Treats” game is a wonderful way to teach a dog self-control; all you need is a handful of treats (or part of the dog’s meal). The tricks chapter includes a variety of fun, easy tricks that reduce stress on the human to get it exactly right, unlike obedience.
Perhaps the most enlightening chapter is the one dealing with stress-reduction techniques. As a dog trainer myself, I often hear students say, “But he does it at home!” Assuming they have been taught what to do, dogs who struggle with stress or distraction in public are often mislabeled “stubborn” or “dumb” by their frustrated or embarrassed owners. In response, that owner might resort to correction-based methods to make the dog perform, even if it erodes the trust between them.
“Am I comfortable holding dogs responsible for their trainer’s lack of skill?” asks Fenzi, who has firsthand knowledge of the patience required to successfully leave compulsion behind for good. She is one of the few obedience and IPO (a protection sport formerly known as Schutzhund) competitors who have achieved success at the highest levels of these sports using positive-reinforcement methods. She and her students around the country are proof that pain does not have to be used to be successful in these exacting activities.
Reading about Fenzi’s evolution as a trainer brings some questions to mind: How responsible are instructors for giving their students the skills necessary to keep their dogs safe and happy? Conversely, how responsible are students for researching trainers before entrusting their dogs to them? While these questions aren’t specifically answered, the authors make it clear that we’re accountable for the training (and trainer) choices we make.
Rather than focusing on how to perfect an exercise, the authors invite their audience to learn how to train their dogs through observation, education and mutual respect. Dog Sports Skills is a thought-provoking guide to achieving an even better bond with your dog, whether your goal is an agility championship or good manners in public.
News: Guest Posts
Jill Breitner is a dog trainer with a mission: to make us aware of how dogs communicate by showing us how to “read” them. She developed her Dog Decoder app to do just that.
A helpful and handy primer on canine body language, it demonstrates the ways dogs let us know they’re scared, excited, cautious, willing and so forth. As Breitner explains, “If we understood what dogs try so hard to tell us, there would be fewer people bitten and fewer dogs ending up in shelters.” The app highlights 60 different poses/situations; each one (“butt sniff,” for example) comes with a helpful description that points out some common misconceptions, or the circumstances in which a dog will exhibit it.
A great tool for newbie dog people and those of us who need to brush up on dog talk. dogdecoder.com
A new book celebrates extraordinary dogs
Meet Baby a Beagle-Rat Terrier mix, born paralyzed from the waist down. Like all of the dogs in the new book by photographer Melissa McDaniel she is a survivor of a puppy mill. Baby was lucky, and through a circumstance and kind hearted individuals—she was adopted and is thriving. Puppy Mill Survivors exposes the harsh underworld of the commercial dog-breeding industry by giving faces and stories to the courageous dogs who have escaped the unspeakable. The 64 portraits shine with personality and spirit while delivering an important message: Do not buy a dog from a pet store or off the Internet—end the demand and end puppy mills. To meet more dogs and learn about Melissa’s book projects, go to thephotobooks.com
Bark is giving away a copy Puppy Mill Survivors, enter here for a chance to win this inspiring book.
Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives
No one who lives with and loves a dog wants to think about the subject of this book. We know quite well that one day we’re going to have to face life without our dog’s physical presence … that, indeed, we will very likely have to make the decision that ends our dog’s life. Yet, denial runs deep. Not now, we think. Not yet.
Hard though it may be to do, however, read this book. In it, the author seamlessly weaves journal entries detailing the last year of her old dog Ody’s life with what science has to say about animal aging, end-of-life care and, ultimately, death. She engages both heart and mind in her quest to come to terms with Ody’s deteriorating condition, and to figure out how to best meet his needs. Above all, she’s driven to answer two questions: What does a “good death” look like? And, by extension, how can she ensure that Ody has one?
Impeccably researched, the book covers the biological, philosophical, cognitive and medical aspects of animal aging. Pierce, a bioethicist and (with Marc Bekoff) co-author of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, has a gift for explaining scientific subjects to non-scientists.
Yes, you’ll cry. The bond Pierce has with Ody, and her commitment to honoring it, will touch your heart. Nonetheless, traveling with her on that “last walk” is the best way to prepare yourself for the time you’ll have to make it with your own dog.
It has been said that knowledge is power. In this book, the author has given dog lovers a powerful tool to help them navigate one of life’s most profound passages.
Ever think you might want to consider a career move? One that would take you out of an office setting and, even better, reward you for spending time with many dogs in the great outdoors? Professional dog walking might just be your next calling. In this informative new book by Veronica Boutelle, author of two other dog-business books and co-creator of the Dog Walking Academy, you’ll find a wealth of information to help you get started.
There is a thorough examination of not only what it takes but also, what to expect if you decide to venture into this business. Chapters cover topics such as pack management (with a cautionary note that it is always best to keep it small), client intake, marketing and emergency planning. The author, who seems to have covered all the bases, also includes a helpful “to-do list” for legalities and liabilities.
2013 was a good year for books that helped us to better understand our dogs and unravel the mysteries of what this unique friendship is all about. Here are the notable books of 2013 that have topped our must-read list.
Neuroscientist Gregory Berns does groundbreaking research with the help of MRI brain imagery of his dog, Callie—along with many other dogs from the Dog Project at Emory University. The goal is to decode the canine brain, and, yes, understand what makes dogs’ tick—do dogs empathize with humans, and have a theory of mind? His findings, chronicled in How Dogs Love Us, make a very engrossing and enlightening read.
Cat Warren never thought that she would become cadaver dog handler, but then she got Solo, a German Shepherd pup whose “single pup in the litter” status lent him a singular “I am the master of the universe” mindset. So she took the advice of a trusted trainer on how best to channel his singleton’s “energy” and plunged into cadaver fieldwork. What the Dogs Knows is actually about her discovery of what a dog’s worldview really is, and how she and Solo, not only learned how to navigate it but also to excel at it. This makes for a compelling read.
In Chaser, John Pilley writes about how he and one very smart, committed Border Collie went on to win what amounts to the grand “spelling bee” in the canine world, when Chaser, the dog, learned to differentiate over 1022 words. Theirs is an extraordinary story, made especially more so because Pilley was pushing 80 when he began Chaser’s lessons, and spent four to five hours a day enriching his new dog’s social and learning experiences. There is much to glean in this book, including tips on how you might be able to tap into the genius of your dog.
Susannah Charleson’s second book about dogs, The Possibility Dogs is every bit as enthralling as her first, Scent of the Missing. In this new book she refocuses her work from search-and-rescue to training rescue dogs for psychiatric service and therapy duty. She becomes an expert on evaluating shelter dogs to find those who might have the right personality and drive for this work. This book is an informative training guide but also a truly inspiring personal story.
E.B. White on Dogs, edited by his granddaughter Martha White, is a marvelous collection of classic essays, letters and assorted writing, by a master wordsmith and avowed dog enthusiast. His personable storytelling retains its freshness and immediacy and will charm a new generation of dog-lovers.
Donald McCaig, one our favorite authors, is back in good form again with his engaging Mr. and Mrs. Dog a tale on how McCaig and his Border Collies, Luke and June, were able to compete in the Olympics of the herding-dog world, the World Sheepdog Trials. McCaig’s work spans 25 years of raising and training sheepdogs, and also includes his stalwart championing of the working status of these amazing dogs, quite apart from their recent “inclusion” into AKC’s show-ring standards. He, as always, provides a valuable commentary on living and loving dogs.
Dog Songs by the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver, is the perfect volume to round off our reading list. Oliver is certainly, according to the New York Times, “America’s best-selling poet,” and the reasons for that are numerous. For us it is for her love and respect of nature following a pastoral tradition in poetry, and, her fondness and keen “eye” for dogs. In her latest collection, Bark readers will revisit some works that Bark was honored to first publish, as well as be treated to memorable new material. As she has said of dogs, “I think they are companions in a way that people aren’t. They’ll lie next to you when you’re sad. And they remind us that we’re animals, too.”
Vet Experts Tell Us How
Did you know that the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) has fewer than 50 members? To obtain board certification in this specialty, each has gone beyond a DVM to earn various degrees in applied animal behavior, and has completed a rigorous training program as well.
Decoding Your Dog (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2014), with sections on canine behavior written by 20 ACVB diplomates, thus represents the expertise of some of the leading experts in the field. Their goal is two-fold: to make sure dog people have scientifically correct information about dog behavior problems and “to correct widespread misinformation.” The volume is well edited by Drs. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi and pet journalist Steve Dale; Victoria Stilwell contributed the foreword.
A concerted effort to debunk the many fallacious, pseudoscientif ic notions all too prevalent in the dog world is really long overdue. This book repudiates, in each and every one of its 14 chapters, the theory of dominance— i.e., dogs want to be pack leaders—that has been promulgated for much too long. In “Creating a Mensa Dog,” Dr. Katherine Houpt outlines that theory: “It goes like this: since dogs are essentially domesticated wolves, and wolves have a rigid dominance hierarchy within their pack, the same must be true for dogs. Simple, right? But the thinking turns out to be wrong.” She then goes on to tell us why it is wrong. Similarly, when this concept appears in other chapters, it’s firmly dismissed as a myth with no scientific basis that harms dogs and our relationships with them.
Another adroitly debunked myth is that dogs feel guilty about infractions people find upsetting, such as house soiling. Dogs must know they’ve done something wrong, right? In “Can’t We Just Talk?” Dr. Jacqueline Neilson explains that while to us, cringing may look like guilt, what is actually happening is that dogs see us acting aggressively and do what they wisely do when faced by an angry bully: offer a submissive response. In the fascinating chapter on aggression, Drs. Ilana Reisner and Stefanie Schwartz remind us that dogs are not mean: “There is no revenge or malice in dogs; they are merely using canine tools to respond to social situations.” Also, that aggression is a response to many different triggers, some of which might not be apparent to us. Consequently, it’s imperative that we learn how to read canine body language and methods of communication. Punishment, they say, “is not necessary when you’re managing your dog’s behavior, and at worst is likely to increase anxiety and aggression.” That means no leash pops, alpha rolls or other “in your face” confrontational techniques (as used by a popular TV personality). It is up to us to defuse the situation, and then work on a strategy to fix the problem.
On less dire subjects, it’s good to know Book Reviews that there is no association between “spoiling,” such as allowing a dog to sleep on the bed, and behavior problems. And that dogs rely on “visual and olfactory cues for communication,” which means it’s best to train them with hand signals first, then supplement with verbal cues.
I found the chapter on separation anxiety by Drs. E’Lise Christensen and Karen Overall to be invaluable, particularly their reminder that “only when dogs are calm can they learn new things, including how to be home alone.” With information ranging from the best ways to start out with dogs to helping dogs as they age, this book is appropriate for both novice and seasoned dog people. The editors have done a good job in making the text readable and approachable; each chapter incorporates case studies, and there is a clear organizational format. Recurring sections (“Facts, Not Fiction,” “Is That Really True?”) and review summaries (“What Did We Say?”) neatly encapsulate the various messages. I have a little quibble with the use of the latter phrase, which sounds like a scolding parent’s “What did I tell you!” But that doesn’t detract from my overall admiration for this book. Decoding Your Dog is an important addition to the canine canon, one that will go a long way toward increasing your understanding of your best friend.
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