On dogs and manuscripts

I have heard about dogs that are so well-behaved, you could leave a plate of food out and they won’t touch it, even if you leave the room. (Even if you leave the house!)

I have heard about dogs that are so well-behaved, you can tell them to stay by the mailbox and they won’t move an inch, even if you forget about them for hours.

And I have seen with my own eyes dogs that are so well-behaved, they walk right by their owner’s side, never straying into the street, never barking at strangers.

Happy Monday! Let's curl up together and hide from the cold. #grumblepup

My little guy is not that kind of dog. Oh, he’s smart and cute and cuddly. (A dangerous combination, trust me.) But if he has a chance, he will make trouble. If we’re not paying attention, he will get into the trash can (even ones with “dog-proof” lids) and eat all the tissues (or worse). He barks at dogs, squirrels, people — anything that moves, really. He has absolutely zero concept of oncoming traffic. And somehow he manages to sleep in just the right spot to take up half the bed. (My half, of course.)

#grumblepup hiding from the storm in the laundry basket.

But the thing is, there’s no point in my wishing for a different or better dog. I have the dog that I have. (And I love him!) So it’s my responsibility to figure out how to train him, how to help him live up to his best. Not the best of other dogs.

Happy birthday to this guy. 6 years old and still keeping it classy. #grumblepup

In case you couldn’t tell, this is also an extended metaphor for writing.

We have all heard about manuscripts that were written in a week. Or a month. Stories that came fully formed into the author’s mind through a dream. Or that flowed out in a perfect first draft. Manuscripts that found an agent right away. Or that got a million-dollar deal.

These manuscripts of mythical proportions are not our manuscripts. There’s no point in wishing for them. All you get is your manuscript. And your manuscript is wonderful, in its own unique ways. So love your manuscript. Work hard to take care of it. Make your manuscript the best that your manuscript can possibly be.

And then go curl up with your dog, cat, or pillow, and be grateful that manuscripts don’t take up half the bed.

Two important messages

Friend and fellow writer Dustin is a very talented artist, and he’s participating in this thing called #inktober. I’m an amateur doodler at best, but I like the spirit of #inktober, so I’m going to do the “5K” version, meaning 1 drawing a week. Here is my first:

I'm an amateur doodler at best, but I'm trying the #inktober "5K."

Riley wanted to participate too, but he can’t hold a pen, so we did #kibbleart instead:


5 years

Dear Puppa,

It’s hard to believe you’ve gone from this…

riley in arms

To this…

riley 4 point 5

But I have photographic proof, so it must be true.

Sometimes I wish you could have stayed the adorable little fuzzball we brought home from the shelter forever — purely for the cuteness factor. But really, you’re a great grown-up dog (most of the time) and raising you has been a challenge, a journey, a joy. Thanks for licking my face when I’m sad, licking my face when I’m happy, and licking the floor when I drop food. Here’s to another year of kibbles and cuddles.

Your Momma

My dog as a mirror (Self-awareness part 1)

After our trip to Hocking Hills last month, when Riley was so anxious and disruptive, I started to wonder if we had become too lax with him. Most of the time he’s a great dog, but looking back with an objective eye, I can see that over the past couple years, his naturally high-energy personality has turned into an unnaturally high-strung nervousness.

Be the Pack Leader: Use CESAR'S WAY to Transform Your Dog . . . and Your Life To figure out how to ease his anxiety, I turned to Cesar Millan. No, Riley and I won’t be appearing on an episode of the Dog Whisperer, but I did read Cesar’s book BE THE PACK LEADER. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but here are the basic principles of Cesar’s Way:

  • Dogs naturally operate in a pack hierarchy.
  • If you want an obedient dog, you need to be his pack leader.
  • To establish your leadership, you should fulfill your dog’s needs: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection (in that order).
  • With all of that, you should also project “calm-assertive energy.”
  • If you do not do those things, your dog may become confused as to his rank/role within the pack, possibly leading to instability, insecurity, disobedience, or even aggression.

Essentially Cesar was saying that to correct Riley’s behavior, I first had to correct my own.

(And it didn’t matter that we had done all the “right” things with Riley as a puppy — training, socialization, etc. A good foundation is very important and helpful, but it isn’t always enough. Because dogs are creatures of the moment, you have to maintain the boundaries you’ve established.)

Through this new lens, I saw that I was taking too many shortcuts with Riley; allowing him to have control of certain situations; and humanizing him in ways that were detrimental to our relationship and to his understanding of the world. For all of our sakes, I decided to employ Cesar’s techniques to try and reclaim leadership of our “pack.” The biggest, clearest change is that we now start every day with a 30-60 min walk, with Riley right by my side instead of in front, and only sniffing and peeing with my permission. Believe it or not, it only took a single day for Riley to learn to walk this way, and in just one week I think it has helped to make him calmer and more obedient.


(Note: For Riley, I don’t think the walking alone would be enough. We’re following as much of Cesar’s Way as we can. The Dog Breed Info Center served as a great supplement, offering concrete, helpful guidelines.)

Yes, this all takes a lot of time, effort, and patience. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, I think it’s worth it.

(But no, I don’t think anyone is a “bad” dog owner if they don’t do these things. I’m looking for solutions that fit me and my life, that’s all.)

Not only is Riley happier, but so am I. I feel more physically fit, more connected to my dog, and more confident and self-aware. I don’t think either of us will end up perfect, but I do hope and believe that this stable, healthy mindset can spill over to other parts of my life.

Hipster Hills

This past weekend, we celebrated Andy’s birthday by finally doing something we’ve been talking about for years: renting a pet-friendly cabin and taking Riley on vacation with us.

This was our “Honeybee Hideaway,” complete with (fake) well and (real) hot tub.

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We spent several hours hiking in Hocking Hills, which was shaded and lovely.

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We also got to do a little shopping — mostly crafts and antiques — as well as some nature-watching.

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Truth be told, we had fun, but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing weekend. See, Riley is a high-energy, anxious pup to begin with, and then you put him in a car. Add in several hours of winding, bumpy country roads, and you have the perfect recipe for a panting, whiny mess. For his sanity (and ours) we probably will not be repeating this experiment, but it was worth doing once.

Note: The hipster look of these photos was brought to you by this set of Photoshop actions that mimic Instagram. A very neat find that I had way too much fun playing with last night…