C. A. (Carol Ann) Newsome writes the Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries, a series of funny, romantic suspense/mystery novels which are inspired by and centered around her mornings at the Mount Airy Dog Park with her trio of rescue dogs. She is also an artist with an M.F.A. from the University of Cincinnati, and you’ll see portraits of some of her favorite four-footed friends on the covers of her books. Her other interests include astrology, raw food, and all forms of psychic phenomena. She likes to sing to her dogs. The dogs are the only ones who like to listen.
Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): There’s an old showbiz adage, “Never work with children or animals,” and yet you’ve chosen to base much of your writing career on dogs, namely your Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries. Any regrets? I suppose the clean up and care of imaginary dogs is probably easier
With limited avenues for exposure, indie authors must be creative if they want their book to gain traction. Unfortunately, not all creative ideas are good ones. Good friend and great author, Trish Marie Dawson shares a cautionary tale.
I love writing, even the publishing myself part. Yes, yes…I admit it’s hard to get your name out there and to share your stories with the world. But there’s a right and wrong way to promote, and guess what, I have a stellar example of what I consider one of many ‘wrong ways’ below.
But first, a quick explanation (and disclaimer), though this did just REALLY happen to me, I don’t want to list the name of the other person involved or the represented author’s book title, because that would be well…it would just be mean. And I don’t like to see myself as a mean person. So, as you read the exchange below, maybe you’ll laugh. I mean, shoot, I did.
The following messages took place on Facebook. The dates and exact words have not been changed, only the original sender’s name and one book title ‘she’ mentions. I’ll just call her ‘S’. This ‘conversation’…
How often have I heard those words? Especially right before sweet, friendly Poopsy, on her first visit to the dog park, lit into one of the regular mutts?
The weather has been awesome lately. The first T-shirt weather of the year, with mornings that make you want to forget you have anything to do for the rest of the week. Far cry from last winter’s record snows.
People who would never romp outside with their dog when it’s ten degrees in the sun are now waking up with the notion that it’s a great day to go to the park. There’s an influx of newbies up at Mt. Airy Dog Park, most of whom have not been to a dog park in over six months, if ever.
Most people who own breeds with tough reputations know to be alert in a strange environment. Owners of Golden Retrievers and other family friendly dogs are often convinced their babies are harmless, regardless of how little socialization the dog has had.
Last week a pretty Golden/Sheltie mix showed up with her mom. It had words with one of our regular pups as soon as it came in the gate. My friend John suggested to this woman that the dog was not suitable for the park and brought his three dogs back to the rear of the park where a number of us were hanging out.
The stranger followed with her dog, about 15 yards behind. As soon as she got within 20 feet of our pack, her dog began milling in with the regular crew. When it got to the center of the pack, it went after a grey hound, then after Penny again. Whereupon John waded in, grabbed the offender by the haunches and lifted up its hind end (SOP for ending dog fights).
The dog ceased attacking Penny and bit John several times instead while her owner stood there and did nothing. The dog was wearing a pinch collar. Pinch collars are not a substitute for a regular dog collar. You can’t grab a pinch collar, so no one could haul the dog off John. Most of us were consumed with keeping our dogs out of the fray and could not help.
John had many unkind things to say to the newcomer, which I will not repeat. I will say he was loud and his face was purple.
It doesn’t matter who your dog is. If you go to a dog park, there is a good chance your dog will get into a fight at least once.
Sometimes a dog just doesn’t have the temperament for social behavior. Sometimes two dogs that get along well with everyone else, despise each other for inexplicable reasons. Mostly it is a result of owner ignorance of canine behavior and can be prevented.
Chances are I’m preaching to the choir. but I’m going to tell you what I know about preventing dog fights anyway.
First things first. If you nave never been to a dog park before, consider your dog’s level of socialization with other dogs. How does it act when you meet other dogs on a walk? Does it ever have dog visitors or play dates? How does it respond to other animals at the vet? The less exposure your dog has to other dogs, the more careful you need to be.
What is your dog’s temperament? Is it ever food aggressive? Does it challenge you, or is it submissive? The best dog for dog park visits is somewhere in the middle: not a bully, and also not likely to be threatened by overtures from other dogs.
If you dog tends to bully other dogs, it may not be suitable for dog park visits. Fearful dogs can be socialized, but it’s best to go slow.
If you pull into the dog park and you see 50 cars in the lot, perhaps save your first visit for another day or a quieter time. There are too many unknowns when there is huge crowd.
Do not make your first visit when you get home from work. Most of the dogs at the park after work have been cooped up all day long, and they are wound up. Meanwhile, their owners are exhausted and perhaps less alert.
Early in the morning is a better bet (that’s when I go). People who tend to their dogs before breakfast are generally knowledgeable owners. Many are older and have older, more settled dogs. And the park is likely to be emptier.
Whenever you approach a dog park, watch the dogs who come up to the fence carefully. Are they making bright, happy yips and bouncing? Are they trash talking? Or are they menacing and throwing themselves at the fence? Dogs love mock battles. Learn the difference between “Yo’ Mama” and “I’m going to rip your lungs out and eat them.” If you’re not sure, ask the owner.
The most opportune place for a fight is at the gate. Dogs are territorial, and may see the park as their domain with the gate as the portal. Dogs think it’s their duty to guard portals if they are anywhere nearby. Guarding may just mean standing on the other side of the gate and sniffing the new guy when he comes in. Or it can involve the aforementioned lung-ripping.
For this reason, I like to hang out in the rear of the park. It reduces guarding behavior. If you are in the corral, and a dog inside the gate is menacing, do not hesitate to call the owner and ask them to remove their dog from the gate so you won’t have any problems when you enter.
If there’s a crowd of dogs just inside the gate, go around the pack, not through it. Dogs that frequent the park will form packs. Pack behavior is more volatile than one-on-one behavior with dogs.
You may see a crowd of happy, friendly dogs hanging out and think, “Oh, good, lots of pups for my little Fido to play with.”
DO NOT APPROACH A DOG PACK.
I can’t stress this strongly enough. Fido is likely to stick close to you, at least until he feels comfortable. If you approach a group of people (who are incidentally surrounded by their dogs), he will go with you and may feel obligated to check them out for your protection, no matter how uncomfortable he is. It’s the equivalent to walking into a biker bar on Saturday night. Anything can happen.
Walk around the park with Fido in areas where there are no dogs, or single dogs with their owners and let him get his bearings. Let him meet new dogs one-on-one. After he’s used to being there and is familiar with some of the dogs, he is going to be more comfortable around a group of the same dogs, and they will be more likely to accept him into the pack.
Let your dog proceed at a speed he is comfortable with. Don’t try to force him to meet dogs if he is uncomfortable. If he displays aggressive behavior (not play fighting), remove him immediately.
Some dogs with dominance issues will attempt to hump every dog in sight. Some dogs will accept this behavior and some dogs go ballistic. Some dogs are possessive with balls and toys, some are food aggressive (the reason food and treats are banned in many dog parks). Get to know the temperaments of the dogs around you.
My Shadda only lets Max dominate her. If anyone else tries to mount her, she gets snappish. If a new pup is bouncing all over her, she will sometimes start a low growl that tells me she’s upset. I’ll try to shoo the other dog off and keep it away from her. Meanwhile, the owner of the big, friendly lug is waving it off, saying “Oh, he’s just a big baby, he’s really friendly.” Meanwhile, I’m desperately trying to keep a fight from breaking out because the “friendly” dog ignores boundary signals.
When a bouncy dog with dominant tendencies runs up to a strange dog, you have no clue how the other dog is going to react. If the other dog has been previously attacked, it will feel threatened and act accordingly. If the owner is freaking out over your big, friendly lunk, they may not be afraid of your dog. They may be responding to the level of anxiety their own dog is feeling.
Never disregard another owner who is trying to keep their dog away from your dog. They know something you don’t. Never disregard your dog’s signals. If they are uncomfortable, remove them to another part of the park.
The “sweet” Golden mix that attacked Penny was probably very nervous when it walked into the pack. While we didn’t see exactly what happened, it is likely that “Goldie” was on edge when the Greyhound, a known butt sniffer, checked her out. Similar to getting bumped in the previously mentioned biker bar, it set off a chain reaction.
Goldie probably would have been just fine if the Greyhound had sniffed her out without the crowd around. Or maybe not. But it would have been easier to intervene without a dozen other dogs around.
I am never so happy as when the words are piling up faster than the laundry and my diet is reduced to smoothies and cottage cheese, both foods I can eat at the computer while I am zooming towards a deadline. I am happy enough to look at the chaos that has become my home with nostalgia, like one might regard the unfortunate tattoo one obtains during an especially memorable drinking binge.
The dogs and plants are still alive. I also seem to have acquired a few new pets. There is now a mouse living under the dishwasher. My apartment has apparently become a refuge for every fruit fly east of the Mississippi. One of my first acts of non-writerage has been to wage war upon the unfortunate fruit flies. The mouse is going to take a little time. I’ve got plans for a nefarious (but humane) trap. It has to be placed just right to catch the mouse while not enticing the dogs, as they are all fond of the same bait.
The picture at the top? Meet ‘Frank.’ Frank is a spontaneous life form I discovered inside my grandmother’s saucepan (now dubbed Revere Beware) when I lifted the lid. I haven’t decided what to do about Frank. He’s quiet, feeds himself and is generally well behaved. Getting rid of him might require nuclear armaments. I’m in too good a mood to engage in all-out warfare. I might try poking him with a stick. A very long stick.
Frank has been evicted. My grandmother can stop turning over in her grave.
Ooooh! Look! I can see myself!
The mouse took the bait without setting off the trap. Time for a new strategy, involving a cereal box and a peanut butter sandwich.
I’ll be starting Sneak Thief soon. But first, I’m calling a cleaning service.
We were having a discussion about writer’s block. One of us was stuck on a book and considering setting it aside to pursue another project, a topic which always elicits a wide range of conflicting responses.
Then Russell Blake weighed in on the topic. I have to stop and say that Russell Blake weighs in like the 800 pound gorilla. He’s very successful (and getting more so by the day. Just ask the Wall Street Journal, if you don’t believe me.), and despite having the most brutal schedule of anyone I know, he’s very generous with his advice. He’ll tell you exactly how he got to where he is. As long as you don’t mind being told the facts of life by an 800 pound gorilla.
I’ve learned to pay attention whenever he speaks. What follows is possibly the most empowering and useful bit of wisdom I’ve ever heard, and perfect for the new year.
This is what he said:
“Stay the course and force yourself to finish it. Sit down, take a deep breath, and change your mental attitude. Ask yourself what excites you about the sequel, and if the answer is nothing, ask yourself what could excite you about it. Then ask yourself how you can make writing the remaining pages the most exciting experience of your life. If you genuinely demand an answer out of your brain, it will give it to you. Ask good questions and you’ll get useful answers. ‘How can I be more excited about my words today than ever before, and how can I raise the bar on my writing to where I won’t believe I actually wrote that?’ will get you a way different answer than ‘why am I having to slog through this?’ Just saying. ‘How can I have real fun, fun I’d pay for, finishing this?’
“If you believe that at any time, you can change your outlook – that you, not your environment, or circumstances, or some external or internal deterministic stimuli, can decide to change whenever you want, it will completely change the rest of your life. It’s exhausting, because instead of being buffeted about by the winds of change, you’re responsible for your course, but in the end, it’s the only way to have the life you want. If you don’t control the things you can (given all the things you can’t), shame on you.
“What you believe determines your motivation. The questions you ask yourself define your beliefs. ‘How can I be the most incredible force of nature ever seen’ will get a different answer than ‘how do I make it through today?’ Take responsibility for your future. Ask better questions. ‘How can I wake up every morning eager to write the best prose of my life?’ gets you a more useful answer than ‘How do I finish this damned thing I really don’t want to write?’ Grab the throttle and give it a twist. Your muse works for you – you don’t work for it.”
That hit me between the eyes. Then Jacques Antoine, another writer following the same conversation, gave me another “WOW” moment:
“The central insight you mentioned earlier is obviously true and strangely easy to overlook, namely that if you only ask yourself negative questions, you can only get negative answers. Turning that around and asking oneself a positive, challenging question is the only way to get a different result.”
Why am I so excited? I spent more than a decade in the field of addictions counseling, working to help people “get out of the problem and into the solution,” a concept many have difficulty wrapping their head around. Russell’s advice not only makes this essential attitude shift accessible, it makes it fun.
Fun is important. Fun is motivating. Fun gives you lots of lovely brain chemicals that energize you and improve your mood. Make it fun and it’ll get done, I say. Engaging with life should be exciting, stimulating and, yes, fun. If it’s not, changing your attitude and assuming responsibility is your best strategy to fulfillment.
What questions are you going to ask yourself today?