Mostly memoir with a dash of dog training, Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes by Kari Neumeyer, is a cautionary tale that will hopefully discourage others from impulsively getting a puppy before carefully researching both the breed and breeder. The author admits, "We knew nothing about German Shepherds." She and her boyfriend, Rob, end up taking home one female from a litter of nine puppies bred for police and protection work. What she came to realize was that the characteristics selected for this line of working dog, are not necessarily the same traits you would want in a house pet. The other lesson she shares is that it is equally important to search out dog trainers who use modern, rewards-based strategies based on scientific studies.
You don't have to be a dog enthusiast to like this memoir. Kari Neumeyer shares her personal reflections on the dynamics of relationships as this couple adjusts to having a dog as a significant figure in their lives together. Both of them fall in love with the puppy. Eventually the author realizes the impact that her choices have influenced her beloved puppy and she states, "I hated myself, too, for causing that fear." Understanding that smart people with good intentions make mistakes, Neumeyer reminds us to find solace in Maya Angelou's wisdom, "You did then what your knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better."
I read this book with fascination, like watching two trains racing down the same track towards each other. The story felt very familiar to me, as I did the same things she did, out of ignorance. From getting a German Shepherd puppy bred specifically for protection work, and following the advice of a vet to isolate the puppy until 12 weeks old; to listening to a trainer's advice to use a choke chain collar and watching a popular TV show personality claim expertise as Alpha male, I did not raise my puppy using enlightened methods until I discovered rewards-based trainers. With genetics and environment coming together in the perfect recipe for disaster, at the end of the first year, I had a large, insecure, reactive dog! Even though we couldn't walk our dog on a leash out in public, like Rob, I thought my dog was perfect just the way he was.
When Ms. Neumeyer found the trainer who insisted on "setting her dog up for success," I breathed a sigh of relief. Now she was getting good tips to reward the behaviors she wanted instead of correcting and punishing the dog for misbehaving. Especially when she described the use of the harness and "balance leash" used in conjunction with an obstacle course to build the confidence of dog and handler, I knew she was on the right track. Along with circular touching (a special kind of massage), these are the hallmark tools of Tellington TTouch, a gentler approach to rebuilding the relationship between dog and human. Then the story takes another twist, when a new puppy is added to the mix. The final journey leads to an experienced TTouch trainer who helps the team rebuild trust and gain new skills.
I encourage readers to enjoy this personal account of joy and sorrow, and to share the book widely if you know anyone considering getting a puppy. Her resources and up-to-date references are great recommendations for building a successful relationship with your dog.
Kari Neumayer is a published journalist who lives in Washington State with Rob and their dogs. She has traveled widely and held several different sorts of jobs requiring her skills as a writer. Visit her website.
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