Learning from Dog's Playbook of Life
July 31, 2014
"Try this: Run barefoot through a field. When dogs run, their paws paint the earth with grace."
That's just one of the suggestions in "Life's a Bark," the delightful new book by award-winning author Larry Kay that shows the many ways in which dogs can be our greatest teachers when it comes to life and love.
A book signing was held on Sat., July 12 at Adopt & Shop (www.adoptandshop.org), 4235 Sepulveda Blvd., where "going to the dogs" is a very positive thing indeed.
"This book is a great example of how the relationship with your dog can improve your quality of life," Aimee Gilbreath affirmed. She is Executive Director of Found Animals' Adopt & Shop, which has fast become an active member of the Culver City community since its grand opening on May 13.
"We encourage anyone looking for that type of loving relationship to meet one of our adoptable dogs and experience the joy the right match can bring," she continued. "Whether you attend one of our educational events, visit our booth at Fiesta La Ballona or visit the store to find the right products for your pet, Adopt & Shop associates are here to help."
And "Life's a Bark" fits right in.
The book's introduction clarifies that barks are more than just a means for dogs to get attention or protect themselves or their owners.
"We actually live in a world of happy barks, sad barks, barks of fear, anger, anxiety, pain, excitement, glee, gratitude, pride, belonging," Kay writes. "Since life's a bark, let's make a joyful noise!" With examples of canine behavior and thoughts on how humans can live happier lives by integrating certain aspects, this book, containing 123 thoroughly captivating photographs, intends to help you do just that.
Kay's attentive audience heard him explain how four themes resonate throughout the book: appreciation, acceptance, praise and communication. He commented that listening, at which dogs excel, is essential to successful relationships, and recommended practicing LOVE to enhance communication: Listen, Observe, Verify and Empathize. "I love that dogs speak, but not in language as we know it," he said, "yet we can still learn so much from dogs if we listen as they do with patience and curiosity."
Interestingly, his connection with dogs was not initially idyllic.
"As a child I did not have what I would now call successful relationships with our family dogs," Kay acknowledged. "I often considered feeding the dog a burden, rarely took walks together, never did any training. When I became an adult and developed empathy, I was fearful of getting any pet because I thought I might neglect 'it,' even though I really wanted a dog."
Finally, after researching rescue organizations, he "fell in love with a rescued Golden Retriever named Higgins. We trained, took countless hikes, and I made just about every mistake possible as a rookie dog owner. Higgins lived to age 15-1/2 and changed my life from burden to blessing."
Before dogs became such a defining professional as well as personal influence, Kay's impressive resume included media business strategist; writer and producer for Disney, The Muppets and PBS; and teaching at NYU's film/TV school.
"I combined all that experience with my relatively new passion for dogs to create and produce a DVD called 'Animal Wow' that taught preschoolers about dog safety and dog care," he said. "It won a lot of awards and got great endorsements, but despite the attention and accolades the project never sold enough to sustain a business."
Fortunately, Kay gained a valuable insight.
"Through that experience, I saw first-hand how much kids could benefit from having successful relationships with pets," he reflected. "I used to say, 'When kids discover pets, they discover themselves.' Then I realized that every success I witnessed for kids could also be a success for grownups and for myself."
Luck was in Kay's corner when "by chance, I had the opportunity to interview the Obama family's magnificent dog trainer, the late Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, for a freelance magazine article on family dogs. Dawn was receiving a lot of offers and would call me up asking my professional advice, which I freely gave her over a few months."
That led to co-authoring "Training the Best Dog Ever," but "sadly, shortly after the book was published, Dawn passed away – on my birthday, no less, which really knocked me off my feet. So, Dawn and I didn't get to celebrate together the awards that our book won and that it became an Amazon Kindle #1 best seller in dog training."
Kay's journey into dogdom brought many positive experiences.
"Every February, I love reporting on The Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden," he said, expressing pleasure to "witness champion show dog handlers use positive reinforcement dog training and hear them tell me that that's the secret to unlocking a dog's unique personality."
When his schedule permits, Kay, a motivational speaker and canine journalist who is currently developing a reality TV series on dog rescue, also helps people train their pet dogs with reward-based positive training.
Having over 850,000 dog-loving fans like his popular Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/positivelywoof, is gratifying because "that gives me opportunities to share stories and issues that are important to me." Kay cited his annual attendance at the national BlogPaws conference, which brings together pet bloggers from throughout the country.
"At this year's conference I was surprised that so many people thanked me for my Facebook posts about dog welfare organizations," he said. "I regularly highlight pet welfare and rescue stories that inspire me or which I believe could use support. I've met so many wonderful people and animals in the pet world, especially through rescue organizations like Found Animals, that I am enlivened every day."
Higgins, his late rescue dog, left a legacy that permeates Kay's sensibilities because "a month after he passed away I began writing 'Life's a Bark' and I wrote the whole book dogless." A labor of love and loss, the experience "was poignant."
On a scale of one to ten, this insightful and charming book, which can be ordered through various booksellers via links on Kay's website, http://www.positivelywoof.com, gets ten tail wags and is a definite "Go fetch!"