Zazie and Kristi chat with Victoria Schade, dog trainer and author of delightful romcoms, about writing about dogs and her upcoming book Unleashed Holiday.
By Zazie Todd PhD
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Watch episode 13 of The Pawsitive Post in Conversation on Youtube or below, listen via your favourite podcast app (including Apple, Spotify) or below, or scroll down to read some of the highlights.
Victoria Schade, Unleashed Holiday, and writing about dogs
In this episode we learn about the Puppy Bowl and Victoria’s involvement in it as lead animal wrangler, and how she made the move to writing, first with nonfiction books about dog training and then to romcoms. We chat about how Victoria’s books include real-life issues, and how she juggles the ‘educator’ and ‘entertainer’ hats.
Victoria’s upcoming book, Unleashed Holiday, will be published on September 26th. The main character is a vet, and Victoria tells us how she went about researching the life of a vet so that she could get the details right. Zazie and Kristi wonder if any of the dogs in Victoria’s books are based on real animals that she has known, and get her tips for writing about dogs.
Then we ask about her book Unleashed Holiday. If you’re in the US you have the chance to win an advance reader copy of the book. Finally we chat about the books we’re reading. And somewhere along the way, Kristi’s dogs get in on the conversation.
Enter the competition to win an advance reader copy of Unleashed Holiday here (US only).
You can watch some highlights from the Puppy Bowl here.
The books we’re reading
Poppy in the Wild by Teresa J Rhyne.
Dog Friendly and Who Rescued Who, both by Victoria Schade.
The Book of Silver Linings by Nan Fischer.
Defending the Arctic Refuge: A Photographer, an Indigenous Nation, and a Fight for Environmental Justice by Finis Dunaway.
A First Guide to Dogs: Understanding Your Very Best Friend by Dr. John Bradshaw illustrated by Clare Elsom.
The books are available from all good bookstores and the Companion Animal Psychology Amazon store.
About Victoria Schade: Victoria Schade is a dog trainer and writer who has worked as the lead animal wrangler for Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, has appeared on the TV show Faithful Friends, and has written a couple of dog training books, Bonding With Your Dog and Secrets of a Dog Trainer. Her works of fiction include Life on the Leash, Who Rescued Who, Lost, Found, and Forever and Dog Friendly. Her next book, Unleashed Holiday, will be published in September 2023 and features adorable pups and a holiday romance.
Victoria Schade’s website Facebook Instagram TikTok
Highlights of the conversation with Victoria Schade
Z: I’m going to start with the Puppy Bowl if that’s okay, because your background is in dog training and you’ve been involved in the Puppy Bowl for some time. But what exactly is the Puppy Bowl, because it sounds really cute but to be honest I’m not entirely sure, and what is your role in it?
V: Wait a second, that record scratched! Okay, so Puppy Bowl is a phenomenon that hasn’t reached you but I highly recommend that you search it out. So Puppy Bowl is an annual show on Animal Planet that is basically counter programming on Super Bowl Sunday. So if you don’t feel like watching all those Meat Heads running around on the field, you can watch adorable puppies pretending to play football on a scaled down little field, and it’s just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.
This is my 18th year working on the show. It’s the 20th show, my 18th. I am the OGist OG I think on the set. And yeah it’s just basically edited footage. People don’t realize that it’s not live, but it’s edited footage of two teams, Fluff versus Ruff coming together on the gridiron to duke it out to see who wins the Lombarki Trophy.
Z: That’s very very cute. And is there a half time show for this as well?
V: There is! So for years it’s the kitten halftime show and for gosh 16, 17 years I think it was, part of it fell within my scope of responsibility of working on the show. Even though I’m primarily a dog and puppy person I do have some cat skills, so I would have to, you know, they’d just spring it on me and say “hey Victoria let’s get that kitten to play piano,” and I have to make it happen somehow. So yeah that was a part of it. These past two years we have a different production company doing it, which I’m so sad to see the kitten halftime show going somewhere else, but we still have cats on set.
K: Very cool, this is amazing. I know before when Zazie and I were just getting ready yesterday for this recording we were both like, let’s ask her about the Puppy Bowl, do you know what the Puppy Bowl is? And I’m like how did I not know about this, how have I not? Okay I don’t actually know anything about football, so some of it may pass over my head but…
V: I promise you it will not. I mean, okay there’s some play-by-play stuff, but just as students of puppy body language I think it’s fascinating, because there’s just volumes of things happening on the field that I think the average pet parent might not pick up on. But that’s part of what I do on the show, I am ensuring puppy happiness and safety the entire time they’re there. Part of the reason why it’s not live is because if something’s happening, like if a puppy’s overwhelmed or we have like unmatched play going on, I can leap out onto the field and pull a pup. But that’s part of the beauty of this show too is you can see the puppies coming out. Well I can, I don’t think the viewers can because it’s edited, but I can see puppies that are shy and nervous watching from the sidelines and going well okay that that looks kind of fun and then they venture out and then they become the star of the game, so it’s just the best. We film in October so I’m heading back to the show the first week of October.
K: That’s amazing, I would even, this is just like my mind is [blown] like I’d love to even see the outtakes and I think it would be useful to show people that too. Oh that’s just so cool. I’m definitely gonna try and find that.
V: It’s all right, if you look on YouTube you can find past seasons and they’ll do highlight reels and that sort of thing, just so you can get a basic idea.
Z: I’ll find one and I’ll include a link in the show notes and me and Kristi will have a good look and enjoy looking at that too.
K: One of the things that we did want to ask you about, Zazie and I both love books as you are aware, and as she is a best-selling author and I read, so tell us about how you made the move to fiction? Cos you write nonfiction as well. I saw you have some dog training books. How did you sort of make that move? What was happening in your life? What led to that?
V: So my first book Bonding With Your Dog was one of those books that I was compelled to write, I absolutely had to. Challenges with my dog training clients went beyond what the pet parent was doing and what how the dog was responding, and I kind of tracked to the fact that something was broken in the relationship and it was beyond just training. So that’s where the bonding book came from. It’s tips of how to strengthen your bond and ways we accidentally undermine our bond. And by the way, I’m seeing little things that I wrote, this book is like 13 years old, like the pet test, I’m like I wrote about that a long, long time ago and now it’s like in popular culture everywhere, like you know see if your dog is truly enjoying physical contact. I’m like I did that a long time ago.
Anyway as I was writing Bonding I did little vignettes, like stories, that illustrated the points I was trying to make. And I realized that I really enjoyed that part of it as opposed to the nuts and bolts of the how-to, because that is so exacting, like you have to be able to present it in a way that the person reading it can put it into play. Whereas the fun little stories I’m like, oh yay I get to tell a story. So it started to make sense to me that maybe there was fiction in my future.
And then combine that with being a private dog trainer in the DC area, going into people’s homes like all walks of life from presidential great-grandsons to people who had to scrape together the money to pay my fee, it was just such an interesting cross-section of people. I felt like there was fiction in that, in that really unique relationship that happens when you are so honoured to go into someone’s home and interact with them on their home turf and kind of become privy to everything that goes into the magic of our relationship with our dogs. So that was the key, hating the how-to and loving the fiction and realizing that this career, there’s a lot of interest in it.
K: For sure. For storytelling I just love the idea and the process of storytelling. It’s so human and I feel like it really joins us all together–not to be like one of those woo-woo types– but it’s such a human way, you know.
V: It’s a great way of explaining something too. Like everyone learns in a different way and and for some people maybe hearing a story is a way to conceptualize something that otherwise might not make sense to them.
Z: Yeah and that brings us very nicely into the next question because you always have an animal storyline woven through the book, and the main character always has some kind of important animals in their life as well. And I love your books and they often touch on issues that are actually quite important, for example you’ve got some pitbull advocacy in Life on the Leash. And in Dog Friendly, this one, the main character is a vet who’s kind of exhausted and we see some of those veterinary issues in there as well. So to what extent do you like to explore real life issues through your fiction?
V: That’s like the core of it. I think at first glance people are like oh it’s a cute fun you know Hallmark dog story, and the cute and fun is definitely there, but I always try and weave in something, whether it’s the pitbull advocacy or positive reinforcement training or foster rescue adopt. Like there’s always a deeper theme and I feel like in Dog Friendly in particular, addressing veterinary compassion fatigue in a way that readers can understand and maybe reflect a little how we accidentally might put stresses on our veterinarians. You know that was a huge goal for me. And I can’t tell you how many people have said like, I never knew this was a thing, like I never knew the suicide rate and veterinarians was so high. And you know it’s more than just euthanasia there’s so many aspects that go into creating this overwhelming you know fatigue that they face. So a really long answer to just stress that it to me it’s not like I want to preach but I definitely always take the opportunity to weave a little education in with the Nantucket beach read, yay!
K: My question is something that I’m very curious about. And I’m curious about the specifics in your brain when you’re actually doing this. So you’re both a dog trainer, so you have a ton of dog trainer skills and pedagogy, you know like teaching people skills. So when you’re writing I’m assuming you’re wearing both this education and entertainment hat, and entertaining is important or people aren’t gonna read the book you know, and also I think educating humans is very important you know or entertaining is very important like people need breaks you know. So how when you’re writing fiction, how do you make sure you don’t veer, because you don’t, how do you make sure you don’t veer into something that’s kind of patronizing or so you’re not proselytizing on the page? How do you make sure you’re not doing that? Because whenever I imagine writing fiction I can’t imagine doing it without starting to be like the teacher in Charlie Brown.
V: Wah wah wah.
K: Yeah, so how do you do that, how do you pull it off? Do you have to like rewrite stuff?
V: I hope I pull it off.
Z: You do.
V: I mean that’s the whole… It’s not something that’s conscious for me. I think part of it is making sure that the animals that appear, that I’m true to that animal and that it’s not just a prop. That’s hugely important to me because a lot of times there’s a dog in the story and it’s just to be this cute little throw away jokes, and I make sure that, I mean just by the nature of what these characters do for a living dogs are such a part of their lives, but you see the reality. Like you see, I gotta leave happy hour early because I have to let my dog out, or I stepped in vomit in the middle of the night. Like the reality of living with a dog. And hopefully the lessons are woven in seamlessly in a way that you know people can take something from it but they don’t feel like they’re being preached to.
K: Nice. I find myself if I’m reading and someone says something like, I grabbed my treats and my harness and walked my dog I’m just I’m like, I’m so tearful. That’s where the bar is set it seems.
Z: Yeah and I think it’s important to say actually because sometimes if I see that a book has a dog in it I am not certain I want to read it, because I don’t know if it’s actually going to upset me or annoy me or make me angry. And I think it’s really important to say that for all of your books I know that I can go into them and I’m going to be very happy with what’s in there, and I’m going to love the dog story and I don’t have to have any of those nerves or concerns about, you know what’s going to happen. I know I’m in good hands with you, so I think that’s that’s really nice.
V: Thank you and yes this is the perfect place to add that the dog never dies in my book. That’s such a common question! Happily ever afters for both ends of the leash, I promise!
Z: So your next book is coming out in September and it’s called Unleashed Holiday. Can you please tell us about that book?
V: Okay I’m gonna caveat this by saying this is the first time I’ve done it out loud so it’s gonna be sloppy. Okay so Unleashed Holiday takes us from September all the way through Christmas, so we get all of our fall holidays Halloween and Thanksgiving and then Christmas. And it’s about a dog trainer who runs into quite literally an enemy from her past who has this deaf white boxer and the boxer accidentally injures her. And these two warring factions decide let’s bury the hatchet for a bit and kind of help each other: I’ll help you train your unruly white boxer if he’s, see again I’m not used to doing it yet, he’s a personal trainer and he said I’ll help you rehab your injury, so we’ll just do free for free and help each other. And then obviously, two good-looking people who don’t like each other, there’s an enemies to lovers undercurrent. And yeah can they melt the melt the frost between them and find a happily ever after? I gotta practice that baby!
Z: It sounds wonderful.
K: We’re delighted you were here for your first journey.
V: Yes my maiden voyage. My elevator pitch needs work.
Z: No not at all, it sounds fantastic! And we’re very lucky because you’re going to give away an advance reader copy to one of the listeners of this podcast or watchers of this video, and so the way to enter that will be on the Companion Animal Psychology Facebook page. (This is for people in the US only because Victoria is based in the US).
About the co-hosts:
Kristi Benson is an honours graduate of the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC). She also has gained her PCBC-A credential from the Pet Professional Accreditation Board. She has recently moved to beautiful northern British Columbia, where she will continue to help dog guardians through online teaching and consultations. Kristi is on staff at the Academy for Dog Trainers, helping to shape the next generation of canine professionals. Kristi’s dogs are rescue sled dogs, mostly retired and thoroughly enjoying a good snooze in front of the woodstove.
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Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats.
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