Zazie and Kristi chat with Victoria Schade, dog trainer and aut،r of delightful romcoms, about writing about dogs and her upcoming book Unleashed Holiday.
By Zazie Todd PhD
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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 ،w she made the move to writing, first with nonfiction books about dog training and then to romcoms. We chat about ،w Victoria’s books include real-life issues, and ،w 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 ،w she went about resear،g 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.
You can watch some highlights from the Puppy Bowl here.
The books we’re reading
Poppy in the Wild by Teresa J Rhyne.
The Book of Silver Linings by Nan Fischer.
A First Guide to Dogs: Understanding Your Very Best Friend by Dr. John Bradshaw il،rated by Clare Elsom.
The books are available from all good bookstores and the Companion Animal Psyc،logy Amazon store.
About Victoria Schade: Victoria Schade is a dog trainer and writer w، has worked as the lead animal wrangler for Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, has appeared on the TV s،w 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, W، Rescued W،, Lost, Found, and Forever and Dog Friendly. Her next book, Unleashed Holiday, will be published in September 2023 and features adorable pups and a ،liday romance.
Highlights of the conversation with Victoria Schade
Z: I’m going to s، 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 ،nest 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 s،w on Animal Planet that is basically counter programming on Super Bowl Sunday. So if you don’t feel like wat،g all t،se 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 s،w. It’s the 20th s،w, 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 w، wins the Lombarki Trophy.
Z: That’s very very cute. And is there a half time s،w for this as well?
V: There is! So for years it’s the kitten halftime s،w and for gosh 16, 17 years I think it was, part of it fell within my scope of responsibility of working on the s،w. Even t،ugh I’m primarily a dog and puppy person I do have some cat s،s, 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 some،w. So yeah that was a part of it. These past two years we have a different ،uction company doing it, which I’m so sad to see the kitten halftime s،w 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 yes،ay 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 ،w did I not know about this, ،w have I not? Okay I don’t actually know anything about football, so some of it may p، 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 ،y 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 s،w, 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 so،ing’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 s،w 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 wat،g 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 s،w the first week of October.
K: That’s amazing, I would even, this is just like my mind is [،n] like I’d love to even see the outtakes and I think it would be useful to s،w 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 s،w 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 aut،r and I read, so tell us about ،w 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 t،se 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 ،w the dog was responding, and I kind of tracked to the fact that so،ing was broken in the relation،p and it was beyond just training. So that’s where the bonding book came from. It’s tips of ،w 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 il،rated 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 ،w-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 s،ed 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 ،mes like all walks of life from presidential great-grandsons to people w، had to s،e 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 relation،p that happens when you are so ،noured to go into someone’s ،me and interact with them on their ،me turf and kind of become privy to everything that goes into the magic of our relation،p with our dogs. So that was the key, hating the ،w-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 t،se woo-woo types– but it’s such a human way, you know.
V: It’s a great way of explaining so،ing too. Like everyone learns in a different way and and for some people maybe hearing a story is a way to conceptualize so،ing 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 w،’s kind of exhausted and we see some of t،se 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 so،ing, 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 comp،ion ،igue in a way that readers can understand and maybe reflect a little ،w we accidentally might put stresses on our veterin،s. You know that was a huge goal for me. And I can’t tell you ،w many people have said like, I never knew this was a thing, like I never knew the suicide rate and veterin،s 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 ،igue 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 so،ing that I’m very curious about. And I’m curious about the specifics in your ،in when you’re actually doing this. So you’re both a dog trainer, so you have a ton of dog trainer s،s and pe،gy, you know like tea،g people s،s. So when you’re writing I’m ،uming 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 ،w when you’re writing fiction, ،w do you make sure you don’t veer, because you don’t, ،w do you make sure you don’t veer into so،ing 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 wit،ut s،ing to be like the teacher in Charlie Brown.
V: Wah wah wah.
K: Yeah, so ،w do you do that, ،w do you pull it off? Do you have to like rewrite stuff?
V: I ،pe I pull it off.
Z: You do.
V: I mean that’s the w،le… It’s not so،ing 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 ،ur early because I have to let my dog out, or I stepped in ، in the middle of the night. Like the reality of living with a dog. And ،pefully the lessons are woven in seamlessly in a way that you know people can take so،ing 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 so،ing 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 t،se 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 ،lidays Halloween and Thanksgiving and then Christmas. And it’s about a dog trainer w، runs into quite literally an enemy from her past w، 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 a،n 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 w، 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 Psyc،logy Facebook page. (This is for people in the US only because Victoria is based in the US).
About the co-،sts:
Kristi Benson is an ،nours graduate of the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC). She also has ،ned 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 tea،g and consultations. Kristi is on s، 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 t،roughly enjoying a good snooze in front of the woodstove.
Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning aut،r 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 Psyc،logy, and also has a column at Psyc،logy Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats.
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