The Secret Word

I’ve spent a good portion of today manhandling the slobbering beast into his crate, and neither of us are best pleased.  Our neighbors are having work done on their yard, and Harley is convinced the contractors mean us harm.  Normally he’s very docile, but there’s something about strangers carrying heavy equipment that really makes him mad, particularly when they are doing it around me or the kids.

What big teeth you have, grandma

I kept wishing, as I wrestled him into the house, that there was a secret word to make him understand what was going on. He knows the command quiet, and stopped barking (mostly) when I told him to, but it was clear he was not happy about the situation.  Which I appreciate, but everyone would have had a better day if there was a way to help him differentiate between threatening foe who must be reminded not to trespass and uncoordinated contractor carrying fence posts.

And speaking of secret words, I’ve had three different people ask me about how to get published in the past week.  It’s interesting, and I have to admit, kind of weird to be the person getting asked — I’ve spent so much time asking others along the way, I’m not sure I feel qualified to be dispensing advice.  However, three is some kind of a trend, so here goes, and I hope it helps:

Read, read, read, read.  Pull your favorite books apart to see how the authors handle characters, plot, pacing.  Then read them again.

Write. You don’t have to do it every day, but do it regularly.  Compare what you write to what you read and see what the difference is.  Put what you’ve written away for a few days, then pull it out, reread it, and make it better.

Get helpful feedback. Join an online writer’s community — there are a bunch out there — join the writer’s group at your local library, take a class, or attend a conference.  Whatever you choose, find a place to get thoughtful feedback on your work.  When someone takes the time to critique your stuff, say “thank you.”  Do  not get mad, do not tell them they don’t get your writing, do not explain what you were trying to accomplish.  Listen, take notes, say thank you, and put your writing and your notes away.  In a few days, when the criticism isn’t as fresh, pull everything out again, look it over, and you just might find they were right.  If not, fine, but make sure  you give it a chance.

Research.  There are lots of blogs out there written by professional agents and editors.  These blogs talk about how to revise your manuscript, research an agent, write a query letter.  Read them.  (Three of my favorites are listed at the bottom of my bio page on my website.)  Study them.  Listen to them.

Do this, and I can’t promise you’ll get published.  But I can promise you’ll be a lot further along the path to getting published than you would be otherwise.  These four things are exactly what I did, and they are (unfortunately) the only ‘secrets’ that I know.

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Liz Michalski


  1. Fran McCarthy on November 19, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Try getting an electronic collar that will send him a tiny zap when ever he acts up. We had a wonderful Rhodie who was very protective and when he felt something or someone threatened us would go bezerk, and it worked with him in a matter of two weeks. It did not turn him into a wuzz, if it really was a threat he definitely would alert, but he learned the difference between an annoyance and a threat with the collar. There is a new collar that sends an unpleasant scent if he barks, if you object to a tiny zap. And a dog trainers trick is to sharply slap your right hand onto the back of your left hand, while saying NO loudly. I don’t know why that works, but it does and even with our new mutt who is thick as a stick.

    • liz on November 19, 2010 at 8:20 am

      I didn’t know you had a Ridgeback!!!!! We think the slavering beast may be part ridgie.

      Our neighbor has a similar collar, and I may have to investigate it. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Christine Greeley on November 19, 2010 at 8:46 am

    In our house the “secret word” was always “COOKIE”. An electronic collar would have made my dog pass out with every zap (which, I suppose, would impart some measure of control), but treats had magical power to charm my spotted fool!

    Oh, and the stuff about writing was interesting too. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

    • liz on November 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      I can see Drewby passed out now!

  3. Redscylla on November 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Poor beast. I have the same trouble. Biggie understands the command, “Enough,” and will quit barking. And then in a few minutes start back up. *sigh*

    • liz on November 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm

      It’s like they have short-term memory loss….

  4. Jan O'Hara of Tartitude on November 19, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Don’t know if this will work for you, but though it’s counterintuitive, our black lab mix responds to praise when she barks an alarm. A “good dog”, coupled with a pat seems to help her feel she’s passed along the message and can relax. If she persists, I crate her, and that does the trick.

  5. liz on November 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Yep. Thank goodness for crates!

  6. Christine Greeley on November 20, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Poor puppy in a cage! (:P)

  7. Cathy Westbrook on December 2, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Okay, so here is my dog rant for today…hope you enjoy it 🙂

    Startle response in dogs eliminates behavior—which is why a loud noise, a zap, or a flying object will work to curb the behavior. The electric collar works very well for chasing things like deer or cats. Banging metal feed bowls together works wonders for things like head in the trash or a carefully landed tissue box is a great deterrent for barking. But knowing your dog as I know your dog (love you Harley!), I think what you have is more of a willful dog problem than a case of unwanted behavior.

    My friend Harley needs to have more respect for the information you are giving him …totally not his job, at least after the first alert. Thank him for being a good watchdog then tell him to cut it out. Once I tell my dogs that there is no threat it is no longer their business and I tell them exactly that, “not your job.” (and with the Doberman this is no easy task). If they choose to ignore me I will put my hands on them. Packs understand hands-on as they are very physical with each other. He doesn’t understand the crate time out. Dogs don’t give other dogs time outs, which is why the crate isn’t working except to avoid the situation you are trying to correct. I know you know all of this Liz….I also know he is not an easy dog, and you are doing a GREAT job with him. Love all of you and especially my friend Harley…

    • liz on December 2, 2010 at 9:59 am

      Hmmm. Are you calling Harley willful? 🙂 Perhaps I could combine Alex’s wish for a jelly-bean shooter with dog training…there has to be potential there!

  8. Chrsitine on December 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I wonder if the jelly bean shooter, however, will be perceived as more of a pennies from heaven type of device… as in “Woo hooo! They are showering me with treats!” I know that’s how it would have gone in my house.

    • liz on December 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm

      Hmm. Perhaps I should load it with something nonedible. 🙂

  9. Christine on December 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Perhaps poblano peppers!

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