Bark In The Dark

We’ve got a problem over at our house. A problem that involves barking.

Now fortunately, this barking thing relates to our dog, not one of our children, so I suppose I should be thankful for small favors.

Nevertheless, it seems that Abbie, our 8-year-old (more or less) Lab/Golden mix (more or less), has developed a penchant for making noise outside, late at night and early in the morning.

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Personally, and if it were up to me, I wouldn’t do anything about it. The barking doesn’t last very long and when the windows are closed, I hardly notice it.

Of course we all know that it isn’t up to me.

Not only does my wife Linda object to annoying the neighbors (women, huh?), her hearing is so acute that she could be in the shower, on a different floor, on the other side of the house, and if a single bark molecule (or whatever) made its way up there, she’d hear it.

So it usually falls on me to get Abbie back inside, something that is easier said than done, especially when it’s 20 degrees out, I’m wearing nothing but my (sexy) green plaid bathrobe, and she’s 100 feet away in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she completely ignores me when I call her name. It’s just that she completely ignores me when I call her name.

Last week, however, I may have solved the problem: I discovered that if I stand in the garage, yell “Abbie come!!!,” and slam the car door a couple of times, she comes running.

She loves riding in the car more than anything and the promise of a late night jaunt that a slamming car door suggests, seems to be working. I’m not sure this qualifies me for my own animal reality show (“The Dog Slammerer”), but it does demonstrate how reliably dogs will respond to certain cues.

In this respect, your newsletter readers are exactly like Abbie (minus, presumably, most of the fur). They too respond to cues and, if you want them to come running when you call, it’s in your best interest to send consistent signals.

Three areas to pay attention to:

  1. A consistent schedule. I don’t know if there’s a magic number in terms of publication frequency (other than to say that anything less than monthly is a waste of time and anything more than weekly is going to kill you).

    That said, a consistent schedule is important. Not only because it helps you stay on track, but because it also gives your readers some sense of what to expect.

    So pick a publication schedule – first Wednesday of the month, every Friday, whatever. And stick to it.

  1. A consistent voice. Lots of professional service firms share newsletter writing among staff. Whether because they want to “give everyone a chance” or (more typically) “share the pain of producing content,” too much variation in style, level of complexity and subject matter, ends up appealing to nobody.

    With all the competition for reader attention, the only way your newsletter (and by association, you) will stand out from the pack is if you consistently take a particular position with a particular voice on a particular category of content.

  1. A consistent format. Grab a copy of Time magazine; watch The Tonight Show; visit the supermarket. Have you noticed that week after week, they put the same stuff – the editorials, the monologue, the bananas – in the same place?

    That’s on purpose. It makes it both easier to create the content (knowing ahead of time which pieces you’ll need) and to consume the content (knowing where the bananas are).

    So do your best to create newsletter sections (e.g., “client spotlight”) and features (e.g., audio version) and to offer them consistently each time you publish.

Here’s the bottom line. Your readers have lots of choices; just because they came the first time you called, it doesn’t mean they’ll keep paying attention.

Build consistency into your approach and they’ll keep on … wait for it … panting for more. Woof woof!


19 thoughts on “Bark In The Dark

  1. Jen @ Yellow Bird Blogs

    Love this one, Michael! Both because I think you’re 100% on target about needing to set up expectations that people can come to rely on – because, after all, no reader of The Economist wants to see a cover story about Snooki – and also because our cat, similar to Abbie, has recently started a new and irritating pattern of wee-hours meowing. Unfortunately, cats don’t respond to car rides the way dogs do, so we’re still troubleshooting at this end.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      First of all, Jen, I love your birdy gravitar. Very nice (maybe I should go “penguin”).

      And second, I wish you all the best with your cat! Knowing my well-read readers, I’m hopeful that we’ll get some good suggestions on better training for both of us!

  2. Cami

    I sit at one desk, but I work for three organizations, and each has its own email newsletter. One goes out every Friday at 1:00 PM, one the first Wednesday of each month at 1:00 PM, and the third… Well, I don’t actually do that one, but I know I see it on a regular basis! Anyway, we don’t let vacations, snow storms, or the occasional staff BBQ (like today, hey, it’s 75+ in Denver!) keep us from sending it out when we’ve promised it will go out.

    As for your dog, sorry… But the cat, that I might be able to help with. Cats hate change. So if you’ve changed anything, any tiny little obscure thing at all, a cat will notice and make sure you know about it!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Excellent Cami! Sounds like you’ve got a nicely working machine over there.
      – Michael

  3. Jay Rosenberg

    I am concerned about Abbie.
    She has expectations. She will become confused. Maybe from all the slamming noise get canine PTSD episodes. She might start reliving an earlier reality, recalling those happy times riding with you when a slammed door really meant something to her. Now it’s a deception. Perhaps a victory for you, but what about Abbie!
    She’ll figure out you tricked her. She’ll stop coming. Later, when you really want her to join you for a ride she will not come. [Need I remind you about the Mitt Romney Dog Story?]
    How about calling, “Abbie, come!!” while slamming the door, squeaking like as dog toy and giving her a treat when she comes. Maybe you can transfer her attention from the car door to the treat and your squeak. If you have neighbors nearby obviously your squeaking may interest them.
    Just trying to help out here.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Jay! I’ll make sure there are plenty of rides for real too. And maybe I should try the Romney “external dog positioning” strategy next time we take a long trip. She does love the sun! (And yes, I am kidding.)

  4. Katherine

    Dear Michael,

    From a longtime dog trainer….Jay has some good suggestions but poor Abbie needs recall training. This involves a long lead, a few small treats, and you (or some other unfortunate family member…Linda?) Out one of you and Abbie go, lead attached. It’s a fun walk! In the middle of the walk, stop. Let Abbie walk on ahead, to the end of her lead. Say, “Abbie, come!” and coax her back to you if need be, using only the word “come.” As soon as she gets close enough to touch, say, “Good girl!” and give her the small treat. Five minutes of this per day for perhaps a week and she’ll come to you whenever you call, treat or not. (Do make sure, though, that at least occasionally she still gets a treat on recall or she could revert.) Your consistent voice will be the key here, too. Best of luck!

  5. Norm Ruttan

    Hi Michael,
    The car door thing will work for a while, but eventually she’ll figure out you’re not going to take her for a ride.

    Here’s what works.


    We used to buy pork liver at the grocery store, bring it home, and fry it up. Then cut it into little ‘bite sized chunks’ (about 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch) and put it on a flat tray in the oven at 200 (or so) degrees for an hour or two. Be careful it doesn’t get overly dry and ‘crisp’ but it can’t be underdone (if any moisture is left in it, it will go mouldy (excuse the spelling, I’m Canadian).

    Now you have some nutritious, inexpensive, bite sized, handy ‘bribes’. So get in your bathrobe, go outside, give the dog a treat, and say ‘LIVER’.

    After about 3 times, you’ll now be able to go outside in your bathrobe at 20 below, and just by yelling LIVER (sounds like Libby) the dog will stop every other activity she’s doing (short of chasing a squirrel in mid-pursuit) and come to visit you. For the ‘bribe’.

    While she’s visiting, you can tell her what a good dog she is, how much you enjoy these morning chats, etc.

    I know this works, because it worked for Missy (black Scolish) and Ebon (her son via a neighbourhood Shitsu). and Ebon was up until then incorrigible when it came to ‘coming when called’. But with the liver he was ‘putty in my hands’ (or whatever the equivalent is for ‘voice’).

    Best wishes,

    Norm (Ruttan)

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Let me get this straight, Norm. It’s not embarrassing enough that I stand out there in my green plaid bathrboe, now you want me to do it with a pocket full of overcooked meat and bring further attention to myself by yelling LIVER!?!

      But what can i say, it does sound like a great idea (if only for the photo op). OK, off to the market tomorrow and I will report back on yours and the ideas of others! Thank you.

      (My favorite line of your post, by the way, was, “excuse the spelling, I’m Canadian.”)

  6. Jen @ Yellow Bird Blogs

    This is why I love Michael’s ezine–smart marketing tips *and* pet training advice. Talk about a complete customer service experience.

  7. Kathleen

    Wow! Loved your post this week, and the comments are equally great. By the time I finished reading them, I was laughing out loud and my eyes were watering.

  8. Robert Widdowson

    Dropped by your site to gather ideas and inspiration. Cool story. Really good audio quality on the pre-recorded spoken message.

  9. Robert Widdowson

    No kidding. That’s impressive. Some of the HubSpot videos (the early stuff) was shot on $75 video cameras. It still looks great.

    Thanks for being so generous with your knowledge and experience.


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