Dog Training Books
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As a self-identified cat person, I have largely been able to ignore the dog world. Having entered it I can see that this territory is a mine field thus caution is advised less a dog person jump on you barking with opinions. Educating myself was my chosen strategy of defense.
From the first book I read, Katz on Dogs by Jon Katz, I learned that 95% of American dog owners do not train their dogs (past the housebreaking part presumably). THow dog owners talk about why their dog is behaving badly and what their dog is thinking fills the vacuum created by this general ignorance. Katz calls this Theory of Mind—that is—the pet owners theories of what is going on in the dog’s mind, not what is actually going on which is much more basic per a creature with the IQ of a three year old. He also talks about two different schools of training, the pack leader method and the behavior modification technique whereby you wait for the dog to do the right thing then reward it with a treat or simply bribe the dog to do something. Don’t give the dog anything for free is the motto here. Katz prefers this theory and he teaches very accessible, methods of getting the dog to behave using treats and a dog crate for the time out periods and for calming a dog.
Behavior modification is the method used by television’s Animal Planet dog trainer, Victoria Stillwell, a British woman, dressed like Miss Peal, making house calls in her black Porsche convertible and busting dog owners on their negligence and stupidity regarding dogs, very much like the British woman in Nanny 101. I’ve never been tempted to use this British stereotype myself, but there is a not insignificant part of me that lives there, plus my mother devoted her career, as a child behaviorist, using these no nonsense techniques.
As far as TV personalities in the dog world go, no one can hold a candle to Cesar Milan, aka the Dog Whisperer. He is of the pack leader theory and his ability with dogs in this regard is phenomenal. I’m so impressed with his presentation I shall give his book a separate review. His show makes great television because of the remarkable change in behavior, even in the most unruly dogs, sometimes within half an hour. His techniques are varied and diverse to fit the dog, but high on his list is the attitude of the trainer as pack leader and the use of dog protocol to establish this leadership. It is almost cultural and reminds me a bit of the Asian protocol for bowing to establish hierarchy. I suspect that most dog owners would find his teachings difficult to apply because it means that they must practice a discipline that goes against all their dog loving desire to love the dog as one would a human. All these books talk about how problematic is this tendency to think animals into humans.
Interestingly enough both he and Katz recommend the books by the Monks of New Skete. Published in 1978, this was virtually the only dog training book until very recently. They also have a video filled with beautiful German shepherds and a rural New York landscape that makes it easy to take in their teachings. Theirs is the middle way. Treats are allowed, but infrequently. Discipline and repetition are the backbone of their methods, while affection is encouraged for socializing the puppies. They also bring a spiritual approach to the communion of man and beast that is compelling in its premise of humans living in harmony with the earth.
Then there is the matter of breeds. This book from the Smithsonian is an encyclopedia of dog breeds, a fascinating dog phenomena in itself. Choosing a breed is one thing, finding a dog of a specific breed is quite another especially if not a popular well known one.
I slipped a cat book in there just to keep to my roots, Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched The World, just released.
And finally there is the Before And After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar, recommended by a professional dog walker I consulted. Just talking to her raised my anxiety level as she told me how a puppy needed to learn "bite inhibition" and go to puppy socialization class. The book implies that if you don’t do all these things you could have a monster on your hands or toileting problems for months, but it is very clear in its step by step instructions full of pictures. With all these instructions it is easy to be "scared straight" and not get a dog at all at least for me. My hightened anxiety threw me into fit of prophylactic criticism so Catherine shut down the project.
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