Books every dog owner should read

April 24, 2008

I have to apologize for neglecting this blog recently and for the lack of Lizzie-specific content. Truthfully, I’ve been pretty stressed out over this MSN thing (see previous entry) and my imminent move or lack thereof- I’m currently house-hunting and the most recent house fell through. With the US economy currently playing Limbo, there should, in theory, be lots of stuff on the market, but my perfect house hasn’t shown up yet, and I’m getting antsy about waiting too much longer. Still.. gotta keep writing! 😛

These aren’t necessarily training books- or not mostly training books- but are books that changed the way I think about dogs- and are books that make me appreciate my dogs and our relationships more.

  1. The Other End of the Leash – Patricia McConnell
    Patricia McConnell’s books are all good, but this was the first one I read, and to be honest, I can’t remember anything specific enough about it right now to tell you what exactly I loved. (It’s blended together in my head with “For the Love Of Dogs” and a variety of other books.) My copy has been out on permanant loan to various friends and relatives for about 18 months, so please pardon me for not doing a more detailed review.
  2. Bones Would Rain From The Sky – Suzanne Clothier
    Suzanne Clothier has said in an article that her #1 training tool- the one she could choose if she could have only one ‘thing’ to train her dogs with, is a good relationship with her dogs. This book talks almost not at all about training- but vrey much about how we relate to our dogs- and how they relate to us.
  3. Lads Before The Wind – Karen Pryor
    This book isn’t about dogs at all- I think the only mention of dog training in it is that Karen Pryor had previously titled a Weim in obedience and that and her experience with horses was her only previous animal training experience. LBTW is about dolphins, and how Karen and the other employees of Sea Life Park in Hawaii developed a practical usage of operant conditioning from technical recommendations given by academics in the early 1970s that they used with dolphins and other park animals.  I think this book is out of print- I borrowed it from a friend- but it’s worth a read if you can find it. The history is fascinating, largely because, from a perspective of 25 years on, we can see the foundations of a shift in thinking that really has revolutionized dog training.
  4. For The Love Of A Dog – Patricia McConnell
    I put off reading this book for a long time – I wasn’t really interested in emotions in dogs, because behaviorism (as a training model) insists so completely that we must only look at the objective and never assign emotional motives to dogs. Yet every dog owner patently knows that their dog feels frustration, fear, and joy- it’s hard to ascribe the absolutely GLEEFUL zoomies that dogs get occasionally any other way, and hard, as somoene hwo loves my pets, to believe even for a second that apparent ’emotions’ are sheerly randomly firing neurons and cunningly crafted imitations of something that is defined so strongly as being specific to humans- or at best, primates. This book talks about that dichotomy, the science behind emotions, and the emotions our dogs evoke in us. In a lot of ways, it’s a very similar book to “Bones” from a slightly different perspective.
  5. Remembering To Breathe (and sequel “OTCH Dreams”) – Willard Bailey
    As a novice in the dog world, I adored “Remembering to Breathe”. The ups and downs of Honeybear and Willard’s career in the world of competitive obedience is something that anyone who has ever participated in a team sport- with or without a canine partner- can appreciate. One review of this book that is quoted on the cover calls this “The love story between a man and his dog,” and it is- but even beyond that, this book is something special. “OTCH Dreams” is not quite as riveting (Kleenex alert for the first section, though, which is entitled “The Last Days of Honeybear”) but is still a great read.  Competition obedience is, at it’s heart, about having an incredible bond with your dog as teammates- and I think this book really excels at explaining that aspect of the sport. These are the books I loan out to people who want to know what this competitive obedience stuff is all about.
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Dallas Legislative update

April 23, 2008

Today was the Dallas City Council meeting where a group of local show dog folks went to speak out against this mandatory spay/neuter law and the very expensive breeder permitting ($500/intact dog per year, whether or not it’s bred, a statement by the animal services director that he won’t allow breeder permits to be given to people in residentially zoned areas since they are ‘a business’ and a wide variety of onerous and privacy-invading rules that have less to do with actual animal welfare and more to do with making life as inconvenient for breeders as possible). We had two speakers, a lady who breeds and shows (she never said what breed) and then a doctor who is active in performance sports. Both were articulate, well-informed, and did a good job of making their cases to the city council, one focusing mainly on how responsible breeders should be part of the solution, not part of the problem and that many of us are active in rescue but will stop under the new rules because of the proposed pet limit (a combination of 6 dogs/cats total, which isn’t terribly onerous, but isn’t great, either); the other focused on the negative aspects of the 4-month age for spay/neuter required in the law.

Is this law going to pass? I don’t know. Texas Kennel Club, our local all-breed club, has hired a lawyer and she is putting together some alternative proposals, but she didn’t attend today’s meeting and the proposas haven’t been released yet. Hopefully they’ll be effective ones. We have another meeting to attend on Monday with the city’s Quality of Life commission, and there’s an organizational meeting on Saturday at Top Dog.

I made spiffy buttons and stickers and took some to the meeting this morning- gave out most of my 48 stickers that I took. If you are interested, the designs can be seen at DogsVote, on Cafepress.


Obedience Classes #2 – Finding a good instructor

March 29, 2008

I love obedience, so it’s probably not really surprising that I tend to keep my dogs in classes *most* of the time. (At one point, I had dogs in classes ALL the time- we usually had less than three weeks each year that we weren’t attending at least one class every week, although my current club and curriculum don’t allow that). A *big* part of what makes it enjoyable, though, is finding the right instructor.

Dog training is not a highly regulated field. Anyone can put out a sign and advertise themselves as a dog trainer. Some states have, I believe, restrictions on certain terms (such as behaviorists) but I don’t believe Texas is among them. (Since I consider myself a trainer, and refer serious problems such as aggression and resource guarding to more experienced folks, this doesn’t really affect me). This can make it pretty tough for consumers, though, to find just the right person to work with.

One good place to start is with the APDT – the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. A professional organization for dog trainers, their requirements for membership aren’t all that strenuous, and membership alone doesn’t guarantee a person’s ability, education, or training philosophy. But it can be a good place to search for trainers in your area.

Another overlooked resource is your local kennel club. You can find out about local clubs at the American Kennel Club site (for AKC events and breeds) and UKCDogs.com (for UKC events and breeds- there are fewer UKC clubs by a large number, but they can be a great resource if you have them.) Not all clubs offer classes- and some use methods that I’m not a fan of- but it’s worth checking out. Even if they don’t offer classes, club contact people are, by definition, dog people, and may be able to give you a suggestion about where to look or who to ask next.

Some people recommend asking your vet. I am generally not a fan of this approach- I love my vets (I have three- a ‘routine stuff vet’ (who I like best but isn’t terribly nearby at the moment), an emergency vet (has been our family vet for years- her brand new practice is in a very expensive part of town and I’m slowly phasing her out- more on that in another post), and a repro/testing vet who is the most highly recommended by reputable breeders locally for health testing and reproductive issues.)- none of them are behaviorists or have much background in the way of dog training, although vets #1 and #3 *do* maintain good lists. (#2’s list is the one I want people to avoid, much as I like her otherwise!) It really depends on your ability to evaluate the information- true of all the approaches, though.

When I’ve got some names, the next thing to do is set up an initial meeting. It doesn’t need to be all that long, and typically I’ll ask if I can attend a class without my dog and observe. I want to see a trainer who is NOT heavy handed, and uses positive reinforcement with both dogs and students freely. I want to see one who has classes of a moderate size- no more than 12 people, and if there’s more than 8, I’d expect to see an assistant. If there’s reactive or aggressive dogs in the class, I want to see that the trainer manages them properly, keeps an eye on the owner who may or may not be all that well equipped to handle them, and sets them up to succeed by NOT pushing them over thresholds repeatedly.

I love clicker training, but a good generic positive trainer is, IMO, better than a poor clicker trainer. (The clicker is NOT equal to praise, and we have a few local trainers who use it that way.) And I’d rather take a traditional (leash correction, crank & yank) class run by an instructor who gives good feedback to handlers and manages the dogs and space effectively than n overly permissive trainer- but I’m assertive and protective enough about my dogs that I won’t allow anyone else to manhandle them and have the confidence (at this point :P) to do my own thing in a class setting- this is NOT ideal. So attending a class is crucial- see how the instructor handles things. See how the dogs react to him. See how he or she interacts with the dogs- does she approach respectfully and appropriately to each individual dog – straight on with confident dogs, but sideways and slower with cautious dogs? How about petting? Is she a head-patter (most dogs HATE this) or a chest thumper (which big dogs generally enjoy, but most small dogs don’t unless it’s done very gently.) Ask for references and follow up on them.  If you’ve done your research and background reading, and have trainers whose training models you particularly respect or think will work well for your dog (mne at the oment, are Leslie McDervitt and Emma Parsons- but I will also ask what the trainer thinks of Karen Pryor’s work, Jean Donaldson’s, Carol Lea Benjamin- and the last is a red herring, as she’s more old-school than I prefer for my dogs) But most of all? Be an educated consumer. Use your gut. And don’t be afraid to walk out of a class that makes you uncomfortable.