10 best books for dog owners

I have read a lot of books about dogs. I read about 60 books about dog behavior, training, and psychology before we adopted our first dog, Pyrrha, and I still love to read dog books today.

I get asked from time to time by new dog owners about what they should read. Following are the top 10 books I’d recommend to people with dogs, covering everything from training to behavior to history. I link to the reviews I’ve written of these books, and if not available, I provide a link to the book’s Goodreads page.

Dog lovers, read away!

  1. The Other End of the Leash, Patricia McConnell
  2. The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller
  3. Bones Would Rain from the Sky, Suzanne Clothier
  4. For the Love of a Dog, Patricia McConnell
  5. Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz
  6. Dog Sense, John Bradshaw
  7. On Talking Terms with Dogs, Turid Rugaas
  8. Love Has No Age Limit, Patricia McConnell
  9. Control Unleashed, Leslie McDevitt
  10. The Adopted Dog Bible, Kim Saunders

(As you can see, my general opinions is that if you read anyone on dogs, start with Patricia McConnell. I think she’s the gold standard for modern writing on dogs. Her blog, The Other End of the Leash, is predictably fantastic as well.)

Honorable mentions

What are your favorite books about dogs? What would you add to these lists?

Resources on resource guarding in dogs

After Sunday’s scuffle* between Rainer and Pyrrha over a toy, I’ve been refreshing my memory on resource guarding and associated training tips.

BEHAVIOR UPDATE: As of today, Rainer/Pyrrha relations are going quite smoothly. An interesting observation is that they continue to get along perfectly outside in the yard; they play like they’re best friends (chase, lots of play bows, happy and goofy faces). Indoors, they are still a little nervous with each other, but I think this has to do with the tight quarters.

Gimme dat toy
Georgia and Pyrrha with some of Georgia’s toys.

For those who may find themselves in a similar position with their dog(s), here are some great web resources on this common canine behavior:

There are, of course, many other blog posts and articles written about this behavioral issue, as it is a pretty normal, natural canine quality. But it obviously gets dogs into trouble when they start lashing out at people, children, and their fellow dogs.

I think both Rainer and Pyrrha are at fault here. Rainer takes possession of too many things, but Pyrrha also doesn’t know how or when to back down. Instead of taking a hard stare from Rainer as a cue to get lost, Pyrrha sees it as a challenge. From Pat Miller’s article, this is exactly what’s been happening in our house:

Now We’re in Trouble, Part II: Dog B [Pyrrha] is socially inept – Dog A [Rainer] is chewing on (insert valuable resource). Dog B approaches. Dog A gives “the look.” Dog B is oblivious, and keeps blundering forward, until Dog A feels compelled to escalate the intensity of his message, to aggression if necessary, to get his point across.

This clearly makes for a messy domestic atmosphere! We are taking all of these tips to heart and working on this behavior every day in our house.

Have you had to deal with resource guarding among your dogs? What tips or techniques helped you?

(*Thanks to Carolyn for properly identifying the altercation as a “scuffle” instead of what I initially termed it, a dog fight.)

Pyrrha’s first day of school

First day of school at Canine Campus
Canine Campus: Trainer Deven working with Anka.

Last night, Pyrrha attended her first “day” at school!

We have enrolled her in a general obedience class at Canine Campus and I’ve been really grateful and pleased with everything we’ve been taught so far. Deven (shown above), the head trainer, studied with Pat Miller and Suzanne Clothier, so she won me over from the start. Speakin’ my language, you know?

Deven is also very experienced with shy dogs, and that also put me at ease. On the first night of class, people attend without their dogs (since dog training is really just human training in disguise). We talked with Deven about Pyrrha’s various issues and fears. She said that the goal for this class might just be to get Pyrrha comfortable in a new and distracting environment. The training facility has several break-out rooms with dutch doors, so we could move into those rooms and still hear the lesson, but Pyrrha could be essentially removed from visual distractions.

First day of school at Canine Campus
Distracted.

Last night, we showed up about 15 minutes early, because I wanted Pyrrha to be able to scope out the place before everyone else arrived. She acted with her typical vigilance and extreme alertness–and looked a bit on edge whenever a new dog came into the room–but Deven instructed us all to not let any of the dogs meet each other. After Pyrrha understood that none of these dogs could come up to her, she started calming down–and even looked somewhat happy and eager (lying on the ground with her tail swishing, mouth open, playful expression).

First day of school at Canine Campus
Sorry for the poor photo quality. Weird lighting in there.

We have a class full of fun characters: A handsome Welsh springer spaniel named Rufus; a sassy JRT mix named Hannah; a very bright shih-tzu named Tsunami; an older merle border collie; an adoptable mix named Buster (seen in the background of the photo below); and Anka, an all-black German shepherd mix puppy, whom Deven is working with in the first photo. It was SO tempting not to snap all their leashes off and watch them romp around and play. But, that’s not why we were there…

First day of school at Canine Campus
I’m trying to get her attention. It’s kind of working!

Once class began, we moved Pyrrha into one of the break-out rooms, since it was clear that she could not focus on us when she was out in the big room with all the other people and dogs. This seemed to work quite well. We practiced some basic cues, like our “look” cue, targeting, “give,” and some loose-leash walking. I’m always amazed at how much I learn from just hearing Deven talk about these principles. I’ve read too many dog training books, but I’ve learned far more in two classes with Deven than I did in a year’s worth of reading. I know all of these things, these various theories, even how to teach these cues, but seeing Deven put it in practice and actually trying it with Pyrrha has made such a world of a difference.

First day of school at Canine Campus
Over-exposed Guion, working with Pyr in the break-out room.

The other big thing I learned last night is that my husband is a GREAT trainer. He might be naturally better at it than I am. This is extremely hard for me to admit. I am supposed to be the “dog lover”! The amateur “expert” on training! I read 60 books! He read 0! But, no. Guion is just inherently good at this. His timing is better than mine is; he doesn’t repeat cues; he waits for her to figure it out before jumping to the next thing. Ugh! Haha. I am proud of him. I really am. Just a little envious, that’s all.

Pyrrha came to class hungry, so she was VERY eager to learn. It was exciting to see her so engaged and focused on us–but I think that was mainly the hunger speaking. Still. It was nice to see her aptitude to pick up new cues and behaviors. I think she might be pretty smart after all. 🙂

First day of school at Canine Campus
Getting some praise from Dad.

We learned more than I think she did. But I guess that’s the point? Very much looking forward to our next class!

Dog jobs I daydream about

Me in my daydream day job... Click for source.

When I’m sitting in my gray cubicle, staring at a computer screen, I can’t help but daydream about what I’d rather be doing instead. Those daydreams usually involve me frolicking in a field with my future dog, or a whole pack of my future dogs. These are some quasi “jobs” that I often daydream about having, even though I’m sure they’re all far less glamorous than they are in my imagination:

  • Reinforcement trainer, a la Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, or Karen Pryor. I daydream about this a lot. I’ve even sporadically browse the CCPDT website to read about their testing requirements, recommended reading, and timeline for becoming a certified trainer. I love watching dogs learn and teaching them–and especially their humans–how to shape appropriate or desirable behavior. I still have so much to learn in this area, but I’m looking forward to the trial-by-fire that will be coming our way this summer.
  • Full-time dog walker/runner, a la Lindsey Stordahl. That is one fit and adventurous woman! I say I want this job now, but in reality, I’m not sure how long I would love it, since it calls for being outside regardless of the weather (I can’t believe she does it in Fargo). Mostly, though, I’m up for it, because hardly anything brings me as much joy as walking dogs.
  • Agility trainer/co-competitor. (What do people who do agility with their dogs call themselves?) I am probably not as competitive as most of these people are, but everyone looks like they are having such a darn good time! I love watching agility trials and it’s a nice daydream to entertain, raising up an agility champion…
  • Shepherd. Or a farmer with lots of dogs, I guess. But having a team of dedicated herders at my disposal is also a nice dream.
  • Volunteer in some dog-based therapy program. Dog-assisted therapy is so moving and meaningful to me. I am especially fond of the programs in elementary schools, whether teaching kids how to behave around dogs or being reading partners. I also love the idea of visiting nursing homes. I wonder if I’ll ever have a dog calm enough to do either of those things…
  • Writing the daily blog from the perspective of Martha Stewart’s French bulldogs. OK, maybe not really, but whatever intern has that job has it made! Just hanging out around her estate, photographing the dogs doing silly things, and then writing about it? Yes, please. I’ll take that job.

Do you entertain any dog job daydreams? Or do you actually HAVE one of these jobs? If so, I envy you… in my imagination…

Review and discussion of clicker training

Clicker Training for Dogs.

Among crazy dog people like myself, Karen Pryor is a household name. For the unfamiliar, Pryor is largely credited with spurring on the clicker training wave for household pets, especially dogs. Pryor, a respected scientist and researcher, began with a career in marine mammal biology and behavior. As she trained dolphins with clickers, she observed that the positive reinforcement principles behind this method of training would work brilliantly with dogs, cats, and other household animals. Her pioneering work in the positive training field has revolutionized much of dog training philosophy today.

This tiny little book is basically a pamphlet–I think it’s only 50 pages–but it’s a helpful pamphlet nonetheless. It’s the most basic form of a primer to the principles, methods, and steps to clicker training your dog. So, if you know absolutely nothing about clicker training and think you might want to try it yourself, this little booklet would be a good place to start.

I’ve read a more thorough guide to positive training with a clicker in Pat Miller’s The Power of Positive Dog Training, which I highly recommend, but I did want to read at least something by the founder herself. (I hoped I could get my hands on something more substantial, particularly her oft-cited Don’t Shoot the Dog!, but my public library doesn’t carry a copy and I’ve been buying too many books lately… Someday, I’ll get around to reading it!)

Clicker Training for Dogs reinforced my interest in clicker training, but I admit that I have hesitations. I know that it works wonders and that it’s the most efficient method to reinforce a dog’s behavior. But here’s why I hesitate: I’m not sure how reliable I would be with a clicker. I know that precise timing is everything. I also know that I’d need to have a clicker in hand almost constantly.

So, I’d like to open the floor. I’m curious: Are any of you clicker trainers? Do you have any advice for a novice trainer like myself? Is it something that I would need to do with my dog from the beginning? How did you figure out your timing? Do you have to carry a clicker with you everywhere?

Whew. I really want to do it, but I am anxious about my consistency. And, as you can tell, I have loads of questions. If you have any answers, even some generic advice, I’d love to hear it!

Review: Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence

Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a name you will see a lot in dog books, especially in dog books written in the late 1980s or in the early 1990s. She was a big name trainer at the time. Benjamin has now retired from dog training, but she still writes a blog and works with her own dogs. I was excited to find her book Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence, because it sounded like an interesting and relevant focus on a particularly trying time in a dog’s life. I also thought it might be pertinent for us, since we’re aiming to adopt a young adult dog.

After having read this brief and snappy little book, however, I found myself confused by the book’s subtitle, which says it’s “A Positive Training Program.” This was surprising to me, because the book relies heavily on physical punishments and lots of “leash pops” to get your teenage dog in line. Not much of Benjamin’s recommendations fit with the guidelines of positive reinforcement trainers like Pat Miller, Patricia McConnell, or Karen Pryor.

Rather, Benjamin’s book focuses primarily on the outmoded and damaging concepts of dominance and “alpha” leadership models. Her book assumes that your job as a trainer is to never let your dog get the upper hand, something which he is continually trying to do, because he’s like a wolf. This line of thinking, as we now well know, is false and based on inappropriately applied research, but it’s a philosophy that is still extremely prevalent among modern American dog owners (thanks to the damage done by popular trainers like Cesar Millan).

This book was published in 1993, so I can’t really fault Benjamin for not knowing this at the time. She was clearly doing what she thought was best for the dogs. Compared to other training manuals, this book isn’t nearly as harsh as some of the others I have read, and Benjamin does have some good overall advice for people with adolescent dogs. It’s just not a book that I would necessarily recommend to anyone as a training manual.

The four-month plan

Here's what I think about your training plan. Click for source.

We’re now officially four months away from moving and welcoming a dog into our new home. After a year and a half of concentrated waiting, four months sounds unbelievably close.

In this interim, here’s my (overly ambitious?) four-month plan for our future dog once we bring him/her home. I’m hoping to work through The Power of Positive Dog Training, which has been my favorite step-by-step training manual I’ve read so far. All that said, here’s the game plan!

MONTH ZERO: Goals for the months leading up to the move and adoption

  1. Move into new place! Make home as dog-friendly and dog-proof as possible.
  2. Interview GSD owners, meet some area GSDs.
  3. Send out applications to various GSD rescue organizations. Make home visits, speak with foster parents, and meet prospective dogs!
  4. Sit down together and establish house rules for the dog (furniture, bed, room privileges, etc.).
  5. Figure out our daily care schedules for the dog: Who will be home when, if we need a dog walker, etc.
  6. Give Guion a crash course in positive reinforcement dog training! And pretty much an overview of… everything I’ve learned in a year and a half of canine study.
  7. Start buying dog supplies! I’m really excited about this, even though I know it will be a lot of initial expenses.
  8. Choose a vet. Get recommendations from other pet owners in town.

MONTH ONE: Bringing the dog home!

  1. Learn new name (if needed. I have a feeling we’ll probably want to change the dog’s name. We’re both kind of particular about names… And I feel like a lot of the GSDs I’ve seen in rescue have rather silly ones).
  2. Get acclimated to house rules: House-training, daily routines, rules about furniture and certain rooms, etc.
  3. If needed, gradually transition to a healthy and high-quality kibble + weekly supplements of fruits, vegetables, rice, and beans.
  4. Carefully train and transition to avoid any separation anxiety.
  5. Evaluate potential problem areas (possessiveness, shyness, fear-based aggression, excessive barking/boredom, fear of inanimate objects, thunderstorm phobia, etc.).
  6. Create cautious and mannerly introductions to different dogs. Think of other calm, responsible adult dogs to introduce him/her to. Bo and Zoe would be great dogs to start with.
  7. First vet check up.

MONTH TWO: Settling in

  1. Attend a training class as a family. The PetCo and the PetsMart in town offer training classes, but there’s also an independent dog training studio nearby that sounds very promising.
  2. Work steadily and consistently on leash manners, if needed.
  3. Practice basic commands together: Sit, down, stay, heel, wait.
  4. Make introductions to as many types of people as possible. Aim to have these interactions be incredibly positive.
  5. Begin walking in bigger, busier areas, like the downtown mall and other parks.
  6. First bath. Also train for exposure to grooming, nail clipping, etc.
  7. Target problem areas identified in Month 1.

MONTH THREE: Working hard

  1. Practice car ride manners.
  2. Work consistently on basic commands, adding a few others to the repertoire.
  3. Once I feel comfortable with his or her mannerisms toward people, spend some time with calm, trustworthy children.
  4. Go hiking!
  5. Keep working to eliminate any problem areas.
  6. Have some play-dates with other neighborhood dogs.
  7. Begin training for a reliable recall.

MONTH FOUR: Adventuring out

  1. First family hiking excursion!
  2. Keep honing basic commands until they’re solid.
  3. Take some runs together.
  4. Try swimming (in a river or creek?) for the first time.
  5. Work consistently on recall abilities; test with a long line in a field.
  6. Add to trick repertoire.
  7. Practice working with a Frisbee.

I’m sure I’ll look back at this and laugh at all that I thought I could achieve. But it’s a start! Any thing you would add? Do you think I’m being too ambitious? Or do you think there are important goals that I’ve neglected? Do share! As always, I’m eager to learn from you.

Pup links!

The prototypical collie/shepherd. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week.

Breed-based euthanasia proposed in NC county. This is so horrible that it barely seems real. Cumberland County in North Carolina has a proposal on the docket that will euthanize all incoming GSDs, bully breeds, dobermans, rottweilers, akitas, chows, and Great Danes within 72 hours and not give them a chance to be adopted. There is a petition collecting signatures here; I signed it last night and encourage you to do the same, if you feel so led. It’s hard for me to believe that this kind of egregious breed-based discrimination still exists. But, clearly and sadly, it does. (Examiner)

Puppy at 500 f/s. On a lighter note: This is a beautiful video and an excellent study in canine movement. Directors of an independent film studio, Kamerawerk, made this short film, titled “Afternoon Pleasures,” of their chocolate lab puppy chasing a ball (and other various objects) and it’s lovely and riveting. Sent to me by my friend Maggie. (Kamerawerk on Vimeo)

Judgment Is Easy, Understanding Takes Work. An inspiring and thoughtful post about reserving judgment of our fellow dog owners. It’s something that I have to work on too, even though I don’t have a dog of my own! (Rescuing Insanity)

De-bunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory. Pat Miller, a positive trainer I respect, reflects on why this theory of the “alpha dog” needs to fall by the wayside. This is something I definitely wish all dog owners knew today. It always surprises me how widespread this theory is–even at the shelter. Seasoned volunteers and sometimes staff members use “alpha dog” language to talk about “problem” dogs and I often wish I had enough credibility to speak up about it. (The Hydrant)

Preparing for Your New Pooch. A practical list of guidelines to help one prepare to bring a dog into the home. Even though I’ve read dozens of lists like this one, I always like finding them and comparing notes. (The Inquisitive Canine)

Mismark Case: Australian Shepherd. The canine-loving biologist writes a post on one of my all-time favorite breeds, the Aussie, and examines the different markings and genetic repercussions that occur in the breed. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Peter Clark Dog Collages. This artist makes collages of popular breeds from found maps and old stamps. The results are eye-catching! (Dog Milk)

Dog Snout Also Makes Handy Bath Snorkel. This pup has the right idea. (Best Week Ever)

Review: The Dog Whisperer

The Dog Whisperer, by Paul Owens

No, it’s not Cesar Millan. This is Paul Owens, who called himself “The Dog Whisperer” five years before Millan’s show appeared on the National Geographic Channel. Liz (Bo‘s mom) lent me this book and said that she’d read it before she brought Bo home.

Paul Owens wants to be the yogi for your dog training. He’s a positive reinforcement trainer who believes very strongly in Eastern principles of breathing, meditation, and holistic health treatments. I thought it was certainly an interesting approach to dog training. Aside from his breathing exercises, though, Owens doesn’t offer a lot of new information in the way of positive training. I agreed with most of what he said, but I think I’d be more inclined to rely on Pat Miller‘s straightforward and helpful training guide for my own dog.

One thing that Owens does talk a lot about is that you should never speak soothingly to or try to comfort a frightened dog. A lot of dog training books tell you this. But is it actually true? Can trying to comfort your frightened dog actually reinforce her fear? Patricia McConnell, my all-things-dog hero, wrote an insightful article on her blog, “You Can’t Reinforce Fear: Dogs and Thunderstorms,” about this very issue. I tend to trust McConnell’s word on this one. She has a Ph.D. and is an applied animal behaviorist and she has the science to back up her experience. Even though Owens is also qualified, I’m inclined to listen to McConnell on this one. I highly recommend her article and its follow-up companion on the issue to anyone who’s received this advice before.

I did enjoy Owens’ section on what we feed our dogs. Dog food is something I’ve been doing a considerable amount of research about. It’s not something that I know about and I was astounded at how complex the dog food industry can be. There are a lot of different opinions floating around about what to feed our dogs, but the general consensus is that most brands of widely available dog food are absolutely terrible. I’ve really enjoyed the content on this extremely helpful website, Dog Food Advisor. I’ve already been researching the different types of kibble that I’d feed my dog and it’s been an extremely helpful place to start.

I’m curious to hear from you on this one. How did you decide what kind of food to feed your dog? Did you ever make any changes? Since I don’t know if I’d try a raw diet right away, is there a particular brand that you would recommend?

Review: Adopting a Dog

Adopting a Dog, by John Ross and Barbara McKinney

Since I’m leaning more and more into the adoption camp, I thought it would be a good idea to read a book specifically about adopting a dog. One of my primary hesitations about adopting a dog from the shelter is handling the behavioral baggage that these abandoned dogs may come with. I picked up Adopting a Dog from the library and looked forward to learning more.

The beginning of book provides some helpful insight on choosing a dog and bringing it home from the shelter or rescue agency. For instance, Ross and McKinney point out basic facts, such as that it’s probably unwise to choose the dog who cowers at the back of his kennel when you approach. Even though your heart may be moved by his fearful display, this will be a dog who will–most likely–be extremely difficult to train.

Ross seems to have written most of the training chapters and I wasn’t hugely impressed by his methods. I’ve been completely sold on positive training methods since the first serious dog book I read and so I get suspicious when people like Ross criticize positive training as being unable to produce results and insisting that dogs need physical discipline. Ross commonly recommends physical corrections like leash pops and forcing a dog into positions (like sitting, down, etc.).

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t very impressed with his training regimen. Unlike positive trainers like Pat Miller and Patricia McConnell, who are actually certified in their fields, Ross does not appear to have any serious credentials–aside from the fact that he’s owned a lot of dogs. This is certainly more than I have, but I’m not inclined to take his advice too seriously–especially when he maligns positive training methods and encourages physical punishment.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book and was hoping that it would provide some more useful information about issues like house training an adult dog, working through separation anxiety, and discerning a dog’s behavioral background. Have you read a good book on dog adoption? If so, please share! I’m still eager to learn more.

(Also. There’s a seriously unfortunate typo on the cover of this book. Can you spot it? As a copy editor, I just have to wonder how this stuff gets by. Did no one proof the cover??)