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?

Do you use BAT and leash skills?

Out with the girls

While I’ve been separated from our two monsters this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about my poor leash-handling skills and the need to approximate off-leash walks in our small (but busy) town when we return in August. We have a lot of training to do, and I am excited about the continued challenge of working with our leash-reactive shepherds.

We have leash laws in my town and in our parks and on trails, so it will still be rare for our dogs to experience off-leash freedom, but I want to be able to simulate the experience of off-leash walking with them, as they are both leash reactive to other dogs.

I started thinking about Grisha Stewart’s Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) again after reading Patricia McConnell’s recent review of Stewart’s new book, BAT 2.0. I read Stewart’s first book, but I don’t think I really let the principles of BAT sink in. (Clearly, I didn’t, because I still have two leash-reactive dogs.) I was also grateful to find this recent post from Anne at All Dogs Are Smart, which is very helpful and includes some great videos on how to teach loose-leash walking (with harnesses) as well.

I would like to apply some BAT leash-handling principles but also add a food reward. Our dogs are highly food motivated, and BAT often seems a bit too “mystical” for my taste (and I am not sure our dogs would discern any reward or positive reinforcement from some of its techniques, such as “mime pulling”).

Thanksgiving in Davidson
My husband walking Eden this past fall.

Accordingly, here’s my game plan for modified BAT:

  1. Start working each dog, individually, on 15-foot leads (I like these biothane leashes from All K-9). The “individually” part is what is going to be a pain and be time-consuming, but it’s essential to work with them separately until they both have a handle on the new regime (and until I am totally up to speed with my new leash-handling skills).
  2. Start training inside, in the basement. Graduate to the backyard and then to the front walk, on up, over the weeks, until we are ready for a full walk.
  3. Implement rewards for sticking with me (and not pulling; looking at you, Eden), coming to my side when signaled, and ignoring triggers.
  4. Teach a “leave it” cue for other dogs/people, which means “don’t look at that; look at me and wait for a treat.”
  5. Then, finally, try some walks in the real world!

Do you use BAT techniques? How do you help your reactive dog on walks?

Previously in this series of thinking about dogs off leash:

Review: A Wolf Called Romeo

A Wolf Called Romeo

After reading that Patricia McConnell — my dog lady hero — loved this book, I knew I had to add it to my reading docket. I was pleased to discover that my local library had a copy, and I tore through this book as quickly as McConnell promised I would.

Nick Jans tells a riveting story of a friendship that developed between a community of dog-lovers and a lone wolf. In the early 2000s, the community of Juneau, Alaska, started to notice this gorgeous male black wolf stalking around near their neighborhoods. Was he a threat? Was he dangerous? Where was his pack? The wolf’s background remained largely a mystery, but his purposes soon became clear: this wolf just loved dogs.

Yes. This enormous wild wolf was crazy about dogs, and all he wanted to do was play with them. He started to sit outside Jans’s house, waiting for him to come out with his dogs — including his true love, Dakotah the lab, who is pictured in that unbelievable cover photo above — earning him the moniker “Romeo.”

What follows is a riveting, well-told account of a three-way inter-species friendship between a wolf, dogs, and humans. Naturally, complications arise when the humans get more involved in Romeo’s story, and so you’ll have to read the book yourself to learn more. (Full disclosure: This book made me cry three times, and I am not one for sappy animal stories, as much as I love animals in the flesh. Jans doesn’t unfairly toy with one’s emotions. This is just a real, heart-rending story.)

My sole complaint of the book is that I wish that the photos had been reproduced in color; they are really beautiful, even in grayscale. I was able to find this color reproduction of Romeo, presumably taken by Jans, which appears in the book:

Romeo. (c) Nick Jans.
Romeo. (c) John Hyde.

He really sounded like a remarkable wolf, and he provided Jans with a remarkable story to tell. A highly recommended book to anyone who loves animals, especially wolves, and the mysteries of inter-species relationships.

Disclosure: I was NOT provided with a review copy or asked to write this review. I checked it out myself from the library.

 

My hot-button topics in the dog world

The more I learn about dogs, the more opinionated I seem to get. Anyone else feel that way? 😉

It’s hard to keep my mouth shut sometimes. I don’t like writing combative or purposefully aggressive posts here, but I do have strong opinions.

Secret garden shepherd. #gsd #backyardliving
Secret garden shepherd.

Over the years, here is what I have come to feel most strongly about with regard to dogs. So, without starting any kind of ranting and raving session, here — simply put — are the topics that I have a hard time keeping quiet about:

  1. Inhumane breeding practices, merely to fit the sacred “breed standard.” (See: bulldogs, pugs, most brachycephalic breeds, many toy breeds, most any breed without any current working line.) The more I read, the more I am convinced that we all just need to get mixed breeds. (Says the woman with a purebred German shepherd, one of the most physically effed purebreds there is. I know, I know…)
  2. The deeply damaging use of shock collars (euphemistically termed “e-collars”) in dog training. Many of the most respected trainers, behaviorists, and dog bloggers have written about the detrimental effects of shock collars (see Patricia McConnell and Jean Donaldson, to name a few). Eileen and Dogs also has compiled helpful articles and videos on this topic. What particularly interests me about this divide in training is that the people with the most expertise, academic background, and scientific credentials are always against the use of shock collars. The people without scientific credentials always seem to be the most vociferous proponents of shock collars.
  3. Cesar Millan being respected as a “trainer.” I always cringe as soon as someone starts throwing around the words “pack leader,” “dominance,” or starts making that silly “tsk, tsk” sound and then poking their dog in the side. God forbid they follow his other tactics at home (flooding, alpha rolling, wrestling fearful dogs to the ground, etc.).
  4. People who use retractable leashes for everyday walks. As the owner of a reactive dog, I think that is all I have to say about that.
  5. Toy or tiny breeds that are not trained, simply because they are small and “cute.” My Mega-E Dog recently wrote a post on this that resonated with me. I often see toy breeds get away with behavior that is simply appalling, merely because they are tiny and can be scooped up in one’s arms. They are still dogs. They still need to be trained.
  6. Breed-specific legislation. And as the owner of a frequently maligned breed, I am well aware of how silly and damaging these regulations are.

What are YOUR hot-button topics, related to dogs? And feel free to share if you disagree with some of mine! This could be a healthy way to release steam without starting an Internet war…

And, on a happier note: Trina already has a slew of approved adopters interested in her (no surprise there). Now we just have to choose the best family for her! Wish us (and the little pup) luck!

The slow and steady work of making associations (Week 3, Reactivity Class)

Notes from Week 3 of the Feisty Fidos class
Deven Gaston, Canine Campus

I missed writing up a Week 2 recap, but you can read the fundamentals of this class on my Week 1 post (which I recommend, for anyone who has a reactive dog).

As Deven said, “This class is about as interesting as watching paint dry.”

Because that’s the long, slow, hard work of classical conditioning and making new neural pathways. During the past two weeks in class, we’ve just worked on clicking and treating (that’s where the operant conditioning mix comes in) the dogs for perceiving the trigger of another dog in the room.

Week 2, we worked with Deven’s shy, reactive dog Surprise, who remained still and didn’t want to make eye contact with any of the class dogs. (We’re all separated out in different rooms, and Surprise is walked around the center of the room.) This week, Deven brought in her bouncy, friendly mini Australian shepherd Rumba. Rumba was more of a challenge for the class dogs, because she was more active and clearly wanted to engage. (Rumba particularly seemed to want to meet Pyrrha!)

We practiced Patricia McConnell’s “emergency u-turn” several times each, in the class ring, and then we worked for the rest of the class on just clicking and treating for perception of Rumba, over and over and over again.

This class was a good reminder of two things:

  1. This is slow and steady work, and hundreds of repetitions are needed.
  2. Practicing this behavior “in the wild” is much harder, which is also why it takes so long to recreate these pathways.

But we’re in it for the long haul!

Getting to know Brynn
Pyrrha and Trina.

 

In other news:

We have been doing more evaluations of Brynn/Trina, and I think we’re not going to keep her, for a number of reasons. I know, after all of that fanfare!

Essentially, she is a lot more naturally shy than we thought. She’d been getting so confident and comfortable in our home that we were pretty fooled by her behavior, and kind of shocked during our outings to realize that she is naturally pretty fearful of new people, children, and other dogs on walks. She’s also afraid of getting in the car and strangers. (I think her super-relaxed behavior on the Downtown Mall that first night may have been influenced by drugs?? Ha. She had just been spayed a day-and-a-half ago at that time, and I think she was still pretty out of it, which led to her reallllly chill demeanor, despite the craziness of the environment.)

Again, these are not black marks on her personality, and we will continue to work with her and socialize her, but we are looking for a genuinely confident, “bombproof” puppy. Trina is not that, but she will still be a wonderful puppy for the right home.

As much as I want to keep her, I also know that I don’t want two leash-reactive, shy dogs. So. A hard decision. More on this later. It’s been a bad week, whew.

Getting to know Brynn

Pup links!

Black labs go with everything. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Are All Dogs Monsters? Kristine sagely reminds us that all dogs can bite and we should never take that fact for granted. (Rescued Insanity)

Preventing Dog Bites. Patricia McConnell throws in her two cents about how to prevent dog bites. Reading body language is key! (The Other End of the Leash)

Dog’s First Camping Trip. This post caught my eye, because we’ve discussed taking Pyrrha camping with us in the coming months. Anyone go camping with their dog? Any tips we should know about beforehand? (Go Pet Friendly)

How to Teach Children to Get Along with Dogs from an Early Age. A very thorough and thoughtful article on training your kids to treat dogs with gentleness and respect. (Whole Dog Journal)

Elderly Dogs and Babies: A Primer. This is a funny (and sad?) piece on what a baby does to your elderly dog, by one of my favorite online writers, Nicole Cliffe. (The Hairpin)

Seven Steps to Off-Leash Reliability. Ian Dunbar’s progression of training elements that lead you to having a dog who is trustworthy off lead. (Some Thoughts about Dogs)

Dogs Make Weddings Look Good. This is too cute: Jenny trained a pair of French bulldogs to participate in their humans’ wedding. Adorable. (Of Pit Bulls & Patience)

Emmanuelle Walker. Fun, mod illustrations of dogs riding in cars. (Gems)

Pup links!

A meditative mutt. Photo by Winnie Au.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Your Complete Guide to the Diamond Pet Food Recalls. If you read any pet blogs at all, you’ve surely already heard about the big fiasco with Diamond Pet Food’s recall of a whole host of kibbles infected with salmonella. I was dismayed to read about it, because I had kind of decided to feed our future dog Taste of the Wild, which is one of the brands included in this voluntary recall. Were any of you affected by the recall? Will you be switching brands because of it? (Poisoned Pets)

Lure and Clicker Training to Teach Sit: Advantages and Disadvantages. Patricia McConnell discusses the pros and cons of using either a lure or a clicker to teach a dog how to sit. She also wonders if anyone is a combination trainer, perhaps using a mix of both techniques? (The Other End of the Leash)

Dogs Are Born to Run. Interesting citation of a study that claims that dogs, like people, can experience a “runner’s high.” (The Bark blog)

Four Easy Ways to Eliminate Tag Jingle. Some tips and tags to prevent the constant jingling of tags. (*Although I sometimes like noisy dog tags, in that they can always tell me where the dog is in the house…) (Unleashed Unlimited)

Ted Recommends Stagbars. Ted the long-haired chihuahua likes these particular stagbar chews and thoughtfully explains why. (Tinkerwolf)

Film: Badlands (1973). M.C. reviews Terrence Malick’s beautiful film Badlands and the dogs who play a role in it. I’m looking forward to seeing this myself, as it’s one of my husband’s all-time favorites. (The House of Two Bows)

The Long and the Short of it. I love these old-fashioned/woodblock-print-like key fobs and tags, all printed with a variety of classic breeds; would make a nice gift for a particular breed devotee. (Under the Blanket)

Rosie’s Bloopers. This is the goofiest pointer ever! These photos are hilarious. (Paws on the Run)

His Face Every Time I Catch a Fish. This is… so good. This man’s hound makes the exact same expression of curious bewilderment whenever there is a fish in the boat. (Full Pelt)

OK, and now, one of my new favorite animal Tumblrs is Animals Talking in All Caps. (It’s exactly what it sounds like.) Some of my favorites that include dogs:

WOULD YOU GUYS STOP ARGUING ABOUT POLITICS
AUGH! NO, NO! THIS IS GIN!
SEVEN YOUNG LADIES STAND BEFORE ME…