Review: In a Dog’s Heart

In a Dog's Heart.

Jennifer Arnold is the founder of Canine Assistants, a non-profit that trains and assigns therapy dogs for a variety of different uses. In a Dog’s Heart is her second book and was published in October 2011.

I hesitate to write a review here, because I found this book somewhat disappointing. Arnold is clearly a wonderful woman with a huge heart and lots of hands-on experience with dogs. She certainly knows a lot more than I do.

My reservation is that as a book, In a Dog’s Heart was not a successful project. It is essentially one woman’s collected ramblings about why she loves dogs. That is all well and good in itself, but it is not compelling or interesting. Perhaps it could have been reworked into something more memoir-like, resembling Caroline Knapp’s sweet book Pack of Two. Instead, Arnold’s book doesn’t seem to have any grounding frame of reference or context to give it much-needed structure.

I did appreciate Arnold’s thorough critique of Cesar Millan and the incredible damage he has done to dog training in America today. I enjoyed the heart-warming stories about the therapy dogs she’s trained, worked with, and assigned to people in need. However, I felt dismayed to read her hearty recommendation of dog food made by companies like Purina and Hill’s Science Diet, long known for creating chemically-laden refuse that is patently terrible for dogs. I also thought it was kind of silly that she believed so strongly in puppy temperament testing, something we’ve known for a while is not any reliable indicator of an adult dog’s temperament.

The book’s lack of organization–or a discernible point–is a crippling element. The chapters are haphazardly arranged and filled with all sorts of random thoughts. I almost felt like she just sat down with a legal pad and just wrote down all of the things she knew about dogs and then decided to structure her book that way. Essentially, I’m not sure what this book was trying to accomplish. Is it a behavioral guide? Is it a training manual? Is it a memoir? I don’t think it really knew either.

Arnold is very well-meaning and has done so much good for so many people and dogs. For that, she should be praised and applauded. But this book? Not a keeper.

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…

Pup links!

An Australian shepherd contemplates Banksy. Click for source.

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

Wonder Dog. Read this incredible story of a golden retriever who transforms the life a boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The more I get to know them, the more I think that goldens were born to do this kind of work. I kind of teared up, a lot, reading this story. (New York Times Magazine)

Top 10 Most Frequently Reported Poison Dangers for Dogs in 2011. A good list to review and be aware of. (Pet Poison Helpline)

Train Your Dog Month: Results Revealed. The Take Paws blog talks about lessons learned in training their reactive German shepherd. Good food for thought! (Take Paws)

Chart: Nail Trimming. A helpful diagram and discussion about trimming nails. (Inu Baka)

42 St. Bernards. I don’t know how one gets 42 St. Bernards in a glorious, mossy wood with a beautiful blond child, but I like it. (Paw Nation)

She Doesn’t Answer the Phone. E.B. White’s funny letter in response to city complaints that his dachshund, Minnie, was unlicensed. (Letters of Note)

The Nannies. I love these photos of this farm’s Anatolian shepherds, who act as the sheep guardians. The tenderness between the dog and the lamb is so palpable. I am such a sucker for anything even close to inter-species friends; it’s pretty much my favorite thing on earth. (Alta-Pete Farm Tails)

Meet Maddie the Coonhound. Maddie elegantly stands on various objects across the United States. (The Hydrant)

Food Critic Puppy. Oh, man. This is why you don’t give limes to dogs. (Animals Being Di*ks)

Pup links!

A young Elizabeth Taylor holds court with three dogs. Source: LIFE Magazine.

I was very flattered this past week to receive a mention in the “You Are an Inspiration Awards” from Pamela at Something Wagging. I’ve been so encouraged by Pamela’s blog since I started my dog research, and I look forward to continuing to follow hers and Honey’s adventures.

That said, here are some great dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Therapy Dogs: Born or Made? Patricia McConnell reflects on the qualities a great therapy dog should possess and discusses the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. Basically, if you have a calm, perhaps older golden retriever, your dog should be doing therapy. Bo and Dally would be IDEAL candidates, maybe when they’re older. Goldens were just made for this stuff. (The Other End of the Leash)

My Favorite Dog Training Books. Crystal lists some of her favorite training manuals. I need to read some of these myself! (Reactive Champion)

An Uphill Battle: Tartar in a Kibble-Fed Dog. Stephanie, the Biologist, discusses the problems of tartar buildup in her kibble-fed dog and debunks the popular myth that kibble cleans dogs’ teeth. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Hallmarks of Quality Dog Food. A list of ingredients to look for (and avoid) when shopping for kibble. (Whole Dog Journal)

Thoughts on Punishment. Reflecting on moving beyond basic punishment paradigms in training. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

Your 2012 Fitness Plan for You and Your Dog. A practical and motivational guide to getting you and your dog in shape for the new year. A dog is such a great motivator for me to get outside and move! (Pretty Fluffy)

Comparing Bergan and Kurgo Dog Harnesses. The most widely traveled dogs give their reviews of two car harnesses. I’ve thought about getting something like this for our future dog. How does your dog travel in the car? (Take Paws)

One Big Dog on a Little, Kitty Bed. I love it when dogs (and cats!) mix up their beds. It’s always funny. (That Mutt)

Indigo: The Hockey-Loving Dog. This focused border collie reminds me of Emma, my childhood Aussie, who was fixated whenever we played hockey on the cul-de-sac. We kind of drove her crazy. It’s torture for a herding dog to watch such a game and not be allowed to get out there and HERD! (Shirley Bittner)

The Dog. My dear friend Rachel writes about her dog Cider‘s displays of devotion when she comes home. So sweet! (Mixed with Gold)

Review: Volunteering with Your Pet

Volunteering with Your Pet, by Mary R. Burch

Throughout my young life, my experiences with animals have always reinforced the truth that animals can bring life, joy, and mercy to people in profound ways. The compassion of animals is ultimately why I volunteer at the SPCA and why I no longer feel guilty about it. I have long been interested in animal-assisted therapy and so I was excited to see this book at the library.

The book itself is pretty old (published in 1996)–as evidenced by the fact that the author had to explain what e-mail was–but the advice contained in this little book is not dated. Burch gives her readers an overview of the history of animal-assisted therapy and devotes a chapter to the types of animals that can participate. So, whether you have a dog, a cat, a horse, a llama, or a bird, Dr. Burch has some advice for you.

I was impressed by her professionalism in training and inspired by her many touching anecdotes about the changes she had seen in her years as a therapy volunteer with her animals.

The book also impressed upon me the very unique temperament and nature of a dog who would be qualified for therapy. I can think of only a few dogs I’ve met who would be naturally wonderful therapy dogs (Zoe, for certain, and maybe even Bo, once he mellows out a bit with age), but Burch helps you see that many dogs, given that they have a fundamentally stable and friendly personality, can be trained to volunteer in any number of situations. I am hopeful that we will find a dog who could one day volunteer at a nursing home, school, or hospital. What could be better than allowing others to experience the unconditional love that you receive from your dog every day?

If you’re looking for a basic primer on animal-assisted therapy, then this is a great starting place. It would be nice if it was possibly updated with more current information, but on the whole, this book has a lot of sound advice about beginning to work with your pet in animal-assisted therapy.

Review: Dog Is My Co-Pilot

Dog Is My Co-Pilot.

As I’ve said before, I’m not one who likes to read sappy stories about dogs. This is why I don’t watch dog movies. The dogs are always exceedingly and supernaturally noble and then they always get killed in the end. So over that.

I like stories about real life–which is why this collection of essays about living with dogs was perfect for me. Dog Is My Co-Pilot is a curated series of memoir-like writings by respected authors, pulled together by the editors of The Bark magazine.

Many of the stories were very funny. Many of the stories were very sad. Almost all of them (with a few exceptions, namely Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ story and Jon Katz’s and the super-dramatic New Age guy) were great. The essays successfully avoided the sappiness that so often permeates dog-human narratives.

Some of my favorites: I loved the essays by the wonderful poets Maxine Kumin and Mark Doty. My husband is a poet and has always encouraged me to read more poetry. You can imagine my delight when I learned that such well-respected poets like Kumin and Doty were also avid dog lovers. Kumin’s essay “Mutts” is a sweet and reflective essay on the dogs that have passed in and out of her life, particularly on her New England farm. “Accident,” by Doty, is a heartbreaking story about loss and grief, connected to both his dog and his partner.

Another essay that was very moving to me was “Sit. Stay. Heal.” by Lee Forgotson, written in the aftermath of 9/11. Forgotson was living in New York at the time, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and wrote this essay describing her fear and depression in the months following the terrorist attacks. She was holed up alone in her apartment with her dog, waiting for her husband, a broadcast news anchor, to come home. The essay ends with this heart-rending moment: Forgotson, her husband, and their dog go out to eat. The dog is tied to a table and wanders off slightly to sniff a young man at a nearby table. When Forgotson looks back in a moment, the man is on his knees with his arms around her dog, weeping. It’s a touching and beautiful story of that gift animals can give us that no people can.

Regardless of your thoughts on over-emotionality, this is a collection of essays that is sure to make you feel the whole range of emotions that we feel with dogs: Joy, elation, frustration, rage, sympathy, grace, and redemption. Just to name a few. I recommend this collection very highly and I’m thankful I was able to find a copy myself.