Review: Training the Hard-to-Train Dog

Training the Hard-to-Train Dog, by Peggy Swager

This slim, colorful little volume is a helpful and basic guide for people who have “difficult” dogs. Trainer Peggy Swager divides dogs into several categories, including those who are naturally very stubborn, independent, controlling, or shy. From these categories, Swager gives advice on how to train dogs with these specific temperaments.

I was relieved to find that Swager is a strong proponent of positive reinforcement training and she often pointed out that the dominating, physical punishment-based methods of training often backfire with shy, controlling, or stubborn dogs. Unfortunately, it is often these “hard-to-train” dogs who receive the most aversive and negative training techniques. But Swager emphasizes that gentleness and respect can go a long way with these difficult personalities.

Swager herself is a long-time parent and trainer of Jack Russell terriers, who are notoriously hard to control and train. I’ve worked with a few JRTs myself and experienced them enough to be thoroughly convinced that I don’t think I could handle one myself. She is a certified trainer and speaks with calm authority about the “problem” dogs she’s encountered.

Overall, the book’s advice skims the surface of the challenges of working with difficult dogs. Swager provides factual but elementary advice on training basic commands. While this information is helpful, I think the guardian of a truly difficult, hard-to-train dog would probably need to look elsewhere for more in-depth counsel. In any event, Training the Hard-to-Train Dog is a great place to start for any person with a shy, controlling, or stubborn pooch.