I have had cause to re-read a book I read several years ago. It’s written by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., and it really impressed me the first time I read it. This second time around I’ve gotten even more out of it. McConnell is an adjunct assistant professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She has three Border Collies, one Great Pyrenees and flock of (as she puts it) mostly cooperative sheep.
McConnell has an easy, conversational style and is clear and concise in what she has to say. I’m sure it’s much like how she trains dogs. The book is full of all sorts of good advice for dealing with canine companions. It also discusses people and why we do what we do around dogs. It’s been very helpful in so many ways and actually offers a lot of insights into human behavior that can be useful in interactions with other humans; cantankerous primates that we are.
My main reason for re-reading it was that we got a dog, Maddie, almost two years ago now. She’s a wonderful little thing, smart and mostly compliant. I didn’t feel that I needed help with her training, but it never hurts to brush up on concepts and have a firm grasp of what you want to accomplish and the best way to do that.
McConnell offers many little tidbits of wisdom about dogs. For example, if you want a dog to calm down, yelling at her will not work; if you sound excited the dog will get excited. So, to calm a dog you must at least sound calm (also appearing calm helps). Yelling at her, “Down! DOWN! Get DOWN now!” will not work. You must keep your voice low, say it just once, and reward the “down” as soon as it happens. Do not reward the down with a pat-pat-pat on the head. Dogs really don’t like that all that much. A treat would be much better. Or at least a “good girl” said like you really, really really mean it and a long gentle stroke from the shoulder to the back.
She talks about how primates (that includes us) love to hug, but that dogs do not. Dogs interpret hugs as a dominance display by the hugger. She discusses the somewhat controversial issue of dominance and explains that it is not at all about aggression as so many dog owners and dog trainers seem to think it is. You don’t have to flip your dog to get its respect, nor do you have to hit it. What you do need to do is be consistent in how you ask for what you want. You have to be clear about what you want. And you have to be patient while your dog learns how you expect him to behave just as you are patient with children while they are learning how to be “people.”
McConnell’s book is full of insight, humor, and heartwarming personal stories. She talks about a dog’s physical senses and how he relates to the world through them. She discusses play and offers advice about true aggression. She also covers the issue of personality versus breed dispositions and offers advice about how to select the dog you really want.
I think everyone, even if you don’t have a dog and have never wanted a dog, would find something of use in this book (after all, we all know people who have dogs). I especially recommend it to those who are considering asking a dog to come live with them. “The Other End of the Leash” charmed me the first time I read it and it has charmed me again.
If you have a book about dogs that you particularly enjoy, whether fiction or non-fiction, I would love to hear about it.