Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Best Dog Training Book I've Ever Read

And believe me, over the years I've read plenty of them. If I could only recommend one, this one, my favorite, would certainly be it:

The Dog Listener: Learn How to Communicate with Your Dog for Willing Cooperation
From Publishers Weekly
Standard dog training has long advocated the use of force choke collars, sharp smacks, harsh language. Fennell, a dog trainer in England for 30 years, wants to change all that. Expanding upon the theories of horse trainer Monty Roberts (the basis for The Horse Whisperer), Fennell believes one can best train dogs by emulating natural behaviors, that is, by treating them as they would treat each other in the wild. Her intelligent, straightforward and humane method has engendered controversy and increasing enthusiasm.

After Fennel's dog Purdey went manic, injured Fennell's young children and had to be euthanized, she was fearful of owning a dog again. Lured back into it by the pleasure of showing spaniels, she adopted a high-strung young shepherd, Sasha, and investigated alternative training methods. Fennell's simple and succinct method posits that domesticated dogs are confused, believing themselves to be the pack leaders, and humans their subordinates.

Fennell retrains dogs to accept a human as their alpha leader. She spurns the use of force, even in training language, employing instead a system of Pavlovian rewards. Those wanting true canine companionship will find Fennell's commonsense approach attractive and easy to apply with puppies as well as with older dogs. She addresses common problems, from separation anxiety to barking at guests to the mistrust of strangers that rescued dogs often harbor. Her knowledge and love of dogs is expansive and her concern for their well-being balances kindness and appropriate discipline. (Aug.)

I've found that dog training books tend to be dry at best; boring at worst. I wasn't looking forward to reading yet another one. But this one was different. The foreword in the book starts off with the dramatic and tragic story of "Purdey", the dog mentioned in the description above. She wanted to save her dog, but didn't know what to do.

We were facing just such a situation with our new dog, "Tippy".

Tippy's Tale

Tippy, a Border Collie-Labrador mix, had come with our new house; the original owners of the house were moving to a small apartment, and asked us if we would keep the dog. We already had three dogs; being dog lovers, we figured we could easily handle one more. We agreed.

At first I was thrilled; he seemed to be just the kind of dog I always wanted when I was a kid. But he was the first large male dog I had ever owned. He had been fixed, but he lacked the most basic training. He jumped up on people. He would frantically lick your hands whenever you tried to pet him. His former owners taught him to lick, because they thought it was cute. But worse still, they taught him other bad habits.

It seems his former owners didn't like our neighbors, and encouraged Tippy to bark at them whenever he saw them. Worse still, if he saw or heard the neighbors walking their own dogs on their own property, he would run onto their property and attack their dogs. I discovered this the hard way.

Worse still, no amount of shouting or yelling would get him to stop. I never had a dog before that would not stay when I told it, or not come back to me when I called it.

I worked extensively with Tippy, to get him to lay down and stay, and to come when I called him. But no matter how much progress I seemed to make, when he would see or hear the neighbors, it all went out the window; he would run and attack.

I didn't understand it. He wasn't a mean dog. He never injured the other dogs (two friendly golden retrievers), but it was a terrible drama every time. Our neighbors had every right to not be accosted by our dog on their own property.

Because I could not control Tippy, it seemed that he would always have to be kept locked up or tied up. That is no kind of life for a dog. I also wanted to get chickens, ducks and guinea fowls, and let them roam free-range. Having such a dog as this loose among them was out of the question.

I considered turning him in to the pound, but how could they adopt out such a problem dog? It looked like he would have to be euthanized.

By now I had become attached to him, despite the problems, and the idea of destroying him was heartbreaking. I searched the internet for an answer, an alternative, and found nothing very helpful. Then I found the above description of "The Dog Whisperer". I read the reviews posted by people who had read the book. It sounded like just the thing we needed!

I talked to Pat and Andy about it. They agreed it was worth trying, so I ordered the book. It was to be Tippy's last chance.

The book is an easy and enjoyable read. Author Jan Fennell tells the story of how she became involved in dog training, and how she eventually became the "dog whisperer", after understanding how to get dogs to obey her of their own free-will. She explains her methods in an easy and natural way; you understand why the methods work, as well as how to implement them.

At the time, we also had a female Aussie Shepard-Border Collie mix, a female chihuahua-pug mix, and a male chihuahua mix. I put them and Tippy through the Dog Listener's methods, and the results were quick and dramatic.

Basically Fennell's methods teach YOU how to be an Alpha Dog to your dogs. Once they acknowledge you as the Alpha, they are happy to let you take the lead, and willingly follow you and what you tell them.

I was so thrilled (and amazed!) the first time it happened. Tippy saw the neighbors on their property and went charging and barking after them, as usual. I called him back... and he did it! He deferred to me. And things only got better after that.

We've changed his name from "Tippy" to "Digby", and he's now a great, obedient, happy dog!

We also now have our barnyard fowls running free-range, and Digby gets along with them just fine. We have a dog run that I keep the dogs in when we are not outside with them or when we are away from home. Our big dogs had a nasty encounter with a porcupine once, which taught us to keep them locked up when they aren't supervised. I have left Digby outside alone with fowls for brief periods though, with no problems. He often waits on the porch for me until I come back outside. He likes to be told what to do.

The methods Fennell teaches are easy and they really work, if you apply them consistently. It's such a pleasure to have a dog that willingly obeys you.

Read the comments left on the Amazon website, from people who have used the book. Many people have had success with these methods. For obedience problems big or small, I highly recommend this book. It literally saved our dog.

Related Links:

The Greatest Threat the World Faces

The Dogs of War... [need good homes]

"It's a dog's life" And it looks pretty good

A Bagdad Puppy Rescue for a Soldier's Dog

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At Thu Feb 05, 12:24:00 PM 2009, Blogger Walker said...

Love Digby's story. He looks like a happy, well-mannered dog, too. I'm amazed that he won't go after the ducks in their pool.

At Sat Jun 12, 05:09:00 PM 2010, Anonymous Caroline said...

The Dog Listener is a must read for all those who really want to learn proper ways to train a dog.


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