book reviews
Culture: Reviews
The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

In 1960, a young Maltese made his way from England to America, stopping along the way in Hollywood at the astoundingly dysfunctional home of actress Natalie Woods’ mother. From there, he landed in the lovely lap of Marilyn Monroe, a gift from Frank Sinatra, and lived with her until she died in 1962. As Maf (short for “Mafia Honey”) observes, “A dog’s biggest talent is for absorbing everything of interest,” and here, he not only absorbs it, he recounts it. Telling a story in the voice of a dog is a risky business, but O’Hagan pulls it off in this entertaining novel, which looks at the life and times of an iconic and much-mythologized woman through the eyes of a dog who loved her.

Culture: Reviews
Do Over Dogs

“It’s never too late to begin again,” says veteran trainer Pat Miller, and in her new book, she shows us how to do just that. Whether you have a newly rescued pooch or a long-time canine companion with lingering “issues,” Miller offers guidance and insights that are both practical and inspiring. Her discussions of the shelter world, adopting a do-over dog, and the science behind training and behavior provide valuable context in which to understand and apply her advice.

Culture: Reviews
Dogs Can Sign, Too
A Breakthrough Method for Teaching Your Dog to Communicate

All of us talk to our dogs, but with this book, we’re given a way to teach them to talk back. Adding to dogs’ innate repertoire of communication signals, the author shows us in step-by-step fashion how to help our pups develop a vocabulary of gestures that convey both basic ideas and more complicated concepts, including answering questions. While many experts feel that dogs lack the capacity to learn a non-natural language, Senechal disagrees, and created K9 Sign Language to prove it. The basis of this approach is that “anything a dog can identify can be linked to a word and a corresponding body gesture.” From that perspective, dogs using sign language may not be such a far-fetched idea after all.

Culture: Reviews
Mini Encyclopedia of Dog Health

This compact book is indeed encyclopedic in its coverage of the common and not-so-common pitfalls of canine health. Beginning with an overview of how to have a healthy dog, it then segues into specifics of first aid and emergency care and the more complicated issues of system-based ailments. Neurological, circulatory, respiratory and more are covered. It is also fully illustrated; the diagrams showing how the various systems work are particularly informative. While no book can substitute for a vet’s attention, this one goes a long way toward helping us know when it’s time to seek that attention.

Culture: Reviews
Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog

Well-educated dog owners and dog professionals worldwide continue to be dismayed by the ongoing presentation of Cesar Millan’s inappropriate, sometimes dangerous approach to dog behavior modification or, as Millan likes to call it, “dog psychology.” This new book may be an attempt to quell some of the ever-growing opposition to Millan’s less-than-scientifically supported dog-handling techniques.

Though Millan acknowledges that he disagrees with many highly regarded, experienced and educated professionals in the field of dog training and behavior, he includes some of their perspectives here. From the “positive” side of the trainer world, he invites comments from the notable Bob Bailey, guru to thousands of educated dog trainers, and Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), author and early advocate of rewardbased training. Among the professionals included are Bonnie Brown-Cali, Patrick Burns, Barbara DeGroodt, Mark Harden, Katenna Jones, Joel Silverman, K irk Turner a nd G ary Wilkes. If you think this creates a confusing end product, you’re right.

There is more actual substance in this book t han i n p rior M illan e fforts, thanks in large part to the contributions of his visiting trainers. Information on Millan’s own approach to modifying the behavior of the dogs he works with, while somewhat more fleshed-out than in prior books, is not a comprehensive description of his methods. Although— for the first time—he attempts to define some of his non-scientific terms such as “balanced,” the results are less than satisfying.

In the end, while the book appears to be an attempt at an historical and current overview of a wide spectrum of training philosophies and methods, it falls short of being a usable guide to dog behavior and training.

Culture: Reviews
Play with Your Dog
Dogwise Publishing, 149 pp., 2008; $14.95

In our second book, Play with Your Dog, Pat Miller shares her observation that almost every dog-human interaction is an opportunity to have fun while building a stronger relationship. Rich with photos of dogs at play (by themselves and with each other, children and adults), this book sets the stage for playtime with lively descriptions of a wide variety of dog play styles, including “body-slammers,” “chasers” and “wrestlers,” personalities I recognize in neighborhood dogs.Having identified your dog’s style, you’re well positioned to match compatible playmates or introduce a new dog to your family pack. For those nervous about loud and energetic play, including growling, snarling and biting,Miller demystifies mock aggression and explains how to tone down exuberant play before it escalates. She briefly samples dozens of play opportunities that allow you to subtly reinforce obedience commands, which will help ensure that your dog remains a welcomed participant in family and public outings. Devoting an entire chapter to play between children and their dogs, Miller emphasizes ways that are safe and fun for all. (The chapter on “Rehabilitating the Play-Deprived Dog”will come in handy at my house for Sport, our senior rescue, who is still learning how to play.) 

So, when the weather outside is frightful, take your favorite doggie cookbook off the shelf, whip up some tasty training morsels and surprise your best friend with your special attention, yummy treats and great new games inspired by these creative and experienced authors. 

Culture: Reviews
Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?

“Border Collies,” as a Scottish shepherd once told me, “have been bred for 300 years to work with us.” Bred to work sheep over difficult terrain to their humans’ faint whistled commands, Border Collies’ strong work ethic and trainability have made them excel in work shepherds could never have imagined. Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? tells of two littermates with important but very different responsibilities.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a native New York dog trainer who wrote the bestselling Mother Knows Best. Denise Wall breeds, trains and trials sheepdogs, and fondly recalls her grandmother’s farm, where every new stockdog was “Dolly.”

Two years ago, Carol took puppy Sky home to train as a service dog while Sky’s littermate, May, remained on Denise’s farm to learn the sheepdog’s traditional trade. In alternating chapters, each author shows us how her pup matured and learned its life work.

Taxis, buses, restaurants, gyms, street people, jampacked sidewalks, frantic dog parks, MANY odors, hooting horns, police strobes: that’s Sky’s Manhattan, where the young dog learns to anticipate and relieve his owner’s sudden, debilitating pain. Since Carol’s Crohn’s disease can flare up any time, Sky never leaves Carol’s side. Carol describes their connection: “The intimate relationship between me and my dog gave me back what having a disability took away.… Instead of feeling alone, with Sky at my side, I felt part of the human race, ready to face anything even when I was ill. There’s no prescription, no man-made pill that can do what a dog can do.”

From her Tennessee sheep farm, Denise writes: “It was important that I recognized that she [May] was trying to do the right thing, even when things didn’t go exactly right … the young sheepdog needs time to develop all her instincts and learn how to balance them with self-control in order to become a good worker.” May made the grade; at two years old, she qualified for the National Finals Sheepdog Trials.

After Sky was fully trained as a service dog, the littermates had a glad reunion on the farm where, for the first time, Sky worked sheep.

Carol and Denise have spent their lives training dogs, and Sky and May’s stories are lucid, insightful and sometimes surprising. The reader will discover two wonderful dogs.

As a child, I was enthralled by Jack London, Eric Knight and Albert Payson Terhune. Somehow, magically, the stray mutts my family took in became like White Fang, Lassie and Lad of Sunnybrook Farm. Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? stands comparison with those classics. 

Culture: Reviews
Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had

If you haven’t read Colter, you’re in luck, because you still have it to look forward to. Written by Rick Bass, Colter is the “true story of the best dog” he ever had, a German Shorthaired Pointer, the runt of the litter who blooms into a genius of a hunting dog.

When Bass adopts Colter, the dog is “bony, cross-legged, pointy-headed, goofy-looking.” But the ungainly young dog shows surprising potential. Bass engages a field trainer, who molds him into the great hunting dog he was born to be.

The “brown bomber” becomes a topnotch pointing dog, and Bass marvels in his flawless execution as he goes “on lock-solid, drop-dead point … head and shoulders hunched and crouched, bony ass stuck way up in the air, body halftwisted, frozen, as if cautioning us of some hidden deadly betrayal: and green eyes afire, stub tail motionless.”

However, Bass can’t hit a bird, which frustrates Colter excessively. He takes to shrieking when the shotgun fires and no bird falls. Bass can live with his poor aim: “In bird hunting … one little window of dog perfection, one wedge of success, thirty seconds of grace, is enough to obliterate al l the errors of a lifetime.” However, he hates his ineptitude for his dog’s sake. Occasionally—by accident, he says—he hits one; he finally enrolls in a shooting school in hopes of improving his aim. He does, much to Colter’s joy.

As all dog stories ultimately do, this one ends sadly. To love a dog entails the risk of loss. We pay this price, and dearly. However, anyone who has ever loved a dog will agree that the risk is worth taking, for the love of a dog is priceless. The same can be said of Colter: it may make us sad but is well worth the reading.

Culture: Reviews
Tea and Dog Biscuits

“You take in dogs?” Lonely after the loss of their 14-year-old German Shepherd, Barrie Hawkins and his wife embarked on rescue work, starting GSD Homefinders (gsdhomefinders.org.uk) in their rural English village with only the most general idea of what it would involve. Word spread quickly, and in no time, all manner of Shepherds in need of homes turned up on their doorstep. In Tea and Dog Biscuits, Hawkins chronicles the couple’s first year of rescue and fostering. He does a lovely job describing each dog and is candid about his general ineptitude, especially in the early days. This is a story of hope and healing, both of the dogs and of the couple who took them in.

News: Guest Posts
State of Wonder and Bookstores
Beth Finke meets Bark contributor and fan, Ann Patchett

Harper and I made sure to hobble in early. I alerted the strangers who joined us at our table that there was a dog underneath, and when one of them lifted the tablecloth to have a look, she said, “Oh, a black Lab. How sweet!” My Seeing Eye dog is a male yellow Labrador Retriever. She’d mistaken the behemoth black cast on my foot for Harper.

We were at the Women’s Athletic Club on Michigan Avenue to hear my fellow Bark contributor Ann Patchett (best-selling author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty) talk about her highly anticipated new novel State of Wonder. As her talk came to a close, she let us in on her next project: opening an independent bookstore.

“I live in Nashville, and we don’t have any bookstores,” she said, lamenting that the city’s independent bookstore, Davis-Kidd, went under last December. The Borders store in Nashville closed a few months later. “It’s weird to have a book and not have a place to sell it in your hometown.”

The author paired up with former Random House sales rep Karen Hayes in January, and the two of them hope to open Parnassus Books in Nashville before Christmas. Karen will be doing most of the work putting the store together. (“She knows which cash registers to buy, stuff like that.”) Ann plans to use her author cred to bring attention to her new store, and, in turn, to independent bookstores everywhere. “I heard you all sigh when I said we didn’t have a bookstore in Nashville,” she told us. “And you cheered when I said we were going to open one of our own.” She challenged us all to do our part, too. “Now, get out there to your own independent bookstore and buy a book!”

We all had a chance to meet her challenge right away: The Book Stall, an independent bookstore in Winnetka, Ill., had copies of State of Wonder for sale at the presentation. Ann Patchett couldn’t help but admire Harper as he guided me to the table to have her sign a copy for us. The future bookstore owner and I chatted about our work for The Bark as she signed. (Among other contributions, Ms. Patchett wrote the introduction to Dog Joy: The Happiest Dogs in the Universe.) “I love that magazine!” she proclaimed loudly enough for other fans in line to hear. “And I don’t just write for The Bark, I read it, too!”

Before picking up Harper’s harness to have him guide me away from the table, I told Ann Patchett how much I enjoyed the audio version of Truth and Beauty—she recorded it herself. She poo-pooed the compliment, “Hope Davis, you know, the actress? She reads this one,” she said, drumming her fingers on the signed hardcover in my hand. “She’s really good.”

Guess I’ll have to buy the audio version once it comes out. I know where I'll order it from, too: Our local independent bookstore!