Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.95
FOR YOUNG READERS
In Diogenes, Mark Usher—classics professor at the University of Vermont—transforms the man for whom the term “cynic” was coined into a dog who wants to be his own master. In doing so, he cleverly introduces Diogenes’ philosophy not only to children but also to adults interested in a quick and easy refresher on this classic Greek’s life and times.Michael Chesworth’s colorful illustrations capture the dog’s carefree spirit and add to the story’s appeal. In his afterword (an excerpt from which we include here), Usher makes the connection between the book’s canine hero and the real-life philosopher, “a dog-like man who became a pauper in order to live like a king.”
BehaveTech Publishing, 100 pp., 2009; $20
Separation distress is one of the most disheartening canine behaviors an owner can face. Aggression may present a more serious risk to human safety, but aggressive behaviors are generally easier to manage than significant separation distress; few caretakers can avoid leaving their dogs alone, at least some of the time, during the protracted period required by an in-depth separation-behavior modification program.
Many dogs end up at animal shelters, are adopted and repeatedly returned, and eventually euthanized, due to the difficult constellation of behaviors manifested by dogs who suffer from this panic disorder. Behaviors include but are not limited to vocalizing (barking, yelping, howling, whining), inappropriate indoor elimination and destructive behavior, especially directed toward escape.
Enter James O’Heare, president of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, director of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals and author of nine books on animal behavior.
This slim volume purports to present an “easy-to-follow, yet comprehensive, behavior change program, including systematic desensitization and behavior shaping, as well as empowerment training and relationship rehabilitation.” There is a lot of information packed into its 100 pages. While none of the book can be described as an “easy read,” the third and last chapter, “Behavior Change Programming,” is reasonably accessible to the committed canine guardian. O’Heare’s “empowerment training” is particularly useful, guiding the reader skillfully away from the unfortunate focus on “dominance” offered in many of today’s training programs. He explains, instead, the useful constructs of shaping, desensitization, counterconditioning, differential reinforcement and general stress-reduction procedures.
Of the first two chapters, however, “easy-to-follow” is a stretch. I found myself having to reread many of O’Heare’s points—and not just the “pro fessional boxes” that are scattered throughout the pages. I fear his attempts to simplify are still too much for many dog owners who could benefit from an even more simplified presentation of this complex behavior.
O’Heare often writes for behavior professionals, on a level many dog owners would have some difficulty with. He aimed for a simpler level with this book, but has only partially succeeded. I suspect many of my own clients would find certain pages daunting. To reach the dog owner who desperately needs this information, I would have preferred less “professional box” information in the first two sections, and more simplification, hand-holding and graphic how-to examples in everyday terms as he urges owners to “conduct the functional assessment” of their dog’s behavior. He glosses over the huge challenge owners face in trying to create an environment that precludes allowing the dog to practice, and be reinforced for, separationrelated behaviors. This is usually the most difficult part for owners—and the part that ultimately sends the dog back to the shelter.
I had hoped for something that was aimed halfway between this volume and Patricia McConnell’s simple, useful and readable booklet I’ll Be Home Soon. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s an excellent book and program for those who can stick with it; but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Create Space, 210 pp., 2009; $13.95
Nathan Winograd discomfits a lot of folks. By his steadfast devotion to no-kill principles and relentless advocacy, he has demonstrated that it is possible—and ethically imperative—to end shelter killing of healthy or treatable animals. Not just someday, either, but now. Many of those distressed thereby have built careers that acceded to expediencies, assuming most deaths were inevitable and the fault of a careless public.
Winograd is an admirer and intellectual heir of the visionary Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and equally controversial in his day. Although a more conciliatory approach might lead to quicker conversions, Winograd instead seeks to drag people from the great middle ground of animal advocacy toward him, and past where they could go if allowed room for philosophical compromise. Starting with the title of his new book, he does little to signal any change in tone.
In Irreconcilable Differences, he writes clear and rigorously reasoned essays on 16 topics. Many make excellent reading, as he develops keen insights on timely issues of feral cats, the “underground railroad” of shelter animals from highkill areas, unnecessarily difficult adoption processes, and the fact that movies celebrating our pets should be welcomed and anticipated.
He further strengthens the case for nokill in other essays, developing comparative economics of shelter operations, and running the population numbers to show what is required to end most shelter killing. With 17 million new pets sought every year, the achievable challenge is to link a minor fraction of those seekers with the three to four million healthy pets who die behind bars annually. He also finds hope and vindication in the overwhelming approval of Prop. 2 in California (regarding treatment of food animals), as demonstrating latent critter love just waiting to be tapped.
A few entries are future-directed. His treatments of the ethical implications of spay abortions and a deeply personal rumination on true euthanasia (as distinct from the term’s misuse in shelter killing) reflect profound reverence for all life. Perhaps he is ahead of this curve, too, but I wonder whether other species cling to life in quite the way humans do. They have little conception of what might await them, and no reason to fear it.
One problematic passage involves his familiar theme of HSUS fear-mongering. In it, he attributes numerous quotations in the organization’s Animal Sheltering magazine to HSUS itself. While generally supporting HSUS positions, those benighted opinions actually come from author Jon Katz, in an interview.
Those who regret the rancor between no-kill and the sheltering establishment may find a glimmer of hope in the concluding essay, “We’re on the Same Team.” Most of that essay sets up a dichotomy between the no-kill and broader animal rights movement on one side, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on the other. Winograd castigates PETA for many of its policies, including the slaughter of thousands of companion animals in its custody.
Emphasizing the common philosophies of animal rights and no-kill, Winograd writes, “On the issues of dogs and cats, we can no longer afford to be a divided movement; the division is hurting our ability to achieve success.”
There is another, similar point to be made. In a 2009 San Francisco Town Hall meeting, no less an influential figure than Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS acknowledged no-kill as substantially raising the sights of the sheltering community regarding the life-saving results that can be achieved. Is it too much to hope for a movement unified around the principle of compassion, and adopting the proven strategies Winograd espouses?
Love & Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog
With so many new books making their way to my desk, there is a special one to recommend—Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog, a memoir by Susannah Charleson. Readers ride along with Charleson’s canine partner, Puzzle, a rambunctious, delightful and very smart Golden Retriever, from the moment the pup enters her life and through her training. With wit, charm and a deep understanding of dogs, Charleson’s story about her dog, and their long road together towards a fully collaborative partnership, is a revelation and joy. Look for an excerpt in our next issue!
Wiley & Sons, 256 pp., 2010; $21.99
Even the words make those who love dogs cringe: puppy mills, places where living, breathing creatures are treated like machines, where adult female dogs give birth to litter after litter of pups who will be sold through pet stores or to unsuspecting consumers. What happens when their breeding days are over?
If they’re exceptionally fortunate, they share Gracie’s experience: rescue, rehabilitation and adoption. In Saving Gracie, Bradley chronicles the story of a tiny Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was removed—along with more than 300 other small-breed dogs, both adults and puppies—from a ghastly kennel operation by the Chester County (Pa.) SPCA in 2006. Known first as Dog 132, then Wilma, and finally Gracie, the six-year-old was born in and confined to a crate her entire life. She had multiple and persistent health problems but, of more concern, she was emotionally shut down; rescuers wondered if she’d ever recover.
Bradley profiles all the players in this drama, among them, the CCSPCA humane police officers who initiated the rescue; the shelter workers and volunteers who tirelessly fed, bathed and cared for the dogs; the attorneys who tried the case against the kennel owners; and even the kennel owners themselves.
Set within this account is another touching story, that of Linda Jackson, the woman who eventually adopted Gracie. Jackson had always liked animals— cats more than dogs, truth be told—but this adoption galvanized her. She became passionate about not only saving and improving Gracie’s life, but also the lives of puppy mill dogs everywhere.
It’s impossible to read this book without being moved; the picture it paints of both puppy mill conditions and what they do to the dogs who are unfortunate enough to be confined to them is grim, though presented in a non-sensational way. On the other hand, those who advocate for the dogs are utterly inspiring. And the best part is, for Gracie, the story has a happy ending.
Cattle Dog Publishing, 470 pp., 2009; $148.95 DVD included
In the veterinary profession, there’s a refreshing interest in learning about behavior—a subject that has long been overlooked in the vet-school curriculum. Many dog owners have been given inappropriate behavioral advice by their veterinarians, and many dogs have been subjected to manhandling by veterinary clinic staff, from receptionists to vet techs to the veterinarians themselves. Countless dogs have developed behavior problems as a result, and existing problems have been exacerbated by this inappropriate handling. Dog-behavior professionals worldwide have bemoaned this state of affairs as they’ve worked to repair damage done by vet-prescribed alpha rolls or other old-fashioned dominance-based handling and advice.
Thankfully, this is changing. In January 2010, the North American Veterinary Conference, host to more than 14,000 veterinarians from around the world, included a two-and-a-half day behavioral track for the first time ever. It was well attended and well received by veterinarians eager to learn.
In the forefront of this exciting trend is Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinary behaviorist dedicated to helping members of her profession learn more appropriate and humane handling techniques. Yin’s latest offering, Low Stress Handling, is packed to the gills with excellent practical advice for veterinarians and crammed with marvelous color photos (1,600 of them) that clearly illustrate her points. If that wasn’t enough, the package includes a DVD with three and- a-half hours of live footage to support her text and photos. Wow! The book is divided into five sections, addressing early behavior problem recognition; the science of behavior and learning; modifying the clinic environment to reduce stress for canine and feline clients; humane and effective handling and restraint techniques; and problem behavior prevention and reversal.
“Wait!” you may say, “I’m not a veterinarian!” That matters not—you can still find incredibly useful information in this book, information that will help turn your next veterinary visit into an enjoyable outing rather than a stress-laden horror show.
For example, in chapter 18, “Counterconditioning Protocols for Dogs and Cats,” Yin discusses how to condition a dog to love a muzzle and enjoy having her teeth brushed and ears cleaned, as well as a multitude of other handling procedures. Chapter 19, “Preventive Behavioral Health for Puppies,” offers useful puppy-raising information on topics such as grooming, nail trimming and early socialization.
The book will also arm you with information to help you determine whether your vet and her staff are handling your dog appropriately, and will empower you to be a critical thinker about any training and handling advice your veterinarian offers. In fact, you can double the impact of this valuable resource by sharing it with your veterinarian after you’ve fully absorbed its contents.
I do have one concern about the Low Stress package. A good training and behavior program avoids eliciting or reinforcing inappropriate behavior; hence, it can be a challenge to get video appropriate for educational purposes. In her mission to document her points with relevant video, Yin, in my opinion, exposes some of her canine subjects to undue stress; I understand the trade-off and appreciate the educational value, yet still flinch at some of the footage, especially that of dogs in a panic over head halters.
That concern aside, this package is a priceless resource for serious dog lovers and their dogs’ (and cats’) veterinary professionals. My own veterinarian is well versed in the scientific principles of behavior and learning and consistently handles her four-footed clients humanely and effectively. I plan to share my copy with my local animal shelter, whose staff is faced daily with the challenge of handling difficult animals.
To preview (or order) this book, go to nerdbook.com.
St. Martin’s Press, 320 pp., 2010; $22.99
Adam March is having a bad time of life. So is an initially nameless Pit Bull mix sentenced to a life of dog-fighting. One Good Dog by Susan Wilson is the touching and wonderfully well-crafted story of how these two characters come together in the midst of their own respective worst of times.
Adam is living a life filled with the trappings of financial success: a high-powered job, expensive homes, a socially prominent wife and an equestrian daughter. That is, until a memory from his troubled past sets off a series of events that result in his carefully planned life crashing around him. At the same time that Adam is coping with living in a seedy one-bedroom apartment and serving court-ordered community service, the Pit Bull who will turn out to be the best part of this destiny is escaping from his own cage-bound existence. Through a realistic and suspenseful turn of events, the two at last meet, and Adam reluctantly becomes enamored of the dog he names, all too fittingly, Chance. At which point, let the healing begin.
The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of Chance and Adam, and the prologue to the novel includes a thoroughly charming bait-and-switch that instantly put a smile on my face and made me feel certain I was in excellent storytelling hands. Skillfully done, the chapters narrated by Chance never give way to cutesy or cloying. While some of the scenes in which the dog describes the squalid conditions of his young life and his training as a fighter are truly heartbreaking, Chance’s strong, clear-eyed way of looking at the world is perfectly conveyed in the way he tells his story. That’s not to say that Chance’s recounting is not above fun or whimsy. For example, Chance does not regard his vocalizations merely as barking. He yarks. When he endeavors to explain extreme intelligence, he does not cite rocket scientists nor brain surgeons but rather, Standard Poodles.
As the novel progresses, Wilson significantly ratchets up both the pace and the stakes with several new developments, including an especially tear-inducing arc involving Chance. Have tissues on hand and don’t say you weren’t warned. Ultimately, what One Good Dog manages to do so well is to create a reading journey that closely mirrors the path of its two resilient narrators: it comes this close to breaking your heart but then, at the last moment, fills it up with not only hope but also love. It’s a finely wrought story of second chances and also of the power of the human/canine bond, the amazing and myriad ways in which dogs can touch and make better people’s lives. As Chance himself so aptly puts it, “What else could I have done? I’m only canine, I had to help.”
New World Library, 272 pp., 2010; $14.95
I see The Animal Manifesto as a must-read for all high school students, especially in the social sciences and ethics, and for all who keep animals and work with them. It is also a book to be treasured by animal lovers and those concerned about animal suffering and social justice. I know readers of The Bark will love this book since, like the magazine, it embraces the vision of a deeper and more mutually enhancing relationship between humans and other animals. I’d even go so far as to suggest that they buy extra copies to give to those who do not understand how we dog lovers grieve so deeply when we lose a beloved animal because they have not yet experienced the blessing of animal communion. Those who have had such communion with animals wild and tame will enjoy the affirmation of kindred spirits cited in this book—people whose lives were changed, enriched, inspired, by a being other than a human.
Bekoff, a self-proclaimed optimist, lays out with convincing clarity why it is ultimately in our best self-interest to treat all animals, especially those raised for our consumption, with compassion. As a realist (some would say pessimist), I believe that people will not change after being shown the “big picture” of climate change, species extinction, and the suffering of farmed, circus, zoo and laboratory animals until they understand the deep links between action and consequence.
How well we treat animals and the living Earth determines, ultimately, how well we are in body, mind and spirit. This book tackles the task of breaking through anthropocentrism—with its attendant arrogance, ignorance, denial, rationalizations and pathology—to enable us to see that the way of compassion, rather than the way of domination and exploitation, is the only route to a viable future and a sane society. Enlightened dog trainers have, of course, known this for decades; in applying the rule of love over the rule of law, they teach people how to best communicate and achieve a mutually enhancing, interspecies symbiosis. At the other extreme is the invasive research being done in Tanzania on wild dogs, who are fitted with radio collars, given vaccinations that have killed them, and even captured and translocated. Such activities, undertaken by scientists claiming to be conservation- oriented and working on behalf of the animals, are in reality ways to advance their careers at the expense of one more endangered species. This is a book for them!
Bekoff ’s book is, in many ways, a synthesis of some of his earlier publications, combining scientific data with his vivid personal observations of animal consciousness, empathy and intelligence; accounts of how animals continue to be misunderstood and mistreated; and why and how we can make changes for the good of animals, both domesticated and wild. You will read of battles in which he has engaged to help protect the last of the wild, and you’ll enjoy insights into his life with the late Jethro, a dog who participated in his metamorphosis from a scientist into a philosopher-activist—a transformation so clearly reflected in this easy to- read, important book.
Quarry Books, 168 pp., 2009; $19.99
“So here it is,” Melanie Monteiro, author of The Safe Dog Handbook, says, “the first always-around-when-you need-it, complete safety book for dogs.” Or, more accurately, for dogs and their people. That effectively sums up this concise, well-organized, spiral-bound collection of advice, tips, suggestions, guidelines and references for pretty much anything that threatens the well-being of your dog.
Monteiro suggests taking “a dog’s eye view” of your home. Get down on the floor—see what your pup sees. See what trouble he can get into. See where his little head might get stuck or where his teeth might compromise that protective covering on power cords.
While keeping your pet safe is mostly common sense, some things aren’t common knowledge. At the risk of stating the obvious, you can’t know what you don’t know if you don’t know you don’t know it. What about all of those things no one ever told you were toxic to your dog? For example, plants. Appendix I contains about as complete a list of toxic specimens as you could ever need. Same for food. Yeast dough can literally rise in a dog’s stomach and cause blockages, and macadamia nuts can bring on vomiting, weakness and temporary paralysis of the hind legs. My dog and I love nuts, and I’m quite certain that if I look under the couch or in its cushions, I’ll find a macadamia. (Need to make sure I find it before she does.)
Oh, please learn from the experiences of others! Just because your dog has never shown an interest in something potentially dangerous doesn’t mean he never will. Dogs have the capacity to surprise us in many ways, and when it comes to their safety, those surprises can have serious consequences.
This is not the sort of book you sit and read from cover to cover—though it wouldn’t hurt to get some of its basics into your memory bank for recall when you need them. Carefully reading Chapter 5, “Emergency First Aid,” as well as Appendix I and II; posting your emergency vet’s number and the ASPCA’s poison control number (888.426.4435) near your phone; and keeping The Safe Dog Handbook handy may well save your dog’s life!
This review has been revised to correct an error that appeared in the print version.
Woof and Word Press (Dist. by Dogwise), 346 pp., 2008; $49.95
Math pop quiz: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how valuable is Barbara Handelman’s Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook with its thousand pictures? The answer is “too valuable to put a figure on it.” Nothing else out there captures so much diverse canine behavior in photographs, or has close to the quantity of photos. Handelman’s training as a photographer is clear—the composition, clarity and perspective of her dog photos are wonderful. (Though it would have been lovely if all of them could’ve been reproduced in color, nonetheless, the photos illustrate their points despite the fading and loss of contrast that results when color photos are printed in black and white.) As a bonus, the book includes many of Monty Sloan’s extraordinary photos of wolves.
If the photographs are the great strength of this book, the weakness lies in the fact that, though Handelman writes from an ethological perspective, she is not a trained ethologist. Consequently, she has regrettably absorbed and passed on ethological information that, though erroneous, is often considered correct by many dog trainers. For example, there are errors in her description and identification of fixed-action patterns, and she has a tendency to combine fear and submission into a single concept. Regardless, I’m impressed by her thorough coverage; she has capably synthesized a great deal of information, and her knowledge, which is considerable, gives strength to this wonderful book.
Handelman has done a real service to the field of canine behavior by using the comparative approach so common among ethologists. As she notes, “Prior to discovering Monty Sloan’s Wolf Park photos and the ‘Wolf Ethogram’ … [I] had not considered that there might be very close similarities between the communication signals, displays and expressions conveyed by the various canine cousins.” It is impressive that she took this idea, a staple among ethologists, and ran with it. I hope her perspective spreads through the dog world. There is much to be gained from a comparative approach to canid behavior, yet many trainers take a foolish pride in confining their interest to the domestic dog.
The book is organized and laid out in a manner that makes it a pleasure to read; it is also well indexed, which adds to its value. I like this book and appreciate what it offers: descriptions of an extensive array of canine behavior considered across multiple species, and the best collection of canine photographs I’ve ever seen assembled in one place.
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