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Culture: Reviews
Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers
Very Fetching, 2012, 180 pp; $16.99

I’d like to see Barbara Shumannfang’s book Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers in the hands of more people with new puppies. It’s upbeat and full of practical wisdom conveyed in an easy-to-read conversational style.

Shumannfang understands normal puppy behavior and offers smart advice for helping puppies behave appropriately in human houses. She focuses on setting puppies up to succeed by considering what we DO want them to do, making that happen and rewarding the puppy for doing it. Her training advice is positive, humane and modern. 

Refreshingly, Shumannfang acknowledges that puppies can be emotionally and physically exhausting. She lets readers know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes, while offering information and ideas to prevent that feeling from overriding all others as you raise a puppy. 

This book covers the issues typically facing puppy guardians—house training, puppy biting, jumping up, chewing, grooming concerns, crate training, exercise, play, training basics, interactions with kids, whining and barking, and when to seek additional help. It can be read straight through, but it’s also easy to use as a reference.

Shumannfang uses a lot of humor, so you can look forward to laughing as you read Puppy Savvy, knowing that what you learn will mean you will be laughing more as you raise your puppy than you would without this book.

News: Guest Posts
What Should I Feed My Dog?
Book Review: Dog Food Logic

How wonderful if you could pose this question just once in your dog’s life and receive a perfect answer that would last a lifetime. Imagine if there were a ‘right’ formula, and once you know it, you could feed your dog forever and ever on the same exquisite diet. Your dog, in return, would be the happiest and healthiest doggie camper there ever was.

Unfortunately, “What should I feed my dog?” is not the question we should be asking. In fact, “What should I feed my dog” is akin to the infomercial that comes on at 3 AM informing you that if you just buy this Mega-Blast Belt (for three low monthly payments of $19.99), six-pack abs will follow. Both fall into a quick-fix category — the “right” product, the “right” answer — that unfortunately doesn’t exist.

Instead, the question that will last you a lifetime is, “How should I feed my dog?” This is where Linda Case, M.S. comes to the rescue. I don’t mean to be superhero-y about it, but Case’s new book, Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices is a unique work designed to help readers make informed, science-based decisions on what and how to feed our beloved companion dogs. As one veterinarian offers, “Dog Food Logic cuts through the noise and chaos and provides pet owners with a rational, science-based approach to evaluating their pets’ dietary needs and their feeding choices” (The Skeptvet Blog).

Linda Case knows a thing or two about animal nutrition. She earned her B.S. in Animal Science at Cornell University and her M.S. in Canine/Feline Nutrition at the University of Illinois. She maintains the well-received blog, The Science Dog, and has written numerous books on companion animal nutrition, training and behavior. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Cats in Context conference at Canisius College in 2013 (Case spoke on cat nutrition, and I gave a talk on research into whether dogs and cats in the home can be friends — they can).

But back to dog food. If you are expecting a dry read on dog nutrition and diet, you’ve come to the wrong place. Dog Food Logic is a page turner, jam-packed with real-world examples that you can easily relate to. Case unpacks label claims, fad diets and the wonderfully persuasive field of pet food marketing. What does it mean when a food is ‘recommended by veterinarians or breeders?’ Who is Chef Michael, and should you trust him? And who’s keeping our dog food safe?

Throughout the book, Case discusses research into canine nutrition and diet in a way that is easy to digest, if you’ll pardon the pun. For example, studies have investigated:

  • Do large-breed puppies (say Great Danes or Newfoundlands) have different nutritional requirements than say, Chihuahuas? Should the big puppies eat the same type of food as the little ones? Or is it just a matter of quantity? Case provides the research.
  • Can diet influence cancer progression? While a particular dog food brand won’t cure cancer, nutritional science and canine cancer research find that particular dietary compositions can be beneficial to dogs with cancer.
  • What about age-related illnesses? Can they be prevented or delayed through nutrition?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and since I can’t possibly summarize all the topics and findings covered in Case’s book, the above are intentional teasers. To find out more, read the book.

 

References

Case, L. 2014. Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. Dogwise Publishing.

Case, L. The Science Dog blog.

Hecht, J. 2013. Dogs and Cats in the Home: Happiness for All? Dog Spies and Do You Believe in Dog?

McKenzie, B. The SkeptVet blog.

This article first appeard on Dog Spies, Scientific American. Used with permission.

Culture: Reviews
Dog Gone, Back Soon
Book: Dog Gone, Back Soon By Nick Trout

Nick Trout’s first novel, The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, charmed readers everywhere, including here at Bark. A Boston-based veterinarian, Trout has an insider’s view of vet practices, the people who run them, and the quirks and foibles of clients and their pets. With this book, he continues the story of Patron Saint’s Cyrus Mills, DVM , reluctant owner of a small-town Vermont clinic.

Trout adeptly weaves three plot lines: the David v. Goliath nature of independent and corporate vet practices, Mills’ awkward pursuit of an emotional life, and the gamut of situations vets encounter daily. And once again, Mills finds himself the reluctant guardian of a dog—this time, a service dog with a mysterious background.

Trout writes from a place of deep knowledge and regard for the bonds people have with their companion animals, and his wry sense of humor provides many smile-inducing moments. It’s an enjoyable read.

Culture: Reviews
Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution
By Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger

Dogs, dogs, and more dogs: Fact, fiction, or something in between?

In their book, Ray and Lorna Coppinger promise a startling new understanding of many matters pertaining to canines, including how the domestic dog became a separate species from the wolf. Coppinger is a behavioral ecologist, he and his wife have studied dogs for many years, and their book is filled with personal stories.

The Coppingers accept that dogs descended from wolves, but they assert that they now constitute two separate species. Herein lies their “startling new” hypothesis. Dogs were the first domesticated animal and many theories have been offered to explain why and how domestication may have happened. Most of these theories, as do the Coppinger’s, rely on using present conditions to make claims on past cultures. This can only be a highly speculative exercise. The Coppingers criticize the more commonly held view of the domestication of dogs that “people created dogs by artificial selection,” during which individuals were chosen for such traits as friendliness, tameness, and trainability and then mated with one another. They call this the “Pinocchio hypothesis.” They contend that “the offspring of tamed (and/or trained) wolves do not inherit this tameness,” but they offer scant empirical evidence to support such a claim. They also point to the lack of archaeological evidence that Mesolithic people had access to a large enough population of trained or tamed wolves to select for tame behavior, but they never state how many wolves would be “big enough.” 

Suffice it to say, we still know little that’s verifiable about the origins of dogs. But it’s not surprising that different authors balance facts and guesses differently and come up with a variety of plausible scenarios for the evolution of dogs. The Coppinger view is just another to add to the mix. This book will surely stimulate more discussion and, let’s hope, more detailed analyses of what we know and don’t know.

Other topics in this book include canine behavioral development, social behavior and communication, genetics, morphology and a discussion of why different breeds of dogs behave differently. Some of Coppinger’s assertions puzzle me, such as their claim that dogs who don’t live in packs don’t understand dominance relationships. A visit to any dog park or a glance at any textbook on animal behavior shows clearly that many different animals understand dominance relationships, even those who typically live alone. They also assert that “Intelligence is dependent on how many [brain] cells the dog has, and how those cells are wired together.” I know of no research that directly relates the slippery notion of intelligence to the number of cells packed into an individual’s cranium nor any that has studied in detail how nerve cells are wired together and what difference the “wiring patterns” make. Perhaps the authors mean cells in one specific region of the brain. Still, there have been no studies of which I’m aware in which individual differences in the number of cells (anywhere in the brain) have been related to individual differences in intelligence in domestic dogs or any other animal. They go on to write that, “Exactly what a dog can learn to do is genetic.” This assertion ignores the incredibly rich scientific literature on learned behavioral flexibility and diversity in dogs, and in many animals ranging from insects to the Great Apes.These claims demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor. But when the Coppingers claim that some aspects dog behavior provide a “window into the mind of the dog,” without citing Donald Griffin, the “father of cognitive ethology” who first put forth this idea, this omission borders on intellectual piracy.

Throughout the book there’s a disturbing lack of reference to numerous highly-regarded experts in this field (though they do cite my own work liberally). Instead the authors depend on people who have done little (or no) empirical work on dogs or wolves and whose work has not been published in peer-reviewed professional journals, the standard by which researchers are accredited. For example, if the authors had used Brian Hare and his colleague’s well-known and readily accessible work on studies of dog and wolf cognitive abilities, rather than the very preliminary research on which they depended, they’d never have claimed that, “Dogs as a rule are very poor at observational learning.” If such spurious claims prevail for subjects with which I’m not familiar then there’s a major problem in this book.

All in all, I found little in Dogs to be "startling" except for the lack of a clear indication where the line between facts and guesses lay. In a project of this magnitude, this troubles me. There are merits to the book. Advancing a new theory on the origin of dogs does spark examination and discussion, but on the whole Dogs left me unconvinced of the Coppinger's theory. The book is riddled with wholesale generalizations and relies too much on personal anecdotes and unsupported speculation to win my recommendation. Dog lovers and dogs themselves deserve better. Readers beware is the best advice I can offer.

 

Note: This review originally appeared in Bark in 2001. This book was published that year as well.

Culture: Reviews
The Good Boy
Minotaur Books

“Butch did his job . He recognized threat. He defended his handler. And lately, it seems like he’s the only one who will.” In Edgar Award–winner Theresa Schwegel’s new book, Chicago PD K9 officer Pete Murphy is under siege both on the job and on the home front. Fortunately, his partner Butch, a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix, has his back. Butch is also devoted to Murphy’s son, Joel, an intelligent, intensely focused 11-year-old with a penchant for playing detective.

As in her four earlier books—all of which are also set in the city of Chicago —the people in The Good Boy struggle with professional and personal complexities. In Pete’s case, the suggestion that he had an affair with a female judge he was assigned to protect affects his job and his marriage. He’s been reassigned to the K9 unit, fellow officers keep their distance, and his wife and teen-age daughter are furious about having to move to a cheaper neighborhood. Joel, on the other hand, considers their new situation ripe with opportunities for “undercover” work. For Butch, whose specialty is drugdetection, life is straightforward: he works hard, is devoted to Pete and his family, and will defend them—especially Joel—at all costs.

The story hits terminal velocity quickly. Joel, accompanied by Butch, follows his sister when she sneaks out to a party at the home of a boy Joel knows is dangerous. As they spy on the partygoers, Butch scents drugs and leaps into action. In the process, shots are fired. The narrative follows Joel and Butch as the two make their way across Chicago, armed with a map, four dollars and a copy of Jack London’s White Fang, to the one person Joel feels can save Butch from the consequences of doing his job. As his mother frantically waits, and his sister hides her role in the situation and his father anxiously searches for them, Joel and Butch navigate some of the city’s bleaker byways.

Both Joel and Butch qualify as the “good boy” of the title. Joel is bright and innocent and loyal; Butch is honest, and honestly portrayed by a writer who knows dogs and their behaviors (she even knows why dogs’ feet smell like popcorn, an intriguing bit of trivia).

Culture: Reviews
Dog Sports Skills, Book 1
Developing Engagement & Relationship

A couple of years ago, I was walking beside an acquaintance and her Golden Retriever at an agility show. It was difficult to hold a conversation because I was distracted by her frequent leash “pops.” The Golden would start in heel position, forge ahead by a front paw or two and then would be jerked back into place.

This behavior continued for the length of our two-minute walk. Clearly, the dog didn’t understand what to do, and worse, neither did her owner. The correction was so automatic that it had become a mindless habit.

If I had mentioned it, I guarantee she would’ve denied it. She considered herself a “crossover trainer,” that is, someone who previously relied on compulsion and now uses positive reinforcement and force-free training methods.

If only I had been able to give her Dog Sports Skills, Book 1: Developing Engagement and Relationship by longtime dog trainers and competitors Denise Fenzi and Deborah Jones, PhD. The first in a series for dog-sport enthusiasts, it will also benefit dog lovers who would not willingly hurt their canine companions but lack the guidance or resources to learn humane alternatives to aversives.

All of the information is based on scientific techniques and principles of learning, such as classical and operant conditioning. This underscores the authors’ mission: “We feel that it is important to not only understand what to do and how to do it, but also why you should do it in a particular way.”

Just as important, the training exercises are simple to follow and realistic, so the reader does not have to be a professional dog trainer or dog-sport fanatic to follow through. For example, the “Slow Treats” game is a wonderful way to teach a dog self-control; all you need is a handful of treats (or part of the dog’s meal). The tricks chapter includes a variety of fun, easy tricks that reduce stress on the human to get it exactly right, unlike obedience.

Perhaps the most enlightening chapter is the one dealing with stress-reduction techniques. As a dog trainer myself, I often hear students say, “But he does it at home!” Assuming they have been taught what to do, dogs who struggle with stress or distraction in public are often mislabeled “stubborn” or “dumb” by their frustrated or embarrassed owners. In response, that owner might resort to correction-based methods to make the dog perform, even if it erodes the trust between them.

“Am I comfortable holding dogs responsible for their trainer’s lack of skill?” asks Fenzi, who has firsthand knowledge of the patience required to successfully leave compulsion behind for good. She is one of the few obedience and IPO (a protection sport formerly known as Schutzhund) competitors who have achieved success at the highest levels of these sports using positive-reinforcement methods. She and her students around the country are proof that pain does not have to be used to be successful in these exacting activities.

Reading about Fenzi’s evolution as a trainer brings some questions to mind: How responsible are instructors for giving their students the skills necessary to keep their dogs safe and happy? Conversely, how responsible are students for researching trainers before entrusting their dogs to them? While these questions aren’t specifically answered, the authors make it clear that we’re accountable for the training (and trainer) choices we make.

Rather than focusing on how to perfect an exercise, the authors invite their audience to learn how to train their dogs through observation, education and mutual respect. Dog Sports Skills is a thought-provoking guide to achieving an even better bond with your dog, whether your goal is an agility championship or good manners in public.

Culture: Reviews
Puppy Mill Survivors
A new book celebrates extraordinary dogs

Meet Baby a Beagle-Rat Terrier mix, born paralyzed from the waist down. Like all of the dogs in the new book by photographer Melissa McDaniel she is a survivor of a puppy mill. Baby was lucky, and through a circumstance and kind hearted individuals—she was adopted and is thriving. Puppy Mill Survivors exposes the harsh underworld of the commercial dog-breeding industry by giving faces and stories to the courageous dogs who have escaped the unspeakable. The 64 portraits shine with personality and spirit while delivering an important message: Do not buy a dog from a pet store or off the Internet—end the demand and end puppy mills.
To meet more dogs and learn about Melissa’s book projects, go to thephotobooks.com

Bark is giving away a copy Puppy Mill Survivors, enter here for a chance to win this inspiring book.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Last Walk
Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

No one who lives with and loves a dog wants to think about the subject of this book. We know quite well that one day we’re going to have to face life without our dog’s physical presence … that, indeed, we will very likely have to make the decision that ends our dog’s life. Yet, denial runs deep. Not now, we think. Not yet.

Hard though it may be to do, however, read this book. In it, the author seamlessly weaves journal entries detailing the last year of her old dog Ody’s life with what science has to say about animal aging, end-of-life care and, ultimately, death. She engages both heart and mind in her quest to come to terms with Ody’s deteriorating condition, and to figure out how to best meet his needs. Above all, she’s driven to answer two questions: What does a “good death” look like? And, by extension, how can she ensure that Ody has one?

Impeccably researched, the book covers the biological, philosophical, cognitive and medical aspects of animal aging. Pierce, a bioethicist and (with Marc Bekoff) co-author of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, has a gift for explaining scientific subjects to non-scientists.

Yes, you’ll cry. The bond Pierce has with Ody, and her commitment to honoring it, will touch your heart. Nonetheless, traveling with her on that “last walk” is the best way to prepare yourself for the time you’ll have to make it with your own dog.

It has been said that knowledge is power. In this book, the author has given dog lovers a powerful tool to help them navigate one of life’s most profound passages.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Business of Dog Walking

Ever think you might want to consider a career move? One that would take you out of an office setting and, even better, reward you for spending time with many dogs in the great outdoors? Professional dog walking might just be your next calling. In this informative new book by Veronica Boutelle, author of two other dog-business books and co-creator of the Dog Walking Academy, you’ll find a wealth of information to help you get started.

There is a thorough examination of not only what it takes but also, what to expect if you decide to venture into this business. Chapters cover topics such as pack management (with a cautionary note that it is always best to keep it small), client intake, marketing and emergency planning. The author, who seems to have covered all the bases, also includes a helpful “to-do list” for legalities and liabilities.

Culture: Reviews
Notable Books of 2013

2013 was a good year for books that helped us to better understand our dogs and unravel the mysteries of what this unique friendship is all about. Here are the notable books of 2013 that have topped our must-read list.

Neuroscientist Gregory Berns does groundbreaking research with the help of MRI brain imagery of his dog, Callie—along with many other dogs from the Dog Project at Emory University. The goal is to decode the canine brain, and, yes, understand what makes dogs’ tick—do dogs empathize with humans, and have a theory of mind? His findings, chronicled in How Dogs Love Us, make a very engrossing and enlightening read.

Cat Warren never thought that she would become cadaver dog handler, but then she got Solo, a German Shepherd pup whose  “single pup in the litter” status lent him a singular “I am the master of the universe” mindset. So she took the advice of a trusted trainer on how best to channel his singleton’s “energy” and plunged into cadaver fieldwork. What the Dogs Knows is actually about her discovery of what a dog’s worldview really is, and how she and Solo, not only learned how to navigate it but also to excel at it. This makes for a compelling read.

In Chaser, John Pilley writes about how he and one very smart, committed Border Collie went on to win what amounts to the grand “spelling bee” in the canine world, when Chaser, the dog, learned to differentiate over 1022 words. Theirs is an extraordinary story, made especially more so because Pilley was pushing 80 when he began Chaser’s lessons, and spent four to five hours a day enriching his new dog’s social and learning experiences. There is much to glean in this book, including tips on how you might be able to tap into the genius of your dog.

Susannah Charleson’s second book about dogs, The Possibility Dogs is every bit as enthralling as her first, Scent of the Missing. In this new book she refocuses her work from search-and-rescue to training rescue dogs for psychiatric service and therapy duty. She becomes an expert on evaluating shelter dogs to find those who might have the right personality and drive for this work. This book is an informative training guide but also a truly inspiring personal story.

E.B. White on Dogs, edited by his granddaughter Martha White, is a marvelous collection of classic essays, letters and assorted writing, by a master wordsmith and avowed dog enthusiast. His personable storytelling retains its freshness and immediacy and will charm a new generation of dog-lovers.

Donald McCaig, one our favorite authors, is back in good form again with his engaging Mr. and Mrs. Dog a tale on how McCaig and his Border Collies, Luke and June, were able to compete in the Olympics of the herding-dog world, the World Sheepdog Trials. McCaig’s work spans 25 years of raising and training sheepdogs, and also includes his stalwart championing of the working status of these amazing dogs, quite apart from their recent “inclusion” into AKC’s show-ring standards. He, as always, provides a valuable commentary on living and loving dogs.

Dog Songs by the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver, is the perfect volume to round off our reading list. Oliver is certainly, according to the New York Times, “America’s best-selling poet,” and the reasons for that are numerous. For us it is for her love and respect of nature following a pastoral tradition in poetry, and, her fondness and keen “eye” for dogs. In her latest collection, Bark readers will revisit some works that Bark was honored to first publish, as well as be treated to memorable new material. As she has said of dogs, “I think they are companions in a way that people aren’t. They’ll lie next to you when you’re sad. And they remind us that we’re animals, too.”

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