If you’re a stranger to the land of dogs, or if you’ve been visiting and think perhaps you’d like to move there, you’ll find this book to be a helpful guide to the territory. Through detailed, well-researched answers to 100 essential questions about selecting, preparing for and living with a dog, Jarolim thoroughly covers the basics; even the experienced are likely to learn something.
LaChance Publishing, $14.95
The subtitle, Lives Transformed by Man’s Best Friend, aptly summarizes the theme of this touching book. Another in the series of “Healing Project” books, this collection of 29 stories will bring both tears and smiles. In small ways and large, dogs are the catalyst for much joy and comfort, as this book makes plain.
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?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Being a bit of a science and tech wonk, when I heard that the Vue personal video network had scored a Popular Science 2009 “Best of What’s New” award, I was instantly impressed and interested in trying it out for keeping track of our two new pups, Holly and Kit. We have four dogs, two older ones come to the office with us all day, but pups Holly and Kit only “work” the after-lunch shift, so we were curious to know what they did with their A.M. time. What better way to remotely check up on them than by setting up Vue’s miniature cameras in choice spots in the house—and how lucky was I to get a system from the generous folks at Vue to test out? Turns out that we have really good pups, or extra sleepy ones—because most of the time they snoozed on the couch (which they are allowed to do), with a few breaks for a round of sister-on-sister sumo wrestling, then it’s back to naptime. But knowing this relieved me of the guilt of leaving them alone for 3 hours—then its me going home for lunch, letting all dogs outside, then packing them up for the short drive back to the office.
The set up of the system was easy. Its wireless base station plugs into the wall and into a wireless router. The out-of-the-box system comes with two Vue cameras—but you also buy additional ones—they all synchronize with the Vue gateway, and are easily mounted. The sync process involves bringing each camera within 12 inches of the gateway and just pressing the sync button, piece of cake! There is no need to go into intricate network settings and mess with them. But if you have trouble with the setup you can email Vue and ask for their support. Next you then set up an account online at my.vuezone.com, and then you are ready to start to see what’s happening on the cameras from just about anywhere. You can use a free iPhone application or a web-based interface called VueZone. The user online interface and the one on iPhone are simple to navigate. Both let you look at multiple (up to 50!) cameras at once—with a range of unobstructed line-of-sight 300 feet from the base station.
Do be aware that the service is routed through the VueZone.com web site, requiring a $20 annual fee for service after the first year—including sharing and recording features—but also exposing your in-home videos to possible snooping—so puppy-cam is a good idea, anything, let’s say, of the more personal nature, you might want to switch off the cameras! The cameras themselves are battery powered and should run for one year before needing new $2 cells. The cameras also default into a sleep mode when their feeds aren’t being viewed to save battery life. The system is mostly intended for short-time, status-check kinds of monitoring. Like pups on couch, pups playing, back to couch etc. The tech savvy reviewers who look into such things as colors and exposure note that these are fine, and the resolution “is around 320x240—saved as 478x358 for recordings, with a stated 15fps rate that actually looks like roughly 4fps.”
What’s really cool is that sharing can be done by sending others an invitation to view the clips or photos, though they are embedded on Vue’s website. Either can also be uploaded to an existing Flickr or YouTube account. Look for a Holly and Kit wrestling match soon!
—Claudia Kawczynska, Editor-in-chief
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.”
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