Perhaps the next step will be finding common ground
There were many responses to Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.’s review of Let Dogs Be Dogs: Understanding Canine Nature and Mastering the Art of Living with Your Dog, which was written by one of the Monks of New Skete (Brother Christopher) and a dog trainer (Marc Goldberg). In McConnell’s review, she pointed out some serious concerns she has with the methods in the book.
Mostly, her review was well received, but there were a few detractors. When people disagree over methods in dog training, there can be angry words and discord, which is less productive than debating the methods. It’s disheartening, especially when attacks become personal, but I’m always hopeful that disagreements will be overshadowed by discussions and that we can find some common ground.
McConnell points out that a big point of contention concerns the concept of “leadership”, a term that has been causing angst and intense disagreement within the field of dog training for decades. The term has so much baggage that few people use it now for fear of being misunderstood. However, that doesn’t change the fact that in social species, some individuals are followed or looked to for reassurance and guidance more than other individuals are.
In her review, McConnell wrote, “Dogs do need to know that we have their backs, that they can count on us when they need protection. Dogs do look to us–to protect them, to feed and water them and to provide nurturing and social acceptance. One can indeed argue that dogs are attracted to people that some would call “natural leaders” in the best sense of the word. However, (and I want to say this in capital letters, but would rather not yell), this has nothing to do with leash pops or “strong verbal no’s”. It has everything to do with being around someone who is comfortable in his or her own skin.”
There is a need for a thoughtful discussion about what our dogs need from us, especially when they are troubled or need reassurance. However, any such discussion seems destined to get bogged down because any suggestion that people are taking care of things or that they are in charge gets into the term leadership. The term is so loaded that emotions often take over, the war of words continues and it’s hard to have a useful exchange of ideas.
Encouragingly, McConnell is interested in initiating a productive discussion about how we can be there for our dogs in meaningful ways. In a blog responding to the feedback of her review, she wrote, “The book talks about leadership, a word that has become polluted with so much baggage that it is almost worthless (or worse) now in many circles. But buried in that concept is the fact that dogs need to feel safe and secure, and it is our job to help them feel that way. . .There is no doubt that some training methods can undermine a dog’s sense of safety, but this is not so much an argument for or against any method, but more a question of how to we provide that “secure base of attachment” that social creatures like people and dogs seem to need?”
She continues with, “Could this be the issue that finds common ground between the two “camps”? I think this concept is important, but like much of the rest of the world, dog training has become so polarized that it’s difficult to have a discussion about it. But I’ll put it out there now, in hopes that we can continue the discussion in a thoughtful, positive way. I’m going to reach out to the Brother Christopher to see if he and I could at least talk about it. I’ll keep you posted.”
Let’s hope that the result is a frank discussion of methods and ideas that ends up improving the way we interact with and train our dogs as well as our relationship with them, to the benefit of both species.
Though they’re set in places that couldn’t be more different— Colorado’s high country and urban New Jersey— Margaret Mizushima’s “Timber Creek K-9” and David Rosenfelt’s “Andy Carpenter” mystery series have much in common. Both reveal their authors’ deep love and appreciation for dogs, both set up and solve interesting puzzles, and both are cracking good reads.
In Hunting Hour, the third and most recent in her series featuring Deputy Maddie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, Mizushima runs parallel plotlines. One involves the mysterious death of a teenage girl and the abduction of second child, local vet Cole Walker’s eight-yearold daughter. The other concerns Cobb’s ongoing effort to come to terms with demons from her childhood. The information Mizushima deftly weaves in on the training and behavior of working dogs— dogs in general, actually, since several figure in the story—rings true, as do her descriptions of a rural vet’s daily life and work. Mizushima, who helps her veterinarian husband with his clinic, has long had a ringside seat on that world.
Though murders and other assorted mayhem also feature in David Rosenfelt’s series, his touch is somewhat lighter. Andy Carpenter, a defense attorney who actively avoids taking cases, is both self-deprecating and candid about his many foibles. He’s also a man who will leap into almost any situation that involves the welfare of a dog, as he’s demonstrated across the span of the series, which, with the release of Collared, now numbers sixteen. This time, the focus is on the mysterious reappearance of a dog that had been kidnapped, along with a child, more than two years earlier; the dog comes back, the child remains missing. Add the hijacking of a hightech data operation, a couple of mob bosses, a prison escape and a case against Andy’s client that looks like a slam-dunk victory for the prosecution and all the elements are in place for an engrossing puzzle, one that’s satisfyingly solved by the last page.
And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience
We were pleased that Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist who uses functional MRIs to measure canine (and human) brain activity, and author of the 2013 bestseller, How Dogs Love Us, is back with new work. In What It’s Like to Be a Dog, Berns brings us up-to-date on recent discoveries coming out of his Dog Project at Emory University. His team, which includes 30 volunteers and their amazing co-pilots, takes on subjects like selfcontrol (dogs have been found to have varying capacities for this attribute), understanding of human language and differing value systems. And—no surprise for Bark readers—the finding that dogs are happiest being around their humans, preferring us to other dogs. We are the apples of their eyes.
It is important to note that, unlike other laboratories that use dogs in functional MRI research, Berns is very careful about the way the project’s dogs are handled. Even though MRI machines require subjects to remain perfectly still in a tight space while being subjected to loud thumping sounds, Berns’ subject dogs are never restrained and never sedated. To achieve this admirable state, Berns partnered with a fabulous trainer, Mark Spivak, at the project’s inception in 2011. Spivak uses positive reinforcement and clicker training to shape the dogs’ behavior so that they freely and voluntarily maintain the required position. Steps are provided for them to walk into and out of the scanner, and they can leave whenever they want, giving them what Berns calls “the right of selfdetermination.” In constructing this study, Berns was guided by a concern for ethics; as he notes, “We would never force people to participate in research, so why would it be okay to force animals?”
This book, while focusing on dogs, also explores the inner lives of wild animals, from dolphins and sea lions to the extinct Tasmanian tiger. No, these animals weren’t studied via the MRI; instead, they used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which is an MRI-based form of imaging that “takes advantage of the fact that movement of water molecules around the brain is biased.” Brains of sea lions who died as a result of environmental problems were obtained from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., and for the extinct tiger, they used brains that had been preserved as part of museum collections. The process is a tad too complicated to explain here, but trust me, it’s given Berns and his team a comparative brainmapping tool that has resulted in some very compelling findings. My favorite involves a talented sea lion named Ronan, part of a study at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Berns observes that Ronan’s ability to find and keep a musical beat could change how people think about the evolution of language. (To see more of this pinniped star in action, go to YouTube and enter Ronan + sea lion in the search box.)
In setting out to explore what differentiates humans from other animals, Berns is demonstrating that the divide really isn’t that wide. This truly fascinating book shows a profound respect for animals, and one that is broadening our understanding of what it’s like to be a dog.
The Race to Save Animals in Peril
Laura Schenone, author of The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril, was not always a dog person. Afraid of most animals, she couldn’t understand those who devoted themselves to animal welfare causes, especially in light of the number of people who needed “saving.”
But then proded by her sons and a chance meeting with a dog rescuer, she adopted a Lurcher from Ireland and was inspired to learn more about sighthounds—in particular, Greyhounds and their mixed-breed relatives. In exploring Greyhound rescue, she has written a work that merits high praise and appreciation.
In this country, the phrase “dog rescue” is almost synonymous with Greyhounds, an elegant breed that until about 50 years ago was rarely seen as a pet. Now, it would be hard to find a pet Greyhound who has not been rescued. Many devoted rescue groups focus on rehabilitating and rehoming these dogs and, as importantly, on exerting intense political pressure on the racing industry. As a result, many U.S. tracks have been closed, a development I heartily applaud. According to the author, this movement, “by and large created by and led by women,” has its origins in both the U.S. and England.
I learned many interesting factoids in this book. For example, I live within a stone’s throw of the world’s first Greyhound racetrack, which was constructed in 1919 at Emeryville, Calif., by engineer Owen Patrick Smith. Smith developed the mechanical lure that took the blood out of the coursing bloodsport and made it less horrifying to watch. By 1931, betting on dog races became legal in many states, especially in Florida (one of the six remaining states that still has active racing).
As Schenone writes, “Greyhound racing took a feverish hold in England, Ireland and Australia.” She also notes that Ireland quickly became the European leader in breeding as well as in exporting dogs to tracks in other countries.
The Irish Parliament established the Greyhound Racing Board (Bord na gCon), which, since 1958, has funded all aspects of this industry. It was, after all, a business that provided people with jobs and “entertainment,” regardless of what it did to the dogs. As an unfortunate consequence, the breed was stigmatized as high energy and fierce, making it hard for them to be considered as suitable companion animals. Thus, even within humane communities, their plight was easily overlooked. Until, that is, 1974, when the Retired Greyhound Trust was established in England and became the first formal Greyhound adoption organization in the world, funded in part, it must be noted, by the industry itself.
While adoptions became popular in this country and in England, Ireland was a holdout. Enter Marion Fitzgibbon of Limerick Animal Welfare. For years, Fitzgibbon had worked tirelessly, tending to animal welfare cases, but it wasn’t until 1994, when she was asked by Louise Coleman of the Massachusetts group Greyhound Friends about the welfare of Ireland’s racing Greyhounds that those dogs came into her purview. Friends cautioned Fitzgibbon that “the Greyhound thing is just too big,” but even though she was recovering from cancer surgery, she was game to take on their plight.
In her book, Schenone describes just how severe that plight was. The Irish racing industry was responsible for killing thousands of dogs (in some truly grisly ways) as well as multiplying the dogs’ misery by selling less successful racers to tracks in Spain. But as the press published exposés, increasing numbers of people joined the rescue ranks, volunteering to help the dogs. Fitzgibbon was the lynchpin. As the Schenone notes, “Once Marion got started on the Greyhound cause, it was as though she had a fever inside her brain.” What she and her colleagues were able to do with scant resources is truly remarkable, and makes for a very compelling read.
The book’s title references the sanctuary funded by another admirable woman, Johanna Wothke, former schoolteacher and founder of Germany’s Pro Animale. After reading a report about the Irish racing industry, she offered Fitzgibbon her assistance. Almost singlehandedly, Wothke rallied donors to contribute more than 200,000 euros for the construction of a paradisiacal, cage-free sanctuary on 38 acres in Ireland’s County Galway. Marion named it Avalon and they created a shelter in the truest sense of the word. In bright airy rooms grouped under names such as Patience, Tolerance, Faithfulness, Honesty and Strength, rescued racers are cared for until new homes can be found for them (oftentimes in Germany).
Work continues for Ireland’s animal protectors, who have accomplished a lot in a country where, as the author notes, “the government gives the racing business so much money.” Let’s hope that momentum for the Greyhound cause continues to build. With people like those profiled in this engrossing book still very much part of the effort, and with the publication of this book itself, things just might change. Schenone does a splendid job in providing a history of a movement that has important cultural significance worldwide. The stories of animal welfare leaders who have been able to achieve so much powered by their love for dogs is truly inspirational and definitely worthy of your notice.
See book excerpt and author interview.
Let’s start with what this book is not: it is not a new entry in the author’s “Chet and Bernie” series; the main character is not an awkward but insightful male PI and the dog is not a roguishly charming (and easily distracted) narrator. Rather, the primary human, LeAnne Hogan, is an army sharpshooter badly injured during her tour in Afghanistan, and the dog— a large, black Rottweiler/ Malinois-type mix with huge paws and a blocky head, unreadable eyes, and an oddly chopped-off tail—is no one’s idea of a pet. In another departure, the dog’s a female who keeps her thoughts to herself.
Here are the similarities, and they’re why readers of Quinn’s earlier books will also be drawn to this one: Like the Chet and Bernie books, The Right Side pairs a person and a dog with distinctive qualities and sends them on a quest. It powers along at a rapid clip. The dialog is sharp and natural. And it has a dramatic resolution.
The book opens with LeAnne as a patient at Walter Reed military hospital, being treated for serious physical and psychological wounds. Her roommate Marci, who lost a leg in a bomb blast, dies suddenly, sending LeAnne into an even deeper emotional tailspin. Checking herself out of the hospital, she heads west on the first part of her quest: to outrun her current life. Her trip ends in Marci’s rural Washington hometown, where she learns that her dead friend’s daughter Mia is missing, and where she reluctantly acquires the dog she eventually names Goody. Then begins the second part of the quest: find Mia.
The story drives forward in a series of chronological jumps. As LeAnne’s past and present converge, unsettling examples of the long reach of military intelligence abound. The Right Side excels in conveying the cost of war paid by its on-the-ground participants. LeAnne Hogan is a defiant, principled and absolutely stand-up wounded warrior in all senses of the clichéd term, and Goody has her back. Read this book.
Author Q&A Series Summer 2017
Date: Appearing May 3, 1 pm (EST) on The Bark Facebook
Bring your questions for author and shelter volunteer Amy Sutherland.
Q&A with Amy Sutherland, author of Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes
Amy Sutherland is the author of three previous books, including the bestseller What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage. She writes the “Bibliophiles” column in the Boston Globe Sunday’s Book Section, and contributes to the New York Times, Smithsonian, Preservation, Women’s Health and other outlets. She lives in Boston with her two rescue dogs, Walter Joe and Penny Jane.
Date: Appearing in May 12, 12 pm (EST) on The Bark Facebook
Bring your questions for best-selling author W. Bruce Cameron
Q&A with W. Bruce Cameron, author of the new book A Dog’s Way Home
W. Bruce Cameron is the #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose (now a major motion picture), A Dog’s Journey, The Dogs of Christmas, The Dog Master, and The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man. He is a champion for animal welfare, and serves on the board of Life is Better Rescue, in Denver, CO.
Date: Appearing in June on The Bark Facebook
Bring your questions for Mutts comics creator Patrick McDonnell
Q&A with Patrick McDonnell, best known as the creator of the MUTTS cartoons, which appear daily in more than 700 newspapers worldwide. His books include the New York Times bestselling The Gift of Nothing and Hug Time, The Monsters’ Monster, and Me … Jane, a tale of the young Jane Goodall that won a 2012 Caldecott Honor. His latest book, Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends, is a collection of illustrated poems in collaboration with Daniel Ladinsky.
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One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes (Harper)
In Amy Sutherland’s thoroughly researched and engaging Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes (Harper), the author delves into what life is like for dogs and the people who care for them in shelters throughout the country. She does an excellent job covering the myriad issues connected with this topical and critical subject. From the chapters such as “Great Migration”— southern dogs transported to new homes up north, in lieu of local shelter dogs—to “Keeping Dogs Home,” which explores shelters’ strategies for dissuading owners from surrendering dogs, Sutherland seems to cover most of the salient issues.
Years of volunteering at shelters in Maine and with Boston’s Animal Rescue League gave her a front-row seat on the subject. Good journalist that she is, she broadened her information base by traveling around the U.S. and interviewing leading experts, animal behaviorists and dedicated activists in the shelter and rescue world, probing for their best ideas and strategies.
Sutherland introduces us to a few of the notable dogs she met along the way; their case studies provide invaluable insights into the importance, and the challenges, of finding new homes for dogs like them. She has also fostered a number of dogs, and adopted two, seriously under-socialized, Penny Jane and shelter-stressed Walter Joe. We learn how she and her husband worked to integrate these dogs, with their very individual personalities, into their lives.
It is to Sutherland’s great credit that she tends to this subject matter with the care and attention it merits, crafting a dour subject into an engrossing, and at times, entertaining read. Yes, a book about shelters and homeless dogs can be difficult, but it can also be life affirming and exhilarating.
If you’ve ever thought of volunteering at a shelter, fostering or adopting a shelter dog, this book may provide you with the impetus and inspiration to do it now. If you are already involved in the rescue or shelter community, you may encounter an alternative that could help in your work. Regardless, this is an invaluable book for all dog lovers. Shelters have changed a lot in the past 20 years, with many innovative approaches coming from that community. This book is Sutherland’s way of sharing what she learned, and it can help save precious lives.
Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People (2nd ed.)
I want to call your attention to what is likely the most current and comprehensive summary of all things dog, or all things dogs. This muchanticipated update of Dr. Serpell’s encyclopedic book builds on the strengths of the first edition. Among other things, it incorporates two decades of new evidence and discoveries on canine evolution, behavior, training and human interaction. It also includes seven entirely new chapters covering topics such as behavioral modification, population management, molecular evidence for dog domestication, behavioral genetics, cognition, and the impact of free-roaming dogs on wildlife conservation.
In the big picture category, its very useful comparative informat ion on wild canids contributes to a greater appreciation and understanding of just who dogs are and why they do the things they do, and the references are a gold mine of information. The epilogue, “The Tail of the Dog,” provides a detailed summary of what we know and don’t know about these amazing beings.
I hope all dog trainers will carefully study this book, because the ideas and data that are discussed are essential ingredients for teaching dogs to live harmoniously with other dogs, with other animals and with us. An ideal volume for anyone interested in dogs and their evolution, behavior and ever-changing roles in society, The Domestic Dog is inarguably the canine go-to reference.
A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog (Atria)
A memoir by Patricia McConnell, one of the world’s leading certified applied animal behaviorists and a pro in working with aggressive and fearful dogs, is the second of the two new arrivals. The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog (Atria) is quite unlike her previous work. While her astute, hawk-eye attention to canine behavioral matters is found in abundance, we also learn more about the author herself.
The Education of Will runs on parallel tracks. On one track is her Border Collie, Will, who presents McConnell with a whole host of behavioral and health-related challenges. It is difficult to comprehend just how misaligned this little guy was, even as a very young pup.
As she tells us, when she decided it was time for another Border Collie, McConnell did all the right things: she went to a reputable breeder; she knew both parent dogs; and, since she’d had other working Border Collies, she definitely understood the breed. Despite this, she still wound up with a dog whose unpredictable, furious outbursts “shook her to her core.” (This is in itself a valuable lesson for those who might be skeptical about adopting a shelter dog because of the possibility of behavioral problems; as Will demonstrated, opting for a well-bred puppy is no guarantee you’ll avoid them.)
The book’s other track follows the human end of the leash. While working with Will, McConnell realized that she needed to come to terms with her own fears, and the ways earlier traumas had informed her behavior—that in order to heal her fearful, reactive dog, she had to heal herself as well.
What has always set McConnell apart from others in her field is her ability to point out the fascinating parallels between canine behaviors and our own, including the cognitive and emotional lives of both species. In this book, she dives even deeper into such comparisons. For me, her insights into her troubled Border Collie’s behavior (as well as that of other dogs she’s treated) are the book’s most compelling aspect.
McConnell offers the case of Aladdin as an example of how a dog’s aggression can be set off by triggers. Aladdin’s sunny disposition would change in an instant once she put on sunglasses. As she noted, “To Aladdin, I had morphed instantly from a relaxed, benevolent acquaintance into a … potentially dangerous one. Aladdin was just going to get me first, before I could get him.” This was a relatively straightforward case; once she discovered the trigger, she could devise a treatment plan. Will’s issues, unfortunately, were not that simple.
This book speak eloquently on the benefits of opening your heart to dogs, and reclaiming lives in the process.
A breathtakingly honest memoir
The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog is everything you expect from well-known canine behaviorist and best-selling/award-winning author Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., but it is also so much more. What you presume would be included is indeed there—insights about dogs from science as well as from her own experiences, research into the physiology of behavior and personal stories. If you love learning about dogs through McConnell’s combination of science and tales from real life, you will love this book, and yet this is more than a book about dogs.
It’s a breathtakingly honest memoir from a woman whose upbeat personality, intelligence, success and sense of humor have largely hidden the pain and darkness in her life from others. It takes bravery to share such deeply personal and traumatic details from her life. Readers, even those who know McConnell’s work well, will be struck by how vulnerable she makes herself and how personal this book is. They will learn how much she had to overcome to become the successful person she has long been and to find the happiness that is a far more recent accomplishment.
It’s artfully written, showing her maturity as an author, and true to form, it shows how intricately her life and well-being are intertwined with the dogs in her life. The fear and anxiety she has struggled with for much of her life actually became worse when her Border Collie Will entered her life. His fear and reactivity created all sorts of problems, including exacerbating her own struggles to overcome multiple traumas. She was forced to deal with not just his issues, but her own as well, and the book is the story of how they both moved forward towards happiness, joy and love. Their journey together has had many setbacks, has required a seemingly endless reservoir of hard work and patience, and will never truly be over.
The beauty and power of the book come from the way McConnell weaves her own narrative into that of dogs in general and her dog Will in particular. It is a compelling story that’s both hopeful and sad, as well as gut-wrenching and inspiring. The Education of Will offers insight and understanding into struggles with true terror, guilt, shame and fear, allowing readers to empathize with such experiences and to understand them better. Though it is a serious book about a serious topic, the warmth and humor in McConnell’s writing make it as enjoyable to read as it is riveting.
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