Paul McGreevy’s love of dogs shines through in A Modern Dog’s Life: He loves the smell of dogs’ feet (and advises readers to take a sniff), advocates humane training methods and takes an uncompromisingly strong stand against choke chains.
Readers will enjoy McGreevy’s many practical suggestions. To make sure clients positively reinforce their dogs, he tells them to “make your dog’s tail wag.” Included among his points are the importance of novelty in terms of toys and canine playmates, ideas for making visits to the vet more pleasant, and using the possibility of a walk to motivate dogs to perform desirable behaviors.
McGreevy covers many of his topics with attention to the science behind them. For example, he discusses research related to the meaning of barking as well as the importance of physical contact for establishing bonds between people and dogs, and his consideration of current investigations into paw use and canine laterality (“handedness”) was fascinating. I would have liked the names of the scientists who conducted the research and citations of the original work.
He is particularly engaging when he talks about how dogs learn, and his explanations of overshadowing, stimulus control, omission training and secondary reinforcers are excellent, as is his summarization of the current status of many areas of dog training and major changes that have occurred in recent decades.
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However, on occasion, McGreevy makes statements without citing evidence. Here are some of the comments that left me with doubts: Dogs don’t get bored eating the same food day after day because they swallow it so quickly. They can’t taste the difference between one snack and another. They are more likely to be aggressive toward male visitors because they anticipate that males are more likely to create trouble and threaten resources. They can’t tell whether or not another dog is intact.
Perhaps of greatest value is McGreevy’s coverage of problems that arise because too little emphasis is placed on breeding for temperament. He eloquently discusses medical and behavioral issues that result from the unfortunate combination of closed breed books, breed standards open to interpretation, and breeding for success in the show ring rather than for qualities that are desirable in pets whose main “job” is to be companions.
McGreevy writes in a conversational style that makes for pleasant reading, and clearly wants the best for our canine companions in this crazy modern world. My favorite of McGreevy’s remarks reveals just how charmed he is by dogs: “[M]ost dogs have the true Olympic spirit: taking part being more important than actually winning.”