Thursday, October 6, 2011

What Dogs Really Want

Book Review: In a Dog's Heart: What Our Dogs Need, Want, and Deserve--and the Gifts We Can Expect in Return by Jennifer Arnold

There are at least as many books on raising dogs as there are on raising children, and undoubtedly as many points of view. There are scores of television shows and Internet sites professing to have the "secret" of success in teaching Fido what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do. So what makes In A Dog's Heart any different?

What makes companion animal trainer and dog rescuer Jennifer Arnold the voice we should listen to?

She starts with one simple premise: treat "man's best friend" like a friend. Dogs have evolved and grown alongside mankind for thousands of years. Their wants and needs are parallel to our own - to be physically well, to be safe, to know friendship and love, and to be content in their lives. And as dogs help us find these things for ourselves, as friends we should help them do the same.

Arnold points out that much is made in current dog training of the "pack mentality" of the dog's wolf ancestors. The theory is that our dogs must be taught their place, with we their owners as the "alpha" canines. Arnold shows (and research supports) that dogs are not wolves, and even if they were, a pack is not a group of individual animals fighting for dominance. A pack is a family unit; the alpha pair are the parents, and the pack works together to supply its needs. Think about it - a group of animals continually fighting each other for dominance would not last as a unit for long in the wild. And they won't last long in the home either.

Arnold gives us helpful pointers for understanding our dog's behaviors from the dog's perspective. He just wants to be well, and safe, and loved, and happy. He simply lacks the vocal ability to tell us how that can happen. He acts out his worries and fears (like many of us humans do as well). We need to learn to read the signs, not browbeat our friends into silence.

And no that doesn't mean we let our dogs run wild. Arnold also teaches how to deal with problem behaviors, from chewing furniture to jumping up to biting. Dogs have spent millennium learning to get along with us; we need to spend a few hours returning the favor.

As a lifetime dog owner (I have three right now) I found In a Dog's Heart to be a humane, insightful, and knowledgeable approach to selecting, raising, and enjoying a healthy loving dog.

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