Book Review: Child-Proofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson

I am a firm believer in books.  What can’t be learned from a trip to a bookstore or library?!  While there are a multitude of pregnancy/baby books out there… and probably almost as many dog books…I was surprised to find very little published on preparing dogs for babies.  And when I say “very little”, I mean literally one book.

Childproofing Your DogSome Googling and a few searches on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble’s website led me to Child-Proofing your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Child in Your Life by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.  The title sounded perfect!  This had to be exactly what I was looking for!

Overall, though, this book was a disappointment.  That’s not to say that I would recommend expectant parents to read it (only a short 88 pages, so you wouldn’t be wasting much of your time); it’s just that most of the information was more common sense than the expert advice I was expecting.  There were, however, a few very insightful hints and suggestions sprinkled in…along with a few points that I completely disagree with.

The underlying theme of the book was spot on – most of the problems that you have with your dog (baby or not) are simply a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication.   Kilcommons and Wilson do a wonderful job of explaining a growl.  “A growl is due largely to confusion…”  and does not mean your dog wants to harm your child.  It probably means that crazy kid is doing something that your dog hasn’t seen you do and can’t quite make sense of it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a Cujo on your hands.

Another point that they repeat over and over, throughout the book, in almost every chapter (which I think is a point worth repeating!) is you should Dog and BabyNEVER leave a dog along with a baby/child.  It doesn’t matter how wonderfully fabulous your dog is or how angelic your perfect child is…things happen.  (Not necessarily bites!) Do not…even for 5 seconds…go in the other room and leave a baby and a dog alone.  Just don’t do it!  Just don’t!

Now, the biggest issue I have with this book is how it discusses getting rid of your dog (this topic is actually brought up multiple times) and euthanizing your dog if he or she is not getting along with your bundle of joy.  Do I believe that in the HISTORY of ALL dogs and babies there has NEVER been a dog so aggressive that they cannot live around children?  Of course I don’t!  But I DO believe that these instances are so unbelievably rare it is not worth mentioning (again, MULTIPLE TIMES) in an 88 page book for the general public.  The fact that putting a dog down is even touched upon is ludicrous.

That being said…there were some “Wow!  I never even though of that!” moments that I had while reading the book.  Once I read them, they seemed like such common sense, but I honestly hadn’t thought of them before.  Expectant parents too busy to read this whole book – consider this the Cliff’s Notes:

  • Never play aggressive games – Luckily, this has always been a rule in my house!  Never ever EVER play tug-of-war or wrestling games with a dog.  (In general, you never want them to think they can challenge you physically.)  When you need to take something out of a dog’s mouth, you don’t want them to pull at it and think you are trying to have fun.  (Anyone who has tried to retrieve a favorite sock out of their dog’s mouth can attest to that!)  You never want a dog to mistake a child’s hug or rough handling is an attempt to start a wrestling match.
  • Do not call the baby a nickname you have assigned your dog – I had honestly never thought of this one!  My husband and I have taken to calling Amigo “baby boy.”  “Oh, our little baby boy!” we will coo when he is doing something especially adorable.  Well, the book warns, don’t be surprised if you are cooing “My little baby boy!” over your new son and your dog jumps right in.  The pup thought you were calling him!
  • Watch the toys you buy – My husband and I recently cracked up when registering at Target – they had a baby toy that looks EXACTLY like the “Buffy ball”.  We of course realized that we wouldn’t be putting that toy on our wish list.  Kilcommons and Wilson also suggest a “which toy is yours?” game where you place dog and baby toys side by side on the floor…and give praise and treats when your pups brings you the correct toy when asked.  So simple…but genius!
  • Be a baby yourself – From what I hear, kids and babies are pretty loud and unpredictable.  I’m pretty sure they don’t even know the proper way to pet a dog!  Of course, teaching your toddler to be respectful and gentle with animals will be your responsibility, but until they understand all that your poor pooch (just like you!) is going to have to learn to live with some unpleasant feelings and sounds.  So, go ahead and practice pokes, ear pulls, hugs, loud noises, etc.  (of course without hurting the dog!  Remember, baby isn’t going to have much muscle behind all those motions.)  Always let your dog retreat (whether practicing or when baby is home.)  Never force interaction between 2-legged and 4-legged child…you don’t want your dog to ever feel trapped.

Dog and Baby 2

Overall, Childproofing You Dog reminds us our dogs have the instincts of an animal…but the personalities of one of us crazy humans.  You’ve had 9 months to mentally prepare yourself, but their world is going to be turned upside down when you walk in with your new child.  Maybe Kilcommons and Wilson have the right idea about oversimplifying things and relying on common sense – all you really need to do is put yourself in their shoes paws.

If you have any other suggested reading on the subject of preparing dogs for the arrival of a new baby…please share!  

Book Review: Do Dogs Dream? by Stanley Coren

As a general rule, I love to hate books about dogs.  Surprising, huh?  I enjoy them, but find most of them fall into three categories: (1) Ridiculously oversimplified (2) Mind numbingly complex (3) Just plain wrong.

When I picked up a copy of Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know, I was sceptical.  I mean – who is this guy to tell me what MY dogs wants ME to know, right?  With just a quick flip through the pages, though, I could tell this book would be different.  Instead of long chapters with graphs, diagrams, and lengthy explanations filled with scientific jargon, each chapter started with a question (examples: “What are dogs trying to say when they bark?” “Compared to other animals, how smart are  dogs?” “Why do dogs love bones?“)  and then Stanley Coren answered the question…and, lo and behold, the “conversational Q&A format” actually worked.

The reason this book “works” is because of Coren himself.  I was surprised to learn that while he has published numerous dog books (some of which I’ve heard of but never picked up) he started his career in regular-ol’ people psychology.  All of the information I found on him described him as a “prolific researcher.”  This guy published over 300 works (and we are talking The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature….not Dog Fancy!)  Late in his career, he switched to studying and researching dogs.  So…this is basically some super-smart guy that loves dogs.  I love it!

Coren divided this book of questions into six parts (example: “Part 3 – How do dogs communicate?“) and then managed to thoroughly answer each sub-question in about 3 pages.  That in itself is amazing!  In 3 pages, he explained why we (the reader) would ask that question, sited scientific studies/research relevant to the question, gave his own personal opinion/anecdote, and answered the question.  It was easy and fun to read…and dispite the dozens and dozens of dog books/papers/blogs/research I have read, I found myself learning more than a few new things.

The most amazing part of the book was how Coren manages to explain scientific experiments (not surprising after learning about his first-hand work in psychological research.) Never have I so easily been able to understand the details of psychological experiments/research from start to finish.  (And I’m embarrassed to say I’ve taken many a psychology class over the course of my life.)

My favorite question answered would have to be “What signs indicate that a dog is aggressive?”  The chapter began with explaining the evolutionary process of dogs as hunters to dogs as snuggle buddies, and then (as one would expect) went into a list of signals that indicate you are dealing with an aggressive dog.  Coren doesn’t stop there, though, but makes an easy transition into dog bite stats.  Then he explains how difficult it is to obtain accurate dog bite statistics – and that in today’s media no one wants to publish happy stories.  “Do you think the headline ‘Dog Makes Owner Smile and Feel Good’ would sell papers?”  If you didn’t love this guy by page 62, you do now!

So…if you couldn’t tell…I would highly recommend this book.  It’s a fun read for those who have already read every dog book they can get their hands on (I guarantee you will learn something new) and a great, easy-to-understand book for those who need a beginners course on canines.

Oh, and the drawings are AWESOME.

Book Review: Dogs by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger

Enter any book store or library, and you are sure to find no shortage of dog books. My problem with many of these books is that they are long, drawn out, and extremely oversimplified. They spend page after page spelling out information that you could have just as easily gotten from a 5 minute Google session. Look for something more in depth, though, and you might soon find yourself reading behavioral or biological studies on the present day dog…using vocabulary that has you frustrated, confused, and reaching for that Cutest Puppies picture book instead.

Dogs, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, is the perfect middle ground. This book had me hooked by the time I finished the introduction. By using scientific terminology and referencing evolutionary theories, I felt like I was actually learning something. The authors’ casual writing style and simple explanations kept me from getting confused. Raymond and Lorna go into details about how a dog’s brain works – how it grows, how it learns, how it is wired. They also spend many pages analyzing exactly what kind of relationships we have with dogs. Who is benefiting who….and why we probably should not consider ourselves dog’s best friend.

In the book, dogs are broken into five different categories – modern household dogs, village dogs, livestock-guarding dogs, sled dogs, and herding dogs. The reader is then given a comprehensive look on the physical and mental aspects of each of these categories. As someone who deals exclusively with household dogs, I have somewhat limited knowledge of “working” dogs…and virtually no knowledge at all of sled dogs.  I was blown away at the details given – everything from how sled dogs are raised, to why certain breeds do (or don’t) make good sled dogs, to the physics of how dogs are harnessed to maximize their speed.  It was truly fascinating while not being so detailed that I lost interest.

Ray & Lorna Coppinger

The Coppingers also have strong feelings about purebred dogs – feelings that I completely agree with.  “I believe the modern household dog is bred to satisfy human psychological needs, with little or not consideration of the consequence for the dog.”  Some modern household dog breeds, they explain, have been bred for their aesthetic looks alone – and have become unhealthy, almost cartoonish versions of their ancestors.  (They – like many people today – cite the bulldog as the number one example of this.) I also agree with the authors in their opinion that working dogs should never be pets.  People love the way these dogs look…but have no idea how ingrained these dogs’ “working” behavior actually is.

The most fascinating part of this book, though, is the chapter devoted to the dogs of Pemba.  In a quest to discover just how wolves evolved into dogs…and the relationship humans and dogs had during this evolution, the authors studied the people and pups on this fairly primitive island.  The island’s residents live in villages and are hunters and gatherers.  The dogs are isolated enough so that there aren’t  new genes being introduced each generation.  This chapter was AMAZING.  Reading about how people benefit dogs (living with dogs in their midst, but not as pets) and how the dogs live as “wild” animals….it was just an incredibly captivating read.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I loved the book and highly recommend it to every dog lover – whether you are looking for something to help you better understand your own pooches origin and thought process or you have a more scientific brain and really want some detailed biological research.

And don’t worry….scattered amid the science mumbo-jumbo are the quite a few of those cute puppy pics!

Book Review: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

There are many different reasons I might choose to pick up a certain book: favorable reviews, well known authors, interesting subject matter.  I began reading Inside of a Dog for none of these reasons.  The only reason why I decided to read this book was simply because I had seen it in many of my clients’ homes.  “There must be something to this book!” I thought.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  This is my first attempt at discussing a book on this blog (surprising because I spend many hours each day reading…and many of those hours are spent pouring over the pages of dog-related books,) so I don’t want you to think I’m a negative person.  Usually I love all dog books!  This book was 301 pages of “states-the-obvious” with a few insightful tidbits thrown in.  Instead of being informative, Horowitz seems to ramble on about topics and repeat the same thoughts over and over.

I am unsure of what audience Alexandra Horowitz was trying to reach.  Most of the points she makes I can only describe as “DUH!” conclusions.  Some include: genes and environment shape a dog (um…of course), dogs bark for different reasons (yeah, I knew that), dog have a memory (how could they not!)  She goes on an on about how dogs are a different height than we are (I didn’t need a PhD to observe that!) and how interesting shoes are to them. Tell me something I don’t know, lady!

The biggest problem I have with this book is that it skims over what I feel is the most important clue to understand your pooch – body language.  Several times she mentions body language, but only in a passing way while discussing something else.  Body language is arguably the most important clue we have in truly understanding the “inside of a dog” and is something that I believe most people do not have a good grasp on how to read.  By omitting this concept all together I wonder what the point of this whole book is.

I would be lying if I said there were not parts of this book I enjoyed, though.  The chapter on smells did encourage me to think differently about a dog’s nose.  Horowitz did what I was hoping she would do the whole book – make me think in a different way.  “Imagine if each detail of our visual world were matched by a corresponding smell.” (pg 72)  Hmmm…interesting.  By pointing out that humans smell only good and bad….while dogs smell good, bad, and neutral…she got my brain to thinkin’.  The fact that dogs respond to baby talk because we have unintentionally “trained” them to do so was something I had never thought about, but made perfect sense.  I especially enjoyed her analogy of dogs as spies (always observing us), and that we were like that as children (but we “forget” to be like that as adults.)

Sadly, though, these thought provoking points are few and far between.  By the time I got to the end of the book, I was reading just to be finished.  I was also trying to figure out why the heck so many people had read this book.  I can think of at least a dozen books that are more interesting, more informative, and have more practical advice than Inside of a Dog.  This book was just too long – I feel Horowitz rambles on about random topics for seemingly no reason.  She gives little short “stories” about her own dog, Pumpernickel, at the beginning of new chapters.  I think they are meant to be cute and lighten the tone of the book, but they kind of get annoying.  And I don’t think I’ve ever said anything related to dogs was annoying!

I assume Alexandra Horowitz must be qualified to write this book, but after reading it I’m just a bit confused. 95% of this book any dog owner would be able to tell you with simple everyday observations of their own pup.  Thing that were suppose to be informative ended up just being boring…and things that were suppose to be cute and fun just ended up grating on my nerves.

In other words….I wouldn’t waste your time with this book!  (If you are still interested – and yes, sometimes I read books I hear are bad just to see how bad they are! – check out an excerpt here.)