Saturday 17 July 2010

The Dog Whisperer's Books: Review

About 2 months ago I was walking home from buying nearly half my body weight in groceries. It was a balmy evening - May was giving us a gentle prelude to the approaching summer - and I was full of thoughts of mango desserts and exotic salads. As I walked past the 7-Eleven at the end of our street, I saw a German Shepherd standing there outside of the store door, wagging his tail hopefully at anyone who walked past. Given our last dog was a German Shepherd, I took a quick photo on my phone to show hubby when I got back. I assumed that the dog's owner was inside the store picking up a quick bottle of milk or some noodles and carried on my way.

The photo I took on my phone.

The next thing I know, this dog is trotting along the street after me, first on the opposite side and then crossing through a swathe of traffic, oblivious to the dangers, to my side. A closer look at the lack of collar, filthy coat and ribs showing made it clear that this was a dog without a home. I called the husband and a few hours later, we had a dog in our apartment, freshly showered and fed fast asleep on our feet. We named him Kratos after a character in a PS3 game hubby was playing when I called him to come and help me. It all seemed perfect: we'd just decided to get a dog and here was one who seemed house-trained, well-mannered and very friendly. He hadn't even flinched when we gave him a bath, not 2 hours after meeting him. Surely nothing is this easy...?

No, it isn't. We soon discovered that this very human-friendly dog was very anti those of his own species. Our first walk in the park saw our passive pooch turn into a lunatic on a leash: lunging, barking, whining and generally making a huge scene whenever we just walked past a dog. The dog didn't even have to look our way, he just sparked right up and left us hanging onto the leash for dear life and calling apologies after people hurrying off the other way. I soon realised it was time to call in the professionals. I got a recommendation for Sean McCormack of Taiwan SPCA and we spent a good few hours with Sean trying to sort out this problem. This helped immensely but given this was a long haul not a quick fix, someone else recommended I also read a couple of books written by Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer" as he and Sean used the same basic principles in dog training and behaviour modification.

I read both Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems and then also read Be the Pack Leader. I was enthralled. The concepts were so simple in formulation that it stunned me. Your dog is an animal, not a human. Your dog needs you to be the leader so they can relax. Humans, step up to the plate and do our domesticated doggy friends a favour! This simple concept is a little harder to put into practice, however. I found myself particularly struggling with the idea of calm assertive energy, the key ingredient to getting your dog to do as you say. I'm not what I would describe as a calm person. Assertive, fine, but not particularly calm. I worry far too much, just ask my husband. However, as Cesar points out in the book, often dogs come into our lives for a reason so I figured that perhaps Kratos had come along to teach me how to chill the heck out. Goodness knows I need to learn that lesson. 

As I read the books, I realised that once you've got the idea there really isn't much more to it. It's a matter of getting out there and doing it. I lapped up the first book (Cesar's Way) but didn't get all that much more out of Be the Pack Leader, which served more as a companion guide to the TV series in my view. Cesar has a co-author to help him write these books but I felt like his voice was loud and clear in the narrative. It reads as though he is standing there next to you, telling you his life story, giving you illustrative anecdotes about dogs he has helped and teaching you the basic tenets of his dog psychology philosophy. This is both a very good thing and an occasionally irritating one - as with all conversations, he has a habit of going back over some things repeatedly, such as how he had to become calm-submissive to his wife. Cute and lovely the first couple of times but every time after that just doesn't add value. It seems to me that this book could have done with a little bit more vigorous editing to get rid of some of those aspects. 

Overall, however I loved these books. They are easy reading, helpful and empowering. The overarching message is YOU CAN DO THIS. And you can. With help from Sean and the reinforcement of these books, Kratos no longer goes batty when he sees another dog which makes our daily walks a whole lot more enjoyable! I would absolutely recommend these books to anyone thinking about getting a dog or who already has one - whether they have issues or not - but only one or the other of these books. Both is a little bit overkill. 

Who here has a dog? Tell me a little bit about your furry companion!