Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote   Leave a comment

Merle’s Door was recommended to me a few years ago,  and although I took so long to follow-up, I saw it mentioned again somewherMerle and Tede recently and finally took the trouble to order it.  I’m so glad I finally did!  It has widened my ideas of what kind of relationship I’d like with my dogs and given me much food for thought.

Ted Kerasote published his first book at seventeen and has written a number of books focusing largely on the interrelationship of humans, animals and our environment.

In Merle’s Door he tells the story of Merle, translating dog to human in an entertaining and compelling way.  Merle finds him in the Utah desert and both their lives are changed. Through the book he weaves fascinating and at times controversial scientific and behavioural information into the narrative, sometimes challenging our traditional ‘dog and owner’ mindset.

It felt like I was reading a love story as young Merle learns life with humans, and how Ted’s ideas of ‘owning’ a dog are blown away by the intelligence and wit of Merle.  The particular circumstances of Ted’s life at the time meant Merle grew up in a small town where fences were unknown, cars were relatively few, neighbours knew each other and dogs could roam free.  By choosing to have Merle as a companion instead of an underling, Ted frees up their relationship and gains a world by doing so.  He makes a ‘dog door’ in their home so that Merle is free to come and go and he does!  Sometimes with hilarious results, sometimes with almost tragic results – as when a big daddy moose comes to visit.

You know how you read a book and love it yet when it’s done you can’t remember much?  Well this one is so jam-packed with mental images and conversations that it will need rereading several times but there are a few snippets that will stay with me.  One was Ted’s realisation that Merle didn’t often bark, and then realising that there were few barking dogs in his town.  He comes to the conclusion that as there were no visible plot boundaries, dogs had less need to be territorial and even within their homes they grew up used to humans just opening unlocked doors and popping in to visit so felt no need to be defensive.  This lack of boundaries meant that young dogs met other dogs early on in the crucial socialising period, quickly learning appropriate social skills and had an opportunity to choose their pals just as children do.  Merle becomes the unofficial ‘mayor’ of the town, known in many shops as he did his rounds three times a day, loved by many.

There were some parts that I cheered about – Ted’s unpacking of the ‘wolf = dog therefore dog is dominant’ fallacy for one; but there were a few things that will need further thought.  Merle’s death is obviously inevitable but I didn’t agree with Ted’s decision to not intervene and put him down.  The whole process of his dying and the memorial were beautiful and tearful, but drawn out to my possibly more down to earth South African mentality.  Merle’s freedom would be impossible in urban society but there is still much to learn about our attitudes and limitations.

Merle lived the life our dogs are dreaming about when they twitch in their sleep and how I wish more of them had even a tiny glimpse of that life.  How much we humans miss out on when we construct physical, emotional and psychological boundaries around this species we have created and yet understand so little of.  Thanks to Merle’s Door I have food for thought for myself and clients of Rose’s Puppy School for a long time to come.

Cover of "Merle's Door: Lessons from a Fr...

Cover via Amazon

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Posted 08/11/2013 by Rose's Puppy School in Book Reviews

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Cycle of Violence   Leave a comment

In future when someone asks me about my job, I’m going to say ‘I help to interrupt the cycle of violence that develops when animals are abused” – or something to that effect – if you can suggest a shorter, catchier phrase, please let me know!

We all know that violence begets violence, in families, in society.

But just recently I’ve been                                    Max and family, Dec 2012                                    reminded that humans using violence against animals can lead to violence against fellow humans.  I’ve been reading Training the Best Dog Ever by the late Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and she quotes some alarming observations for the USA, and I’m sure the same can be said for other countries: American Humane (the organization that issues the ‘No Animals were Harmed’ disclaimer for movies and TV shows) reports that violent criminals were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have “committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets” and that abuse against animals occurs in an overwhelming majority of households where there is documented child abuse and neglect.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz makes the point that by using positive reinforcement methods to train our pets, we lay the foundation for peaceful interaction between humans.  Children who see animals abused by adults learn that that is the way we deal with behaviour or situations we don’t like.  Abuse, as we know, is often subtle and not necessarily overtly violent. It can be while a dog is being trained or just the random acts of unspeakable violence seen every day by animal welfare organizations the world over.

Children who learn to treat their pets with respect and consistency absorb a way of interacting that will stand them in good stead as adults.  It’s not a quantum leap to make the conclusion as the author does: “…positive dog training strengthens our families and communities.”

Sometimes when I say I’m a dog trainer, or run a puppy school, friends and new acquaintances smile and imply it’s a ‘sweet’ thing to do, ‘how cute’, and I could let it make me feel that my job is not an important one compared to some.  But knowing the link between animal violence and human violence and that at Rose’s Puppy School we train with positive reinforcement, respect and love and how that feeds into a stable society I’ll stand a little taller and know my job matters!

 

It’s time to get the word out!   Leave a comment

  • I am not an animal behaviourist so cannot call myself an expert in this field.  I have had years of interacting with dogs as pets, working towards competitions and helping others achieve their goals, coupled with being interested, concerned and enthusiastic.
  • All this exposure to dogs and also to humans who are expert in behaviour or biology has led to a gradual change in my understanding of how dogs relate to each other and to humans.  Being a trainer and vet nurse I’ve had the opportunity to attend seminars, lectures and conferences; meet behaviourists, biologists, vets; read books; observe my own dogs and the 100s of puppies that’ve passed through Rose’s Puppy School.
  • These are a few books that I’ve read that have been influential on this journey of understanding dogs:

Ray Coppinger : Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution

John Bradshaw: In Defence of Dogs (apparently now in paperback as “Dog Sense”)

Jean Donaldson: Culture Clash and Dogs are from Neptune

Pat Miller: Power of Positive Dog Training

Karin Pryor: Don’t Shoot the Dog 1985

  • Ray Coppinger’s seminar made me sit and up and really start to grapple with understanding the origin of dogs and how that should change what I do and how I view canine behaviour.
  • I am concerned that the changes in attitude and understanding are not filtering down to owners and breeders.  That’s one reason that I think puppy school can be of great benefit in that we do much more than just give pups an opportunity to interact with others in their species in a controlled environment.  In a well run puppy school there should be lots of sharing of information to owners and opportunity for them to ask questions and begin their own journey of understanding.
  • John Bradshaw said: “Owners and dogs have been at the mercy of poor quality trickled-down information used by traditional, militaristic training.” That is so true and I am determined to be part of the ongoing learning and conversation around understanding dogs that has begun over the last few years.
  • Next blog I’ll write more about these ‘new’ ideas  concerning the history of dogs and how they relate to humans.Wolf?

“In Defence of Dogs”   Leave a comment

I haven’t got very much further with the Monks of Skete book, partly because I began to feel uneasy with it when paging through the photos – they clearly still use quite a lot of force in their training methods.  I’ll keep at it and comment here when I’m done.  In the meantime I’ve had this info sent to me on a newish book that seems to align more with my ethos on dogs and training:  In Defence of Dogs by Prof John Bradshaw.  I’ve ordered it at work, so will share more when I’ve read it.  It’s exciting to see more and more literature coming out that reflects more of the understanding we’ve gained over the past few years that moves us away from using force and punishment in training.

Tonight was the last class for the Tuesday group.  I really enjoy seeing how each pup has developed over the 5 weeks, and how their relationship with their guardian has improved.  At the end of an exquisitely beautiful day (supposedly winter!), after a yummy lunch at Black Marlin near Simonstown, it was good to see ‘my’ pups and their humans enjoying their time in class.

Why dog trainers will have to change their ways

Professor John Bradshaw is leading a revolution in the study of canine behaviour. ‘Dogs don’t want to control people, they want to control their own lives,’ he says.

***

The first idea to bite the dust is so huge and entrenched that some owners will struggle to adjust. We have had it drummed into us by trainers such as Cesar Millan that because dogs are descended from wolves (their DNA is almost identical), they behave like wolves and can be understood as “pack” animals. The received thinking has been that dogs seek to “dominate” and that our task is to assert ourselves as pack leaders – alpha males and females – and not allow dogs to get the upper paw.

Read the whole story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jul/17/dog-training-john-bradshaw-animal-behaviour

Posted 09/08/2011 by Rose's Puppy School in Book Reviews

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Person – dog: spot the difference!   Leave a comment

I’m a person  – it’s a dog – so why would I expect the dog to do human?  We humans are so arrogant in our ‘master of the universe’ attitude that we choose to bring another species into our homes and then expect it/them to change to suit us.  We shout and moan, smack and punish, teach it “I’m the boss”…yeah, right!  We expect the animal to know what we want without teaching what that means, then feel justified in dishing out punishment because our wishes are not obeyed.   We know that keeping a pet is expensive, but we moan about vet fees, training fees, food prices, and ask for discount or head off for the animal welfare to help us out.  I despair for the human race when we cannot even get the pet thing right, never mind bringing up our kids, or world peace!

Ok, rant over for now…but did you know that the majority of puppies don’t get to see their 2nd birthday?  That’s why I do puppy classes, and love my clients who bring their babies while they’re still cute to begin on the right path so that their dogs will become truly part of the family, a joy and not a burden.  They’re the good guys and I respect them for trying to do things the right way.

Another book I’ve downloaded is by Ian Dunbar, vet and behaviourist extraordinaire:  “Before You Get Your Puppy“.  Here’s his take on what needs to be taught asap, preferably pre 16 weeks:

The Most Important Things To Teach Your Puppy

1. Bite Inhibition

2. Socialization with People

3. Household Etiquette

4. Home Alone

5. Sit and Settle Down Commands

6. Dog-Dog Socialization

The Most Urgent Things To Teach Your Puppy

1. Household Etiquette

2. Home Alone

3. Socialization with People

4. Dog-Dog Socialization

5. Sit and Settle Down Commands

6. Bite Inhibition

If these basics are instilled then the next steps are easier, and having a fluffy companion becomes a pleasure, not a stress.

Born to be a midwife (for pets, not humans!)   Leave a comment

I got a new book from work yesterday (I work at Wordsworth Books during the day, puppy class in the evening):

‘The Art of Raising a Puppy’ written by The Monks of New Skete. Published by Little Brown, R300 at Wordsworth.  ISBN 9780316083270.

Written 20 years ago and recently updated and revised in a lovely hardback version, full of photos of their dogs and other dogs brought to the monastery for training.

Some quotes:
“There is an art to raising a puppy that is not solely the domain of the naturally gifted.  It can be acquired by any responsible owner; what is needed is a desire for true companionship, an openness to learning, and a willingness to invest time and energy in caring for and training the puppy.  The more informed you are on the background, development, and training of your pup, the more you will approach him with the patience and understanding necessary for an enjoyable and rewarding relationship.”

“…dog training actually goes far beyond the elementary instruction of basic obedience commands; it must encompass a whole new attitude and lifestyle with your dog.  It must touch on the levels of a dog’s own life that have often been ignored.”

So far I’ve read the first few chapters where they carefully take the reader through the birth and first weeks of life, using one of their bitches and her litter as models.  Having been midwife to 4 Jack Russell litters, 2 German Shepherd litters and 9 or so Burmese cat litters, I can honestly say that those hours spent waiting with my 4 legged girl friends, feeling their trust and  courage, watching the incredible birth process and mourning the ones who didn’t make the traumas of being born have been amongst the most precious of my life.  I WISH I could earn a living being an animal midwife!  So this start to the book resonated strongly with me.  Their purpose in starting right at birth is to help new owners (I prefer the term guardians) become aware of the impact of those early days on their puppy.  Many owners seem to think their dog’s life only began when it arrived at their house.

Will say more when I’ve read more!  You’ll find I’ll be talking books quite often as I am pretty obsessed by reading in general and learning as much as I can about understanding dogs more.