Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson - Understanding Your Dog for Dummies

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Understanding Your Dog - There's So much to learn

Jun 21, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Organization, Behavior and socialization tips, Good suggestions for rescue dogs and anxieties


The Bottom Line: I caught myself recommending Understanding Your Dog to staff of a local doggie daycare kennel today, it's that beneficial.

Experienced dog families anticipate the challenges associated with introducing a new cute pup to the house; they’re also aware that each dog comes with a unique package of life experiences and idiosyncrasies. First-time dog families enthusiastically embrace the adoption of a dog, either puppy or mature, knowing this helps them satisfy a portion of the American dream. Reality all too quickly sets in.

Understanding Your Dog might be from the For Dummies series but it’s not for dummies. This is a valuable introduction to the “emotional makeup” of your dog.  Dog trainer Sarah Hodgson works to change dog behavior while behavioral scientist Stanley Coren specializes in understanding how dogs think.  The two authors combine their skills successfully for helping all dog owners better understand and train their dogs. 

There are some important take-aways in this familiar yellow and black book.  Dogs want to satisfy their human families and if their behavior is poor, we really need to look at how we trained them to “misbehave” – they believe they’re doing what we’ve asked and they based that upon how you’ve rewarded them.  It’s confusing and I understand how many of us (including me) has claimed we’ve done everything possible.  In reading through Understanding Your Dog sometimes I felt like a dummy and often made hmmm and ah ha comments. 

Though a dog’s misbehavior can be frustrating at times, when you boil it down, it is often a sign of restlessness, discomfort, or a need for attention. Most often it is a reaction to a breakdown in communication between the dog and his owner or the lack of leadership or an organized family.”   Dog’s need structure. The family needs consistency in vocabulary used for communicating with the dog (saying stay or hold still for sitting and staying rather than using both). Removing access to problems can eliminate the behavior (keeping shoes in the closet rather than out in the open). Provide a structured routine for the dog and stay with it – dog’s thrive on predictable routines. Reward positive behavior with food, treats, affection and toys.

Every page has valuable information.  The For Dummies format relies heavily upon icons, tables, bulleted lists, bold-faced words, shaded text blocks, and a great table of contents.  The standard table lists the five parts and the 18 chapters.  The detailed table expands these to the level where you know exactly which page contains the specific information you’re seeking. 

Tips for socializing your puppy also work for socializing your timid rescue dog.  This begins on page 114 but under this listing I can search specifically for socializing around new places, objects or other animals.  One chart lists the developmental stages of puppies, another lists items to consider exposing your puppy to while training. A valuable tip for training dogs to both verbal commands and hand signals will pay off when their hearing fades.  Simply learning very specific words can prove very helpful when bringing the entire family into the training process. Another puppy tip offers valuable advice for preventing the problem known as greeting jumping.

Any attention (positive or negative) can reinforce behavior.  Friends and family would squeal with enthusiasm when my 50-pound pup would leap to greet them.  She loved that squeal as much as her squeaky toys and quickly decided leaping to greet all visitors was both great fun and desirable behavior.  Instead these dog experts both recommend ignoring the dog and act as if it doesn’t exist. Then reward when the dog sits or becomes calm. Another suggestion was to train your dog to a greeting ritual.

The chapter on breeds is beneficial. While the information is familiar and often found in many other books, when placed in the context of dog behavior it takes on new meaning.  About retrievers: “because their intended purpose demanded close human contact and direction, retrievers are sociable and attentive.” The new breed of dog classification presents them according to their behaviors and psychology – it covers sporting dogs, hounds, working dogs, terriers, toy dogs, herding dogs and nonsporting dogs. Tables rank dogs by intelligence and learning ability, dominance and territoriality, sociability, and emotional reactivity.  All icons with a small bomb should be read.  “Though having a really smart dog may sound dreamy, it’s not. These dogs do best in highly structured, dog-savvy homes.”

Retrievers, herding dogs, and personal-protection dogs are considered high intelligence dogs.  I can speak from experience about retrievers – a bored, intellectually unchallenged lab WILL create their own diversions if left unattended too long.

The parts of this book include The Fascinating World of Dog (Dog Psychology 101, Understanding Your Dog, Communicating with Your Dog, and Seeing Life from Your Dog’s Perspective); Embracing Your Dog’s Identity, Doggie Delinquency, Dogs Don’t Misbehave: Misperceptions and Solutions; and The Part of Tens.  For Dummies books conclude with the Part of Tens.  In this book that’s Ten Forms of Silent Communications, Ten Common Misunderstandings, and Ten Ways to Become Your Dog’s Leader.

Both authors have many years of experience. They’re both highly respected and published trainers, behaviorists, and authors.  It shows. If you’re considering bringing a rescue dog, a puppy, or a seemingly perfect dog into the family I highly recommend reading Understanding Your Dog For Dummies.  As we learn more about our canine friends we learn that they are capable of so much, that they have emotional needs and that with consistency and training they can easily blend into your family but it takes work on your part.  The work, while fun, requires consistency.  In my opinion the training is an investment into our futures and the end result simply makes both you and your dog smile. This is an affordable and easy-to-read book I recommend to all new dog owners.  It’s a valuable book that should sit on the bookshelf next to a dog care medical handbook.

Other books of interest
The Dog Owner’s Manual  
Labrador Retrievers for Dummies

Recommend this product? Yes

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