How good are you at speaking dog? It may seem like a silly question but in a world where so many of us have gone dog crazy and dogs are blending more and more into our families too many of us are missing the mark when it comes to communicating with our dog. If you think I'm barking up the wrong tree with that idea, it's time to add Decoding Your Dog to your summer reading list.
This wonderful book on dog behavior has taken understanding your dog to a new level because it's written by certified veterinary behaviorists instead of trainers. Yes, there are dog behaviorists and these specialists go through a residency program for several years after veterinary school to get their credentials. Decoding Your Dog is the first book written by behaviorists on dog behavior.
The focus of Decoding Your Dog is understanding dogs and putting a finger on why Fido does things a certain way and what you can do to change it. There's a lot involved in this like reading body language, understanding why dogs really react they way they do and what breed and background have to do with how dogs think and react.
What you'll learn
What I really love about Decoding Your Dog is that it tackles many of the things we need to know and understand about dogs and categorizes them into 14 great chapters. Each chapter has been written by one or two of the behaviorists in the U.S. to focus on some of the common issues we need to better understand. It starts simply enough by focusing on how to "talk dog" and also dedicates a chapter to the very important issue of choosing your dog (with a great warning about where those pet store dogs originate).
Although each chapter in Decoding Your Dog is written by a different Veterinarian, they all follow the same easy format. They tackle the fact and fiction on a topic, what is really true, what you should know and then walk you through key insight you'll need on each topic. A lot of important information is in a shaded box (a sidebar if you like) for easy reference and it's all very easy to follow.
After tackling the facts and fictions and getting you on the right track, each chapter spends time helping you understand why your dog does what he or she does, what he may be saying and how she may interpret what you do. The communication and positive reinforcement are important ongoing themes throughout the book.
Smart dogs, breeds and dogs of all ages
Decoding Your Dog does a great job of setting you up to be successful whether you have a dog already or are considering adopting your first pet. Several years ago while I was on the board of a suburban shelter, it amazed me how many dogs were returned for doing what they've been doing since their breed first came into being. The behaviorists do a great job explaining why those breed traits shouldn't be overlooked when getting a dog or trying to set your dog up for successful training.
Once you select a dog, the book walks through the tools, training and general things you need to know about a dog's behavior. It also hits the normal issues like house training, kids, aggression, why your dog needs a job and separation anxiety. Fear of storms and helping your dog deal with aging are also covered.
Why you should read it
The number one reason dogs are abandoned to shelters and rescues is behavioral issues. Sometimes folks skip the training and end up with an unruly dog. But often, there times when training improperly feeds into the behavioral issues and makes things that much worse. Before you know it, Fido is on his way back to the shelter and the whole process starts over.
Even if you don't have a dog, Decoding Your Dog is a great read. As dogs become a bigger part of our family and are in social settings more frequently, it helps to have a better understanding of why "man's best friend" acts the way he does and what that behavior is really communicating. It will go a long way in making you more comfortable even if you're not "dog savvy" like the dog lovers in your group.
I'm looking forward to the sequel - Decoding Your Cat....Does anyone want to tackle that one?
By the way, one of the three editors on the book is fellow ChicagoNow blogger Steve Dale.
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