Dog Books

I recently fixed my blog’s backlog of “Uncategorized” posts (why does the categories thing have to be so out of the way, wordpress?), and it reminded me that I used to review a lot of books.

Honestly, I haven’t read a dog book in a very long time.

I don’t like stories about dogs, because the dog usually dies in the end. It is the most concrete end to a dog tale, I guess. But I can’t handle it. I see a dog in a movie, and I’m immediately clicking over to Yeah, I’m that girl. I’m already predisposed to sob copiously over books. The last thing I need is a reason.

Dog training books fascinated me for a while. Then I learned what kinds of things worked for my own dog. The increasing gap between what I was seeing on the page (clickers, cookies, structured repetitions) and the things that worked for me (limited clicker, fewer cookies, less structure, more games) started to bother me. The truth is, after a while you learn what makes your own dog tick and you stop needing to have your hand held.

More importantly, I think that for people with fearful or anxious dogs the linear dog training narrative can be terribly pernicious. None of them matched my actual experience, which was–and is–something more like a roller coaster.

That said, there are dog books that I really do still trust and use a good bit and recommend to people. In no particular order:

Everything by Patricia McConnell. If you can borrow a copy of her DVDs, they’re very useful, but I wouldn’t buy them unless you learn much better through visual presentations.

Nicole Wilde, Help for Your Fearful Dog. This is an enormous book, filled with the basics of dog psychology and counterconditioning plans for basically everything ever. Most books about dog fear are really about dog-dog reactivity, which wasn’t our problem, so this book was a nice change. There’s also a useful section on psychiatric treatments, both conventional and alternative.

Leslie McDevitt, Control Unleashed. This book is an organizational disaster, and a lot of the information is only good for a classroom. BUT, the stuff that is good is so, so good. If you have a “problem” dog, it’s worth it.

Pat Miller, The Power of Positive Dog Training. This is the classic clicker+cookie book, but Miller is a genius at breaking behaviors down into teachable steps. If you’re new to dogs or to positive training, you should buy this book, especially if you want to teach tricks.

Jane Killion, When Pigs Fly. Killion starts a step back from other training books. How do you teach a pig-headed dog to be teachable? So refreshing.

Ian Dunbar, After You Get Your Puppy. I hate this book, I love this book. The best resource I’ve seen on puppy socialization, but I wish someone would write a less ornery version. Dunbar feels like he needs to be contrarian to get his point across, which sometimes frightens people away from taking his EXTREMELY IMPORTANT advice.

Lew Olson, Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs. If you look back at my review, you’ll see some caveats about this book, but it’s the best book-resource I found for dog nutrition.

Susan Garrett’s Crate Games DVD is not a book, but it’s still a great resource. You’ll see some of her work+play methodology in action, which was a huge breakthrough for us. She has actual books, but I do not care for them and find them to be fairly non-representative of her teachings.

Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain From the Sky. Clothier’s wonderful heart taught me more than I could even recognize at the time. Don’t look for concrete training advice, but a really poignant discussion of the bond we have, should have, or could have with our dogs. If you like my sappy posts, you should read this book.

Honorable mention: Grisha Stewart, Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration, and Aggression in Dogs. BAT is one of the few “new” things I’ve seen in the fearful dog repertoire, and I think it is great. I’m putting the book down here only because (ahem) I haven’t actually read it. I’ve just absorbed the tactic from videos and elsewhere. Grisha Stewart is, from what I’ve seen, one of the most thoughtful, compassionate people in dog training right now.

Do you read dog books? Have a favorite that didn’t make my list? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Dog Books

  1. YES on movies in which the dogs die; cannot handle. I also don’t read sappy/Lifetime Movie-esque dog memoirs. The only good dog memoir, I think, is the incredibly beautiful one called “Dog Years” by poet Mark Doty. Excellent. I love all of the books I’ve read on your list! Others you may enjoy: “Dog Sense” by John Bradshaw and “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz. You probably know all of the science by now anyway, but I really enjoyed them when I was starting on my dog-knowledge quest.


    1. Thanks! Especially the Horowitz–I remember seeing it in my library’s smallish collection of digital audio books, which I really like for while I’m doing my chores.


  2. Oh, Abby, you beat me to the ‘Dog Years’ mention! Mark Doty is my favorite living poet and I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with him last year. I also love ‘Pack of Two’ by Caroline Knapp and ‘Part Wild’ about a wolf-dog (and why they’re a terrible idea) by Ceiridwen Terrill.

    Jessica, I’ve read most of the ones you mention – I want to re-read ‘Bones Could Rain from the Sky’ and am looking forward to Nicole Wilde’s new book. ‘Control Unleashed’ was so maddening to read, organizationally as you say. She needs an editor!

    You’ve inspired me to do a book post tomorrow.


    1. More like she needs to understand her audience. If it’s instructors, then ditch the cute stories and endless sidebars. If it’s home dog trainers, let go of the class-by-class format and take the time to really explain things in a logical order. I suspect that she’s a great teacher and have wondered about the DVDs, but I let my BowWowFlix subscription lapse.


  3. I don’t think I’ve fully forgiven Patricia McConnell.
    i picked up The Other End of the Leash for a neat read on our relationships with our dogs and our behaviour and for some sound advice and instruction, and completely unexpectedly I find myself UGLY CRYING uncontrollably in the living room.
    Not cool, McConnell. You can’t pepper deeply emotional stories unexpectedly into an advice book all willy nilly like that. I’m just glad I wasn’t reading it on the train or something.

    I second the Horowitz recommendation above


    1. Aw, you aren’t kidding…I’m reading ‘For The Love of A Dog’ right now and it’s all “this is how many neuron connections are in our brains and oh, also have a story about my three legged crippled Great Pyrenees who protected a rooster from a stray dog.”


  4. I have read that Nicole Wilde book, and actually attended a two day seminar of hers last spring. I plan on ordering her new book, “Hit by a Flying Wolf” this weekend. Thanks for the other suggestions!


  5. The training books we rely on are more of the retriever training variety. I find with most books (or programs as they call them in the field world) there are things that work and things that don’t for each dog. The best trainers that I know are able to adapt a program (or training point) to each dog.


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