In a Dog’s Heart: A Compassionate Guide to Canine Care, from Adopting to Teaching to Bonding was written by Jennifer Arnold (author of Through a Dog’s Eyes – see Book Review). Her first book focused on understanding our dogs and how they see the world by providing a lot of history, science, and stories from her experience with Canine Assistants – a non-profit organization she founded that breeds, raises, and trains service dogs.
In a Dog’s Heart continues educating readers on understanding dogs but more from a “wants and needs” perspective. The book is interdispersed with lessons through personal stories that help cement the concepts she is trying to teach. Jennifer shared more opinions in this book than the last, allowing it a more person effect upon the reader. An example of this is her views on the “alpha” and dominance and how it has negatively impacted our relationship with dogs.
The first chapter sets the stage with a modified version of Maslow’s pyramid where physical needs like safety are necessary before one can attain attachment, contentment and eventually a “good life”. There were some horrific stories contained within this book on the negative ways in which dogs are treated and unfortunate outcomes of irresponsible or ill educated owners –and even by professional trainers. Jennifer is a believer of Choice Teaching where she has found that dogs who are given the opportunity to comply willingly, as opposed to via force or fear, are “quicker to learn a behavior, more eager to work on it, and more likely to repeat it in the future.
The beginning of this book was a little slow reading for me as it talked about basics such as: food, water, vet visits, choosing a puppy, and choosing an adult dog . But I encourage 1st time or soon-to-be puppy or dog owners to read in detail. In the rest of the book, Jennifer shared good training tips- like the “leave it” and “take it” exercise. She explains how and why shy dogs may do and react to what they do. Understanding the why helps you figure out how to address the issue.
Another thing that Jennifer discusses throughout is that a lack of awareness, understanding, and communication between the owner and their dog can lead to unfortunate and unnecessary loss and conflict. Such as, she describes a situation where a young girl throws a stick that lands at the feet of a golden retriever puppy, the dog and child reach down to pick it up at the same time, the puppy’s sharp teeth slightly puncture the girl’s hand and parents react so severely that the puppy is euthanized. It is stories like these that are heartbreaking due to the loss of life but these are also the stories that truly emphasize the importance of making the effort to understand and work proactively and compassionately with your dog.
Throughout the book Jennifer encourages people to view yourself and your dog as a team, as opposed to an alpha and their omega. From her first book: Dogs Do Not Speak Human, she illustrates how dog do not purposefully do things to anger or frustrate us, rarely does a dog “know better” than to do whatever he is doing at present. She explains the benefits and use of redirection rather than correction, because it is easier to teach a dog what TO DO than what NOT TO DO. Dogs are hyper aware of context and they already know you are the boss.
She also encourages us to establish a routine, show respect to expect respect in return, find an activity you and your dog both enjoy. If you have realistic expectations of your dog and plan accordingly, your life together will be much easier (for both of you) – try to see the world from a dog’s perspective, understand that your dog’s perspective is quite different from your own, don’t scream or hit (aggression leads to aggression), and to “listen” to your dog. Dogs are much like toddlers, their actions are more a reflection of our leadership than their character. She also discusses common issues such as boredom, separation anxiety, and thunderstorm phobia and how to address them.
What I took away from the book is that I have a responsibility to give my dogs what they need and deserve – the basics like food, water, and shelter and quality of life (love, attention, routine, a job to do, etc.) and to understand why they do what they do so I can react and train them appropriately. Not all dogs are alike and have the same experiences so I shouldn’t treat them all the same. Each of our dogs has a special routine as well as a special place in our heart.
When we have dogs, we don’t own them – we owe them. We need to establish and cultivate a good/positive relationship, just as we would with our partners and friends. Dogs are there for us, so we need to be there for them. What they give us in return are gifts that are priceless.
Category : Book Reviews