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This is one of the finest little gems in the dog behavior world–a practical, step-by-step guide to help desensitize and modify unwanted responses, while building confidence in your dog. This book’s advice is the very same approach I used to take my juvenile delinquent dog from a problem child to the National Service Dog of the Year. I buy copies of this book and give them out constantly. If your dog has reactivity problems–for whatever reason, this is a book that will change your dog’s life.
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I have an 18 mo old dog-reactive German Shepherd. I’ve read many of the best trainers: Jean Donaldson, Pam Reid, Pamela Dennison, Emma Parsons, Linda Tellington-Jones, Karen Pryor, Trish King. My dog and I have taken private lessons from a couple excellent dog-reactive specialists. We can now attend certain dog training classes if they’re small enough and there’s enough distance between the dogs.
I’ve been working on this problem for over a year, and I’m seeing progress, but some of the approaches from the author trainers seem unrealistic for anyone other than a trainer who has access to a variety of dogs on a daily basis. There are steps and steps and steps and steps and steps and then more pages of steps and steps to take. Then you turn to the next chapter to find out you’ve got more steps to take. Even the most committed dog owner can get overwhelmed. And with all these steps, you need different dogs at different times of the day with different owners, etc. Or you need 20 friends to come knocking on your door 3 times a day 6 days a week. OK, an exaggeration, but it seems that some of the authors have immersed themselves so much in dogs that they have forgotten what life is like for people who don’t have easy access to many people willing to work with them and share their dogs with them. For many of us, that just isn’t the case. McConnell gives us 5 steps to work with. That’s it, and it’s enough. She says in 5 easy steps what others take 28 steps to say and by then I’m so confused I just go throw the kong in the backyard with the dogs rather than go to Petco for some desensitization exercises.
However, Pat McConnell gives realistic, succinct, clear and direct advice in her little booklet. Others have complained about the booklet’s length, and I didn’t buy the booklet until recently because I felt 30 pages couldn’t do this topic justice, either. I learned that, indeed, 30 pages was just right. McConnell has a gift in conveying complicated information in clear, concise, very easy to understand language. And she recognizes that sometimes your very carefully laid out plans to set your dog up for success don’t always work out.
Where she differs from many other trainers I’ve read is in her advice about what to do if your counterconditioning/desensitization session in public goes awry. Every other trainer I’ve worked with or read recommends something like not beating yourself up, get the dog into a sit, remain calm, and get the dog away from the scary thing, and try again next time. That’s it. I always left frustrated knowing I’d screwed up yet again, why didn’t I foresee, etc…
McConnell goes much further and says that if you leave the scary thing that suddenly surprised your dog, then the dog might learn that lunging and barking makes the scary thing go away. She says to leave, yes, but to go only as far as the dog can stand to remain calm, making sure the dog can still see the scary thing. Then have the dog sit, and when calm, rub his chest in circular motions (t-touch here?), then feed treats, all the while the dog sees the scary thing.
What I got out of this is a save for the unexpected, rather than a mistake. I’ve had this happen so many times I hate to admit it. I simply don’t have enough vision, intuition, perception to be able to foresee everything, and sometimes we get caught unawares in public. How wonderful to have someone suggest something that actually continues learning in a situation that is going to happen sometime whether I like it or not.
When I take my dog where other dogs might be (which I HAVE to do if we are to master this fear), then sometimes I’m not going to be able to predict every possible dog rounding a corner. McConnell, rather than saying, don’t let this happen to you, says if it does, here’s what to do and make it a better experience, too, and a learning one as well. This is where she goes into detail, gives reasonable workable advice. I think McConnell has kept in touch with the average person and dog, can still remember what first grade was all about and how she felt.
Thirty pages is sufficient, for McConnell seems to have synthesized the most important points of the authors mentioned above into a simple, easy to read and follow manual. She introduces the points, how to do them (doesn’t just talk about them), and then gives scenarios, then summarizes the points at the end. She gives several personal examples to illustrate, and what I liked especially – she doesn’t only include success stories. She’s encouraging, but completely realistic. And her advice it simple, so easy to follow.
This booklet is worth every penny.
The Cautious Canine, How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears, by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.,probably saved my fear aggressive Sheltie’s life. At the very least, it secured his place in my heart and my home forever. When my sweet, cute, cuddly ball of fur, Pierce, started acting like “Cujo” at 3-4 months of age, it was very distressing to say the least. Trying to take him for a walk was a traumatic experience, every time. He would lunge, growl and bark at anything and everything that moved – cars, children, adults, bicycles, dogs and cats (and many that did not, such as fire hydrants and mailboxes). Less than 20 pounds, he was strong enough to pull me off my feet, causing me to slip on ice and hurt my back.
I had been training dogs in obedience and doing pet assisted therapy for 10 years, so I was not a clueless, first-time pet owner who didn’t know which end of the leash was up. I had worked in classes with other people’s dogs with aggression problems, but this was the first one to live in my home. I had Pierce neutered, stepped up his obedience training and socialization and enrolled him in agility class to build his confidence. I consulted with 7 different trainers, many of whom said I should rehome him or worse… Although at times I was afraid of him and often frustrated to the point of tears, I wasn’t prepared or willing to go down that road. I made a commitment to Pierce and I was determined to find a way.
Thankfully, I found “Cautious Canine”. It became my bible. Dr. McConnell’s book is written in very easy to understand language, with a great sense of humor and a genuine love for dogs. It offers a common sense approach to solving problem behaviors. The methods are always fair to the dog and easy to understand and apply. Yes, you have to do the work, but the tools are all there for you, and I can say from personal experience, they work.
I am eternally grateful to Dr. McConnell for writing the book. “Cautious Canine helped me to turn “Cujo” into “Cuddles”. Not only am I now able to walk Pierce around the block, the training helped strengthen our bond. We now enjoy competing in agility, obedience and rally obedience. To date, Pierce has earned 7 agility titles, his APDT Rally Obedience Level 1 Title, Magna Cum Laude, a leg in novice obedience, is an accomplished Therapy Dog with over 150 visits and has recently taken a few herding lessons.
I highly recommend this book for every dog owner, but it is a MUST HAVE, if you own a dog who is the least bit “socially challenged…
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