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Book Review
The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
Review by: Kate Connick, March 2003

Gwen Bailey's The Perfect Puppy is a nicely-done, beginner's guide to raising a puppy. Bailey guides the reader through the very basics of how dogs think, learn, communicate, and develop. She presents instructions on teaching basic obedience commands, housebreaking, and general manners. Very readable with short, simple chapters and colorful, photographic illustrations, this is an inviting and palatable book.

To her credit, her approach is balanced and practical. Given that the book's focus is on puppies, her approach is highly motivational (primarily relying on food lures and rewards) and warns against physical punishments, choke collars, and pinch collars. Instead, she advocates having the puppy work to receive food, attention, and games with toys. With elegant simplicity in discussing how puppies learn, she states:

"Puppies, like us, learn by their successes and their failures... Repeating rewarding behavior or ceasing to do things that are unpleasant or unrewarding is the basis of any learning experience... We simply make use of this process and manipulate situations so that he learns what we want him to do."

Bailey places great emphasis on control and practical manners. She addresses recalls in the face of distractions, not jumping on people, preventing food guarding, accepting handling, and fostering a puppy's respect for its owner. These are all meaningful items for a new puppy owner. While her approach is very gentle and fun for the puppy, she does allow for corrections where warranted, and she explains when and how to apply them.

Overall, the author does a very good job. Certainly I have my quibbles. I do think that the author recommends acquiring a puppy at too young an age (six weeks), for example. She also includes a quirky suggestion about lining one's car with absorbent material and having the puppy nap by itself in it for a half-hour each day in order to feel comfortable in the car. Most dogs grow accustomed to cars with far less exposure, so this isn't necessary, and I'm not terribly convinced that it's a safe idea.

I regret that she doesn't discuss crate training in any depth, especially to facilitate housebreaking and car travel. This is largely a cultural difference, as the author is British. Crates are not as widely accepted or used there as in this country. She does advocate using a larger playpen area as an alternative. The playpen includes both a dog bed and newspapers on which the pup can relieve itself. Crate-training, properly done, probably results in quicker housebreaking, although Bailey is rather dismissive of crates. An option she never discusses is combining both the playpen and crate and using the combination to best advantage.

Bailey's approach is comprehensive and sensible. She conveys the correct attitude toward puppy-rearing, urging the reader to be not only a friend and playmate to their puppy but also an instructor and authority figure, as "Successful training depends on being seen as important enough to issue commands." Much of her text relates to teaching self-control, playing games with toys in a constructive way, and preventing foreseeable problems like dogs who cannot settle down or who cannot be left alone. This makes sense, as the author works as a behavior counselor at a large animal shelter and sees the tragic results when dogs receive insufficient boundaries and education.

I do recommend this book. It is a very readable, simple yet practical guide to puppy-rearing. While it holds no surprises for the seasoned dog owner, it is a valuable primer for the novice. This book makes a nice gift idea for the new puppy owner. Also, due to its well-illustrated and simple style, I think it is a particularly good book for children who want to learn more about understanding and training dogs.

The Perfect Puppy, by Gwen Bailey.
Published by Reader's Digest, 1995. ISBN: 0895778394

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