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Book Review
Before You Get Your Puppy
by Ian Dunbar

Review by: Kate Connick, Jan. 2003

Ian Dunbar can be an amusing, albeit unfocused, speaker. He has written some good articles about behavior and training which are useful to pet owners. Thus, Before You Get Your Puppy is both a disappointment and a surprise. Although there are some worthwhile nuggets of information, they are hard to find. The overall effect of this skimpy book is one of confused organization and redundancy. The tone is unnecessarily melodramatic, making it neither palatable nor believable.

Dunbar identifies six developmental deadlines of puppyhood, the first three of which are addressed in this book. Two occur before one brings home a puppy, and the third occurs during the first week that the puppy is in its new home. "If your puppy fails to meet any of these deadlines," warns Dunbar, "it will be unlikely to achieve its full potential."

The first developmental deadline is owner education. Dunbar offers the great newsflash that puppies bark, chew, dig, eliminate, and require training, and he advises the owner to learn about all that stuff before acquiring their puppy. That's about as deep as the chapter gets. He never discusses any of the specifics in detail, instead suggesting, "So read books, watch videos, observe training classes... test drive as many adult dogs as possible." My guess is that someone purchases a book like this in order to learn some of this information and not to be advised to go somewhere else and learn it.

In terms of what kind of dog to select, Dunbar continually downplays the role of genetics, insisting that good dogs are strictly a result of socialization and training - a conclusion that many would challenge.

He also includes a bizarre rant about why he will not comment on particular breeds. He refuses to recommend breeds, because he believes that people then won't feel the need to train their dogs. And he won't advise against specific breeds, because he insists that people will acquire these dogs anyway and will then feel too discouraged to train them. It's a peculiar sort of fatalism, and frankly I found it insulting that he sells potential pet owners so short.

Frustrating inconsistencies pepper his text. For example, although he echos the conventional wisdom of getting a puppy from a good breeder at eight weeks of age, he also states that if an experienced owner wants to get a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, that it should be acquired no later than six to eight weeks of age. A page later, he warns that one should be choosey when selecting a breeder.

Dunbar's second developmental deadline involves the potential owner being able to evaluate a puppy before bringing it home. He sensibly stresses the importance of a puppy being raised indoors and exposed to a regular household environment, accustomed to handling, and not overly noise sensitive.

On the other hand, he insists that an eight-week-old puppy must "at the very least... come, sit, lie down, and roll over when requested" and have been "errorlessly" housetrained and chewtoy trained or it is developmentally retarded. I can only imagine the look on a breeder's face if a potential pet owner inquired about an eight-week-old puppy's obedience training regimen and "errorless" housetraining protocol. In fact, I think that Dunbar's expectations are laughably unrealistic. As long as a puppy is healthy, trusting, and affectionate, it can learn the rest.

His third developmental deadline is errorless housetraining and chewtoy training during the first week in the puppy's new home. In a nutshell, this involves almost total confinement to a crate or exercise pen - respectively referred to as a Doggy Den or Puppy Playpen - combined with a continual supply of food-stuffed Kongs and hourly potty visits. He also includes brief instructions on lure-rewarding the sit, down and stand.

Although I favor books with a conversational tone, he goes to the extreme of being cutesy and insipid. He is often insulting, as well. "The average person cannot effectively praise a sick lettuce," he asserts. In the ultimate cop out, he refers readers to his other publications if the housetraining and chewtoy training instructions in this book aren't working within a week's time. But first he asserts, "Your puppy is not a 'Bad Puppy.' On the contrary, your puppy is a good puppy who has been forced to misbehave because its owner could not, or would not, follow simple instructions. Please reread and follow the above instructions!" What an appallingly snotty way to treat the consumer who purchased his book.

Oddly, while Dunbar identifies bite inhibition as a priority in puppy raising, he never discusses how one actually teaches it. Rather, he repeatedly refers readers to his other publications. In an amusing expression of shameless self-promotion, many of the books and videos that he recommends are his own. He claims that these are the top books/videos "as voted by the Dog Friendly Dog Trainers Group." Who are they? He also plugs APDT - the Association of Pet Dog Trainers - to the point of annoyance, repeatedly reminding the reader to call APDT's 800 number and find a trainer.

Perhaps most objectionable of all is his alarmist, nearly histrionic presentation. Dunbar asserts that "it takes only a few days to ruin an otherwise perfect puppy," an utterly absurd remark. Not only are puppies and dogs remarkably resilient, but this kind of writing can only set the novice pet owner up for anxiety and failure. Dunbar lays it on thickly, "Your pup's first week in your home is the most crucial developmental period of its life. This short, make-or-break period pretty much determines whether your puppy will develop into a well mannered and good natured companion... or whether it will develop numerous, predictable behavior problems and grow up to be fearful and unfriendly towards people and other dogs." Geez.

He tries to scare the reader who doesn't know any better by insisting that housetraining and chewtoy training must be "errorless," as "Allowing a single housesoiling mistake is a disaster." How unrealistic. Far better to prepare the potential owner for inevitable accidents and property damage than to prime her to become overwrought at having ruined her puppy if she or the puppy make a mistake. Mistakes do happen, and in spite of Dunbar's suffocating melodrama, they don't then necessarily lead to euthanasia.

Everything in this book is urgent, dire, disastrous. All roads lead to euthanasia. Exclamation points abound. In coming on so strong, Dunbar parodies himself. Does anybody really believe that "without a doubt, regularly feeding a new puppy (or adult dog) from a bowl is the single most disastrous mistake of dog husbandry and training"? Perhaps this book would have been better dubbed "Chicken Little's Guide to Guilt and Shame Regarding Minutia in Puppy Rearing."

The end result is a booklet which does more to irritate than educate the reader. There is certainly nothing in this book for a seasoned pet owner, but I wasn't expecting that there would be. It's geared for the person who wants to get a puppy but doesn't know what to expect. What information is in this book can be found elsewhere, minus the heavy melodrama and wordy redundancy. All that a novice pet owner would gain from this book is unnecessary stress and worry. The only thing that I really liked about this book is the cover art, done by Tracy Dockray.

Before You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar.
Published by James & Kenneth Publishers, 2001. ISBN: 1888047003

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