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Book Review
Woman's Best Friend
by Babette Haggerty-Brennan

Review by: Kate Connick, January 2006

Babette Haggerty-Brennan addresses female pet owners in her book, Woman's Best Friend. Although it is ultimately a basic guide to choosing and training one's dog, it is presented in the tone of informal girl chat. The author attempts to both celebrate women, as well as convey information of specific relevance to female dog owners.

In general, Haggerty-Brennan's approach to basic obedience involves physically placing a dog into desired stationary positions, as well as using changes of direction and collar jerks to teach heeling. Verbal praise is her preferred reward, although food is not verboten in the initial stages.

The greatest strengths to her presentation include a very clear, step-by-step explanation of how to proceed, accompanied by photographic representations. The handler's correct body movements - termed "katas" - are described and illustrated independent of, as well as with, the dog. This could be very helpful for a reader.

Haggerty-Brennan offers several alternative approaches to each command, and to her credit, she is open-minded regarding equipment. She points out, sensibly, that, "It is important to understand that any tool can be used effectively and correctly and any tool can also be used ineffectively and incorrectly."

Also to her credit, the author points out that "training needs to be easy and realistic." She understands that the typical pet owner has other demands on her time and needs methods that will offer expedience. She focuses on core obedience exercises, sometimes making concessions (e.g., allowing a dog to lie down on a sit stay) and additions (e.g., detailing sit-stays specifically in the car) to suit the real-world needs of a pet owner.

Admittedly, some readers might find the author's preparatory exercises helpful, but others could find them unnecessary and even goofy. Does one really need to engage in breathing, positive visualization, and positive affirmation exercises to teach dog to sit? Passages like this may or may not appeal to the reader:

"Look in the mirror and say, 'I have a great dog. She and I are going to have fun today. We are going to learn a lot from one another. I am not going to worry about anything else because I am going to give Star fifteen minutes of quality time training her. Everything is going to get done. I am not going to think about all of my other responsibilities.'"

Similarly, recommendations for Bach flower remedies, aromatherapy, TTouch massage, vitamin/mineral supplementation, and homeopathy may alienate or resonate with readers, depending on one's particular perspective. I think the author is at her best when she's pragmatic, so I don't think the New Agey stuff enhances her content.

I'm not so sure that the central theme of the book entirely works. Tackling the unique needs of female dog owners seems effective more from an entertainment perspective than an informational one. Yes, women can lack upper body strength and authoritative vocal tones, but the author seems to be stretching on other counts. For example, is women's underwear-eating really any different from simple sock-eating? Do "big boobies" really interfere with a woman's physical dexterity in teaching a sit stay? I'm not so sure these topics are very compelling. Nonetheless, the author's shtick may amuse a reader, particularly her emphasis on using dogs as "mate bait."

In the end, this may be an entertaining and helpful book, albeit not to every reader's taste. Some may prefer a different style of training or may find the humor, chattiness, New Agey flavor, and "what's a girl to do" angle overdone. Nonetheless, the balanced, practical underpinnings and clear lesson plans will be useful to other readers, especially those who seek an approach to training that isn't dependent on food.

Woman's Best Friend by Babette Haggerty Brennan
Published by Contemporary Books, 2004. ISBN: 0071417400

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