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Book Review
Final Hope by Stephen J. Joubert
Review by: Kate Connick, Feb. 2005

Targeting those who own and live with aggressive dogs, Stephen J. Joubert's Final Hope attempts to provide the reader with an understanding of dog aggression, as well as a method for gaining control over one's aggressive dog. Promising as the premise may be, this book offers little to the pet owner, beyond providing an excellent recipe for getting oneself badly injured.

Joubert presents an oversimplified view of aggression, echoing the rather tired and overly rigid wolf pack paradigms which have historically enjoyed great popularity. Wallowing in melodramatic, militaristic metaphors, Joubert contends that, "Dominant members of a pack maintain their authority by constantly asserting their power." He continues, "Each wolf will challenge the other, and they will fight... It is this process of achieving the right to govern through violence that creates a cohesive pack... It is only through this process that respect is earned... (and) that respect and power are maintained." Consistent with this perspective, he contends, "You need to change your ranking within your pack... This is done by challenging your dog and winning."

Clearly, this philosophy may be rather unpalatable to the pet owner, especially if the owner lacks either the physical power to outmuscle his dog or is not himself pugnacious by nature. Others may question the validity of the wolf pack model, per se, particularly the way in which Joubert conceptualizes it.

The author blames aggression primarily on failure of the owner to assert sufficient authority over his dog. Joubert's solution to aggression is strict obedience training and restriction of privileges unless earned. His reasoning is that if the dog is deferring to an appropriately "Alpha" owner, the dog is not making decisions to dominate or fear (or consequently, aggress towards) others. "Control is when you are confronted with a situation that is stimulating your dog to become aggressive and you can step in and command your dog to stop." There is an elegant simplicity to his reasoning. Unfortunately it doesn't always work so smoothly in the real world.

Joubert's training methods are traditional, employing little more than a leash, buckle collar and choke collar. Although he allows for head halters or basket muzzles if they increase the owner's confidence, he disdains their potential to become crutches and urges their discontinuance as soon as possible.

Joubert outlines a course of obedience training that involves teaching no, sit/stay, heel, down/stay and come as foundation commands. When he finally does get around to discussing the specific protocols for addressing dominance aggression, fear aggression, and interdog aggression, he places each topic in a separate but nearly identical chapter that does little more than reiterate the importance of obedience training. The redundancy is intolerable if you're reading cover-to-cover. For example, in discussing goals:

Chapter 11: "The goal is to teach your dog the basic obedience commands... I really don't know what more I can say about the important role good obedience work plays in solving dog problems. Keep your commands tight and well defined... If there is one form of aggression I advocate, it is the aggressive teaching of obedience commands. You must be relentless in your pursuit of excellence..."
Chapter 12: "The goal is to teach your dog the basic obedience commands... I really don't know what more I can say about the important role good obedience work plays in solving dog problems. Keep your commands tight and well defined... If there is one form of aggression I advocate, it is the aggressive teaching of obedience commands. You must be relentless in your pursuit of excellence..."
Chapter 13: "The goal is to teach your dog the basic obedience commands... I really don't know what more I can say about the important role good obedience work plays in solving dog problems. Keep your commands tight and well defined... If there is one form of aggression I advocate, it is the aggressive teaching of obedience commands. You must be relentless in your pursuit of excellence..."

Obedience training, per se, doesn't necessarily prevent or cure aggression issues. A dog could be an obedience trial star and still snap if approached by a scary child, growl to protest nail clipping, or reflexively lunge if suddenly awakened. Unfortunately, by discussing aggression in broadest terms, the author neglects to discuss strategies to remedy specific, common contexts where an owner might encounter aggression. Joubert's very general and overly simplistic approach is disappointing.

Certainly, most of us would agree that dogs require structure and leadership in their lives. Many aggressive dogs do lack this, and as indicated, Joubert sensibly makes this a central theme in his book. The real problem with his perspective isn't the general premise that dogs benefit from limits on their behavior, increased exercise, competent leadership and obedience training. The problem is the overly combative way in which Joubert addresses the aggressive dog - an approach that frankly sets the reader up for injury.

If the pet owner is struggling with a biting dog to begin with, advising this owner to be physically confrontational with the dog is reckless and dangerous advice. Joubert repeatedly asserts that the owner is likely to be attacked or mauled, and he explains at some length an effective method for deflecting the attacking dog (stringing the dog up by the leash until it stops resisting). While that may very well save a handler's skin in an emergency, it is presented as a skill that one must master because of the inevitability of attack by one's dog. The physical dexterity required to perform these handling maneuvers is significant, especially if one has a large or powerful dog. It is because this book nearly ensures violence between dog and owner that it is patently unsafe and not recommended.

Is it ever possible for a handler to cow a dog into bite inhibition? Sure. It's also very possible to give readers just enough reckless confidence and misleading information to get themselves very badly and unnecessarily hurt.

Joubert believes that training must, of necessity, be confrontational. He explains, "Aggressive dogs bite... they are most likely to bite when you are confronting them, and when you are training a dog properly, you are confronting them... have the first aid kit and insurance card available in case you wind up in the emergency room." The author teaches "no" by associating it with a commanding voice, collar/scruff shake, and hard stare while admitting, "there is considerable danger in challenging an aggressive dog." There is no doubt that physically taking on a dog with a history of puncturing bites is an excellent way to provoke it. Joubert has no hesitation in acknowledging this, as he declares, "One aspect of taking charge that you must be prepared for is the likelihood that you will be bitten or attacked at least once during the training process."

But do these methods ultimately work? Maybe, maybe not. They're not safe, as indicated. Further, while some dogs may, in fact, respond to this sort of heavily physical, combative approach, many other dogs will not. Flooding a fearfully aggressive dog or physically confronting an assertively aggressive dog, as the author recommends, can backfire disastrously and make the aggression dramatically worse. These are risks no pet owner should take.

Is this book worth reading if you're looking to remedy your dog's aggressive behavior? No. Other books do a better job of describing how to teach obedience exercises, traditionally or otherwise. There are also better books for conceptualizing wolf pack dynamics, if one is drawn to that way of interpreting dog behavior. When dealing with an aggressive dog, this book is nothing short of dangerous in the hands of a pet owner.

bone
Final Hope by Stephen J. Joubert.
Published by Howell Book House, 1998. ISBN: 0876053657

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