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Book Review
Maran Illustrated Dog Training
by maranGraphics Development Group

Review by: Kate Connick, Nov. 2005

My first encounter with the Maran Illustrated series of books has been rewarding. Maran Illustrated Dog Training outshines many of its rivals in the genre of photo-illustrated, eye-catching, how to books. I agree with the publisher's self assessment that the book, "is perfect for any visual learner who prefers seeing what to do rather than reading lengthy explanations."

It's difficult to express how incredibly "pretty" this book is. It simply begs the potential reader to pick it up and savor the pages. More than simply palatable or inviting, the book is downright seductive.

Color-coded organization, simple but descriptive topic headings, minimal text, and colorful photographic progressions - the entire presentation is directed toward user appeal. White space is used to best effect in page layout, and the photos themselves are painstakingly uncluttered. Even the person who doesn't have the time or inclination to read books will find this one doable.

One nice touch that offers clarity to descriptions is a stutter-type effect of some of the photos to depict movement. It is an elegantly simple yet effective way to show how a hand signal or dog behavior looks in motion.

Another nice touch that adds warmth is a yearbook-style photo gallery of the dog models used throughout the book (private aside to Debbie Reynolds: I'm in love with your Great Dane). By using an array of breeds and mixes as models, the exercises appear within the grasp of any dog and owner. Visual monotony is also avoided.

Content is strong and comprehensive, although this is typically the style of book that - out of necessity - tends to sacrifice meaningful content in favor of eye appeal. Although the book would be stronger if it retained a tighter focus on training, per se, by omitting some of the generic selection and care advice, the training concepts and exercises themselves are nicely demonstrated and explained. Guided by dog trainer Lisa Roussac Kruitwagen, the fundamentals of "positive training" are presented well.

It is to the publisher's credit that they resisted the contemporary temptation to make this a clicker-training book. Although I have no particular aversion to clickers, I do think that they can alienate pet-owning novices who comprise the target audience for this kind of book. Similarly, the book avoids heavy-handed moralizing and thus remains unfailingly palatable throughout.

The method presented relies almost exclusively on food lures in the initial stage, a technique that works well for many dogs in laying at least a foundation for performance. The need to segue to life rewards is emphasized and tied into the overall pet-owner relationship nicely, as follows: "If you play with your dog and control all of the good things in his life, such as food, games and toys, you will become your dog's favorite life reward."

Corrections, if you can call them that, are generally limited to momentarily withdrawing attention from the dog. Noncompliance is dealt with by that momentary social disconnection, followed by trying again. Perpetual failure to perform as desired is dealt with by regressing to a simpler, previously successful level of performance to solidify one's foundation before advancing. Emphasis is placed on management such as crating the untrained dog to prevent opportunities for misbehavior.

The book's greatest weakness, in practical terms, is that it never gives the reader license to compel behavior. What if you need a dog to sit, down, stay, etc. and he chooses not to, in spite of weeks or months of laying a careful foundation with rewards? Many dogs value the opportunity to chase or sniff above and beyond food or toy rewards, for example. Coercive but not unkind corrections can clarify one's expectations so that a dog understands that he really must perform even if it isn't necessarily what he would prefer at that moment. Including a section on correcting noncompliance in a dog with a solid, reward-based foundation would have made this a better balanced and more useful book. As it stands, it remains useful but incomplete as a result of that omission.

Similarly, corrections are not offered for suppressing or eliminating undesired behavior. There are pragmatic limitations to "positive only" training. Perhaps the least helpful advice in the manual relates to controlling excess barking. When one's dog barks in the crate, for example, he is advised to "use a treat to quiet him... place it against the crate bars and let him sniff your hand. This will stop your dog from barking because he cannot sniff and bark at the same time. Count to five while he's sniffing, give him the treat and praise him, then open the door." It would not be hard to imagine this leading to a vicious circle where the dog barks in order to prompt the owner to silence him with a treat, thus making the barking issue much worse. For many dogs, meeting his unwelcome barking with something offensive, such as an abrupt noise or blast of water, might do a much better job of discouraging him.

Nonetheless, the book presents a good overview of basic obedience exercises, tricks, games, and general information such as socialization. It addresses typical puppy issues like housetraining, as well as other common problems such as begging. Some exercises like going to one's place stand to be very useful in daily life. Others, like preventing resource guarding, are also very practical. The many tricks are a wonderful supplement, not so much for practicality in daily living but because they're just plain fun; owners will enjoy teaching them. Information is presented in a manner that makes it accessible to even a rank novice. Anyone can follow the descriptions of the various training exercises and achieve at least some success.

Some commands might appear puzzlingly redundant, such as teaching down and settle, stay and wait, come and here. It strikes me, for example, that one might be better off teaching one command for each of these exercises rather than teaching what amounts to a strict and a casual version of each.

There are a couple of factual inaccuracies, such as recommending grapes as "good human food to give" and asserting that "only American Kennel Club registered dogs are considered purebred."

One photo disturbed me from a safety standpoint. It depicts parents introducing the dog to the new baby while the dog is attached to a retractable leash. Although the leash appears locked, retractable leashes have the potential to be extremely dangerous, especially in confined areas and around children of any age.

Photographic elaboration would be helpful in places, most notably in the section titled "understanding body language." A topic like that is visual by nature. Yet there are no photos to illustrate the relaxation, stress, aggression, and fear discussed in the text. Martingale collars are often difficult to describe to someone unfamiliar with them. Although the authors recommend these collars, they don't include an illustrative photo for clarity. Nor do they show various versions of halters and harnesses, properly labeled, for comparison purposes. These inclusions would be helpful.

This isn't an all-encompassing textbook and isn't intended to be. My criticisms are nitpicky because of the overall quality of the book. It wouldn't take much for this very good book to become exceptional. Yet this book is outstanding at what it is - delicious eye candy that will lure in the pet owner and entice him to do some training. Supplemental reading or instruction will round out his efforts.

This book is second to none in terms of aesthetic appeal, and it is well done in terms of content. This is an excellent choice for beginners or children, and it would make a thoughtful gift. As a nice bonus, it is surprisingly affordable. I'd love to see the Maran group work on more dog books. Their style of publication suits this field well.

Maran Illustrated Dog Training, by maranGraphics Development Group.
Published by maranGraphics Development Group, 2005. ISBN: 1592008585

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