Sometimes a book surprises you, and Jack & Colleen McDaniel's Pooches & Small Fry is a pleasant surprise. I had bought this book some time ago, after casually glancing at the title and assuming that it discussed dog-child interactions. Much to my amusement, that's not the case. This book approaches dog training from a parenting perspective. That is, it explores the analogy between parenting children and "parenting" the family dog.
I'm one of those folks who winces when somebody asks me how my "kids" are doing, when they're really asking about my dogs. That being said, like many people, I do consider the dogs part of the family. A surprising number of people call themselves their dog's "mommy" or "daddy," and as the authors point out, a dog owner's role bears many similarities to that of a very young child's parent. The authors succeed in making a potentially foolish premise into an intriguing and believable one. More to the point, they present a sound, healthy, balanced approach to dog training and make it humorous, cogent, and palatable by using the parenting metaphor.
The authors don't ham-handedly present dogs as little "fur kids" that need gooey amounts of sentimentality to thrive. Nor do they ascribe to modern fads in non-parenting where human children are allowed to run amok in some demented attempt to buy their friendship and avoid stifling their spirit. To the contrary, in order to be safe, civilized, and pleasant, both dogs and children need to learn to respect and obey authority figures, comply with rules, and generally be under control. The authors assert:
"Most behavior problems in your dog, and many of them in your other kids, are the direct result of failing to establish respect for your authority, either from an inability, a lack of desire, or a lack of clear education on how to do so."
In essence, the authors present dominance theory via their metaphor. A pack is basically an extended family unit, and effectively "parenting" a dog first and foremost requires one to be a competent leader. The beauty of the analogy is that it captures the proper tenor of dog ownership. One must be in control, making rules and insisting on compliance. Yet there is nothing unkind or tyrannical about it. It is merely a reflection of responsible custodianship.
This is a healthy message for any dog owner to grasp, and it is more palatable for many readers to think of their of their dogs as "children" than as suburban wolves or glorified lab rats. Although one might be inclined to reflexively groan at the notion of the authors suggesting that pet owners are "parents" to their doggie "kids," they're really just fleshing out an analogy and serving a message that may be exactly what the overindulgent dog "mommy" or "daddy" needs to hear.
The writing style is conversational, very readable, and often quite amusing, especially when the authors relate some of the cases they're worked with. The Lon Walker illustrations don't really impress me, but they don't detract from the text, either. I could nitpick some of the details of the training approach if I wanted to. The idea of scolding a puddle of urine that the dog deposited indoors, then moving it outside (blotted onto paper towels), and praising it for being in the right place is something I'd consider goofy at best, for example. That being said, the overall effect of the book is on target. It's more of a philosophy book than a how-to manual, and it succeeds on that note.
The authors stress the importance of training basic, core commands to the point of reliability across contexts. They point out that one can have a dog that does obedience tricks without having any real control over the dog, but that control is the desired goal. Their approach couldn't be considered heavy-handed by any stretch, but they do advocate choke collars and corrections. They express nicely the intended effect of a correction - essentially to serve as an attention-getter to refocus the dog and get him back on task.
While there isn't anything revolutionary for the experienced dog owner in this book, it may be a delightful motivator for the overindulgent owner who is having trouble understanding the value of being a leader to their dog. The authors state, "parenting is the art of being a good leader," and, "being a leader is teaching the rules, the benefits of following them, the consequences of ignoring them, what will be tolerated and what won't." It's a deceptively simply yet potent message.
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