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Book Review
My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do?
by Turid Rugaas

Review by: Kate Connick, Nov. 2005

Struggling against a straining, hard-pulling dog can be frustrating, exhausting, and downright exasperating. Yet leash walking is an exercise that owners often find among the most difficult to master. My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do? narrowly focuses on this particular topic.

This is a potentially useful yet frustratingly disappointing booklet. In truth, the method presented would probably be helpful in at least laying a foundation for polite walking for many dogs and owners. Ruthlessly edited, this would be an excellent article. I'm not sure that there is enough informational content to justify an eleven-dollar book, however.

Turid Rugaas presents her approach to loose-leash walking in this colorful, attractive, photographically illustrated booklet. The brevity and outstanding graphic design draw in the reader, as does the simplicity of the text. In other words, it is inviting and readable.

Rugaas places a premium on using techniques that do "not hurt, frighten or stress the dogs" and that are "simple enough for everybody to be able to use with a minimum of help and explanation... also simple enough for dogs to learn quickly." Those are sensible priorities.

In a nutshell, her method begins with teaching the dog to look to the owner for a food reward in response to a sound like a tongue click. When the dog is inclined to pull, the owner uses the attention-getting sound to redirect the dog's focus as the owner moves off in another direction before rewarding the dog with a treat.

Equipment is limited to a leash and soft collar or harness, along with food treats. For the average dog and pet owner, this approach can provide a good foundation for teaching attention and walking. Many trainers nowadays use this general approach, at least in the early stages of training, because it is easily mastered and enjoyable for dog and owner.

For many dogs, especially robust pullers who are far more excited by environmental smells, sights and stimuli in general than by owners holding hot dogs, this method may not provide sufficient leverage towards fostering leash manners. Owners with hardcore pullers may find that this booklet doesn't meet their needs. Yet presumably, that is a predictable chunk of the target audience for this booklet.

Rugaas disapproves strongly of head halters, choke, martingale and pinch collars, no-pull style harnesses, and leash-corrections in general. She objects based on her conviction that they cause unacceptable levels of stress, pain, and physical trauma. Unfortunately, she loses credibility by overstating her concerns, suggesting that these training tools routinely cause everything from blindness to brain damage, crushed thyroids, and serious neck and back injuries. It is the equivalent of distortedly asserting that using food treats in training results in obesity, pancreatitis, diabetes, periodontal disease and shortened lifespan.

One can misuse anything, of course, and some things lend themselves to misuse. Used properly, the various training aids over which she agonizes can be helpful to dog and owner alike, and either she knows this and is guilty of intellectual dishonesty or she just doesn't understand the equipments' proper application. For example, claiming that check (choke) collars require dogs to "gasp for air" and impede blood circulation and oxygen delivery demonstrates basic ignorance of their intended purpose - to deliver a split-second, attention-compelling sensation tantamount to a "hey you!" poke in the ribs. I don't routinely use choke collars with my pet owning clients, so I'm not suggesting that Rugaas is wrong for avoiding them. I am insisting that she's presenting a misinformed rationale for rejecting them.

Other assertions are not convincing, either. Among them, she contends that, "If a dog doesn't seem to hear you when you make the sound because he is too interested in looking or sniffing... it is a fact that when a dog uses one sense, he literally cuts out another. So when he concentrates on sniffing something of interest, he doesn't hear."

A fact? Then why is it that a dog who is intently sniffing, say, deer droppings will instantly react to the sound of a chipmunk rustling in the leaves behind him? Her assertion is, of course, absurd. Dogs focus on what they consider important. The same dog that "cannot" hear the owner may have absolutely no problem hearing a dog bark several streets away. It is not a matter of sensory inability. It's is a matter of selective attention. Too often, as in this example, the author doesn't give dogs nearly enough credit; her expectations seem woefully low.

Until one's dog is competent at walking on a loose leash, one is advised "to not make him walk nicely on his way to the park where he has a lot of fun, or to other places where he is really keen to go." That is viewed as too challenging, as is walking politely "for the entirety of a long walk." Initially, only five to ten minutes of loose-leash walking is considered a realistic expectation. Mind you, this is not strict heeling but simply walking on a leash without pulling. Again, the standards seem bafflingly low.

The author never allows for any form of compulsion, correction, or overt physical control. "Where you cannot use the training techniques but have to walk the dog," her alternatives include taking the leash off or letting the dog pull on a harness. This contradicts her recommendation of teaching loose leash walking on a harness, of course.

The author's circular reasoning suggests that you cannot train a stressed dog, yet she seems to view all non-responsiveness as manifestations of stress. It amounts to stating that the dog will respond to training when he's ready and one should not expect him to refrain from pulling until then. Needless to say, many pet owners need something that will facilitate safe, pleasurable walking in a more expedient way.

I had great hopes for this little book, and I do see merit in Rugaas's general method, especially in laying the groundwork for attention and polite walking. But with only 50 pages of actual content, I can't recommend this as a meaningful resource, especially when it is most likely to disappoint the reader who needs it most.

My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do? by Turid Rugaas.
Published by Dogwise Publishing, 2005. ISBN: 1929242239

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