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Book Review
Bite Busters by Silvia Wilson
Review by: Kate Connick, Nov. 2000

There are so many dog books on the market these days that it's sometimes difficult for a consumer to determine which ones are worth purchasing and which ones aren't. I read a lot in this area, and as a result I'm very impatient with dog books that waste my time. Bite Busters is one of those books that never needed to be published. While it isn't the worst pap on the market, this skimpy book is not worth reading either.

I hold in my hand a copy of Bite Busters, subtitled "How to Deal with Dog Attacks." The cover illustration shows a snarling dog. The back cover proclaims that, "(for) anyone who comes into regular contact with dogs, and wants to do so safely, this book is a must."

In fairness, this book isn't a total loss. It contains kernels of information that are useful. Unfortunately most of that information is either common knowledge (eg., don't leave small children alone with dogs) or is readily available elsewhere at no cost. The most central theme to this book is the very accurate principle that, when confronted by a potentially aggressive dog or bitten by one, is best approach is to react as little as possible (ie., don't run, scream, aggress, stare at, or otherwise provoke/inflame an already p.o.'d pooch). Very true. Do an internet search on dog bites, and I'm willing to bet that you'll find a few thousand pages that will tell you the exact same thing.

There are two fundamental flaws with this book. The first is that it's just too superficial to be a meaningful manual for understanding or dealing with dog aggression. The second, and more troubling concern, is that this book is riddled with problems that detract from its credibility.

So what's wrong with the book?

Shameless self-promotion.
Although the book jacket proclaims Australian author Sylvia Wilson a "renowned" dog professional, I don't know anyone who has ever heard of her. That's okay, though. She tells me over and over just how darned good she is. It's grating. Frankly I have a hard time taking anyone seriously when they are so self-aggrandizing.

Gimmicky nonsense.
Don't believe me that ol' Sylvia is overly impressed with herself? She seems to believe that she herself has invented this concept of remaining still and not antagonizing an aggressive dog. The book was published in 1997. Does she really think she's that original? Well, yes. She calls her "revolutionary" approach the oh-so-cutesy "Stand Right No Bite Technique" and actually states, "my husband Danny and I developed it after many years of research and personal experiments." I'll grant that she came up with a hokey name, but to claim credit for inventing this approach to aggressive dogs is absurd and undermines anything meaningful she has to say.

That's not gimmicky enough for you? Okay, she calls herself a "dog therapist/behaviorist." C'mon, call a spade a spade. There's no shame in being a dog trainer. It's just too darn adorable and Yuppified to call yourself a dog therapist. What on Earth is a dog therapist, anyway?

Factual inaccuracies.
Ms. Wilson owns a Bull Terrier. She's a dog therapist. One would expect her to have a pretty solid knowledge of, say, Bull Terriers. If I'm paying cold hard cash for her insights, I expect her to get her bloody facts straight. Unfortunately she puts little thought or research into some of the nonsense she proclaims. For example, she states that, "The English Bull Terrier was originally bred to herd bulls." (In case you have any doubt as to what breed she means, there is an accompanying illustration of a Bull Terrier). That's simply not historically accurate. Period.

Bull Terriers (aka "Spuds MacKenzie dogs"), in case you need to know, were actually developed as a prettified version of the original pit bull terriers. The goal was to create a dog who would excel in the (dog and rat) pits, as well as in the conformation arena. In essence, they were bred with appearance being the foremost consideration. Check my facts. Bull Terriers are not and were never developed for herding cattle. Again, Ms. Wilson destroys her credibility. If she doesn't even know the basic origins of her own breed of dog, how educated can she really be when it comes to dogs in general?

Ridiculous analogies.
A dog and a person are not one and the same. They do not think alike in many respects. They are different species, and that's wise to keep in mind when dealing with them. Yet Ms. Wilson asks us to conceptualize dog aggression by taking a completely anthropomorphic approach.

She tells a story about a dog who is confronted on his own property by a trespasser who thrusts a large bag in the resident dog's face as it barks at him, then thumps the dog over the head with his walking stick when the dog attacks the bag. She makes sense of the resulting 47 puncture wounds the trespasser sustained by asking the reader to take the place of the dog. "How would you react?" Me, I'd put my tail between my legs and run. And so would my 4 dogs. And so would most dogs, actually. Although Ms. Wilson acknowledges that most potential police dogs fail to make the grade because of a reluctance to bite humans, she seems to view a 47-bite assault as a normal, appropriate reaction to a threatening stranger based on how any of us would respond in the same situation.

What the heck, let's follow her logic. Think about it. Someone steps on your property while you're gardening, and you charge them yelling. They thrust a bag in your face, and you wrestle them for it. They hit you once with a cane, and you stab them 47 times. Appropriate? No, absurd, but it illustrates the author's badly flawed logic. How I would react in certain situations has virtually no relevance to how a dog would react, and vice versa.

Oversimplified view of dog bites.
Ms. Wilson doesn't seem to make any distinction between dogbites, which I find curious. Most professionals who deal with aggression grade bites according to such factors as how much damage they cause (eg., fatal, multiple punctures, single bites, non-puncturing) and to what body parts they are directed (eg., face, hands/arms/legs, torso). She doesn't seem to make such distinctions. If someone is enduring a 47-bite assault, might that not be a little different from a single bite and retreat? Perhaps a person who is being mauled would be wise to realize that their life might be in jeopardy and might need to react a little differently from someone who is dealing with a dog that is simply bluffing? She takes none of this into consideration except to state (incorrectly, I might add) that "a dog won't bite you if you do the right thing."

The author seems to blame most dogbites on dominance and fear, neglecting to explore other reasons like predation and redirected aggression. Some of her conclusions demonstrate a glaring lack of understanding of canine behavior. It is far more likely, for example, that a dog kills an infant out of predatory interest than dominance.

Meaningless breed commentaries.
Are some breeds more inclined to be territorial, dominant, and aggressive than others? Of course, that's what some breeds were created for. It's misleading to suggest that all breeds are created equal, yet that's essentially what Ms. Wilson does. Some of her comments are laughable.

"I have found (Rottweilers) to be slow to anger; they would rather walk away from a confrontation than fight." Oh yeah? Then she sees very poor quality Rotties, because they are supposed to be dominant, territorial, protective animals. A Rottweiler of proper breed temperament will guard his territory and his family and is much less likely than many breeds to back down from a confrontation. Of course this is a generalization, but if I were offering advice to a postal worker, I'd tell him to bypass the house with a Rottweiler monitoring the mailbox. That Rottweiler, based strictly on reasonable breed generalizations, is more likely to challenge him than the Greyhound next door or the Bulldog down the block.

Ignorant denial of genetics.
Along the same vein, Ms. Wilson asserts that aggression is a result of training rather than genetics. This is simply not true. Both genetics and environment factor into aggression, and it is naive to ignore the influence of either. My jaw dropped when I read her assertion that, "All dogs can be trained. Greyhounds can be trained not to chase, cattle dogs not to herd, hunting dogs not to hunt and fighting dogs not to fight." That is a complete dismissal of genetic influences, and it is nothing short of ridiculous. Again, her credibility is adversely affected by some of this nonsense she believes.

Irresponsible advice.
Some of Ms. Wilson's advice is so incorrect that I wonder if she's ever tried it herself. She claims that splashing water on fighting dogs will stop them. This is an old wives' tale, and it simply does not work if dogs are seriously engaged in a fight. Nonetheless, it's conventional advice, so I can't really fault her for repeating it.

However, if the water trick doesn't work, she then recommends two people each taking fighting dogs by the collars and pulling them up and back. Think for a moment. You have a large dog who is enraged and fighting. You take his collar, lift him up off his front legs and backwards. Where's his mouth (the one with all the sharp teeth)? Where's your face? Where is he likely to redirect his aggression? This is absolutely horrible, dangerous, disasterous advice. I am dismayed that she put it in print. Don't do it!

Noteworthy omissions.
Ms. Wilson markets this book, in part, for people like meter readers and postal workers who need to face aggressive dogs as part of their jobs. Yet she never mentions one of the most common and effective methods of repelling aggressive dogs - pepper spray. This is a peculiar omission.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The bottom line is that what tidbits of meaningful information are contained in this 90-page paperback are trapped in pages and pages of crud: self-aggrandizing, inaccurate, reckless nonsense. Although the book attempts to offer something for everyone (owners, animal-care professionals, professionals in other fields who unavoidably come across dogs, etc.) it fails due to both its superficiality and credibility issues.

One would be better off reading an online article like Dealing with Aggressive Dogs for basic dogbite information or reading a book like Bruce Fogle's A Dog's Mind for basic information about dog behavior in general.

Note: This book review was originally published at

Bite Busters by Silvia Wilson.
Published by Simon & Schuster (Australia), 1997. ISBN: 0731806190

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