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Book Review
Help for Your Shy Dog, by Deborah Wood
Review by: Kate Connick, Aug. 2002

This breezy little paperback is a gem. Deborah Wood has managed to present a very readable, optimistic, and practical guide for coping with a shy dog. Between Wood's refreshingly conversational writing style and Amy Aitken's endearing illustrations, this is a book that any owner of a shy dog would find palatable and motivating.

Wood uses nine shy dogs, including one of her own, to highlight the concepts she presents. The technique works nicely to help personalize the subject matter. The reader finds oneself feeling sympathy for the dogs, as well as empathy for their owners - appreciating the long-term challenge of shy-dog ownership and celebrating the hard-earned achievements.

The author gives useful, practical advice that embellishes upon only a few central themes. The primary concept around which the book is structured is that the key to helping a shy dog through life is extensive and continual training and calm leadership, "...A dog's basic personality doesn't change. However, a fearful dog can learn to compensate for her shyness. The more training she receives and the more situations she experiences, the better she compensates. Your goal with your dog will be to help with the compensation process."

To her credit, Woods is not dripping in saccharine or Pollyanna wishfulness. She warns against coddling or "enabling" shy dogs, and she is adamant that fear-biting dogs are simply unsafe to maintain in a home with children. She points out that shy dogs may learn slowly and take little pleasure in being touched. I like her use of the very appropriate term "risk-averse" as a synonym for fearfulness or shyness. The author does admit that she would never recommend that anyone intentionally acquire a shy dog and that getting the fear under control may be a long-term or lifelong challenge. She matter-of-factly discusses safety issues like muzzles and management.

Yet she asserts, "It's never too late to help (a shy dog) get better!" One might argue that the book's greatest weakness is the overly optimistic tone. I would have liked to see one hard-core chapter, for example, addressing the subject of the dog who cannot be saved. There are some dogs that simply don't improve enough to ever be safe animals or to attain a decent quality of life, in spite of their owners' hard work and good intentions. A chapter devoted to assessing when a dog is not salvageable would make the book better balanced and more realistic.

The other notable omission is a discussion, even in passing, of the use of psychotropic medications for dogs with fear-based behavior problems, as the use of these drugs is relatively common nowadays.

That being said, the book does not pretend to be the final authoritative word on assessing and dealing with dog fearfulness. It is what it is - a very inviting book that offers the shy-dog owner hope, encouragement, and basic direction. The author is a former social worker, and it shows in her optimism and empathy. This book sets out to offer Help for Your Shy Dog, and it succeeds admirably. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any pet owner, nor anyone interested in dogs and training. This book would also make a nice gift.

Help for Your Shy Dog by Deborah Wood.
Published by Howell Book House, 1999. ISBN: 0876050364

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