Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Review: Dogs Are From Neptune

Jean Donaldson's Dogs Are From Neptune is the sequel to The Culture Clash. The first book was aimed at destroying the myths our society holds about dogs as moral beings, and explained how dogs do what they do because they recognize good things happening for dogs. Culture Clash offers obedience training advice broken down into simple steps. Dogs Are From Neptune explains how to deal with behavior problems.
Photo by Erin Koski

When I first brought Brisbane home, I thought I knew a whole lot about dogs and how to train them. I knew all about socialization and basic obedience. What I didn't know was what to do when things didn't go as expected. Dogs Are From Neptune is a wonderful book because it is all about various common behavior problems.

This book is actually a compilation of answers to questions submitted to Jean Donaldson's website. Each answer was so thoughtful and detailed that she decided to put them in print. The solution for each problem is not at all simple and straightforward, and Donaldson gives a number of options for each case. She stresses over and over that the root of nearly all behavior problems is fear and stress, or simply a lack of training. A dog reacts aggressively toward certain people because it is afraid. It jumps up on people because it has not been taught to greet politely. The underlying reasons are simple, but addressing the issue is often very complex.

The first half of the book is about aggression, which is easily the most severe behavior problem in my opinion. The very first question is about a dog who is aggressive toward men. I really like how Jean Donaldson explains classical conditioning, that the dog can learn to feel less fearful around men by having good things happen when he sees men, regardless of his behavior. I often hear people chastising others to not reward bad behavior when classical conditioning would help tremendously. At work I frequently pet and praise dogs that are barking, humping, or engaging in other stress behaviors. Typically the dogs gradually relax and the frequency of the undesirable behavior decreases.

Dogs Are From Neptune is a great read for anyone that works with dogs. Owners of well-behaved dogs can prepare themselves for potential issues and add some behavior management tools to their arsenal for future problems.

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