Book Review: The way of the dog by Stuart Barnes

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Having a new puppy in the house, I’m obsessively reading as much as I can about dog behaviour and training tips. A lot of this is in the form of online resources – whole websites, articles and a plethora of YouTube footage.

My hairdresser swears by this book, quoting the great line “if we are the most intelligent creatures on earth, why do we try to make our domesticated animals understand our language instead of us understanding theirs?”

That’s quite hard to argue with.

The Way of the Dog explores the ways dogs behave the way they do. If you can understand that, Barnes argues, you can train them better and correct unwanted behaviour. Barnes wrote this book based on years of observing pack animals in the wild. His early chapters are devoted to this extensive experience, and makes for impressive reading. Barnes sets up his credentials early.

It is a very quick book to read – I devoured it in a couple of hours. It is simply presented and written. It’s almost like Barnes is talking to you. His logic is clear, and hard to argue with. I love the notion of a dog whisperer, and buy in to the energy affecting your dog.

As to whether his training methods are ‘right’; I don’t know. The Dog Behaviouralist  at our puppy class disagrees to some extent. The amount of breeding, over centuries, means that there is another overriding ‘force’ in the dog in our homes today. They want to serve their masters. Simple. The pack instinct of wild dogs or wolves have largely been bred-out. The punitive aspects of dog training (which Barnes alludes to in places, like a short-sharp snap of a lead to teach walking to heel, or using your hand/fingers to stimulate the mouth of the Alpha Dog) are seen as out-dated, with distraction/reward a better strategy. See this article as an example (although it’s horrid to read with the web format!)

What do I know?

I’m not sure about growling at my soppy black Labrador. I do make disapproving sounds at her (like an ah-ah-ah), but a growl? Oh no. She doesn’t bark, is proving herself to be loyal and obedient. She is curious and quite brave. She simply sits down and watches if she doesn’t know what to do about something. She is a scavenger (she is a Labrador), and is very motivated by food (repeat: she is a Labrador). She is also a scamp, but she’s a puppy.

The Way of The Dog makes for a fascinating read, but this owner isn’t sure that all of his methods are for me, or my dog.

 

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