Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book Review: The Other End of the Leash

While Tim was reading How To Speak Dog by Stanley Coren, I was immersed in this fine book by Applied Animal Behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell. The Other End of the Leash takes a look at not only canine behavior, but primate behavior as well, pointing out ways in which the two often conflict and how to better understand and communicate with our dogs. For instance, how often do we use our hands to point at things we want our dogs to notice or directions we want them to go, only to have poor Fido stare confusedly at our hands? Dogs point with their faces, and so looking towards the object we want our dogs to get or the direction we want them to go works best.

Another thing we primates do is hug. Nothing says love and trust like wrapping our arms around each other and pressing our hearts together. But for dogs, that can be distressing and even downright rude. Luckily for us, our pets learn to tolerate and even understand those gestures of affection. I know I still hug my puppy and he doesn't seem to mind.

Dr. McConnell has had years of experience with troubled pets and shares some of her more interesting and sometimes dangerous encounters. She also has some hilarious stories, such as her work with jockeys from various countries. She was studying how these various cultures "speak" to their horses: what sounds they use to encourage them to run and what sounds they use to slow them down. (Very enlightening, by the way.) While she conducted her research, her driver and translator was dealing drugs and trying unsuccessfully to seduce her. The sacrifices that are made in the name of science...

Her book explores subjects such as why dogs seem to love the nastiest smells but hate being spritzed with "doggie deodorants," the fallacy of "dominating" your dog rather than simply being dominant (yep, there's a big difference), how dogs play and why it's so important that they do, and why being quiet is often the best way to communicate with your canine friend.

We can't stop being humans, and certainly there's nothing wrong with that, but what comes naturally to us - repeating ourselves, talking loudly in a high pitch when excited, using our hands to pull, push, throw, grab, love and punish - often gets interpreted completely the wrong way by our best friends. This book is an eye-opener and a jolly good read. You'll come to know Dr. McConnell's own amazing animals and share laughs, heartbreak and even life-threatening suspense.

One of the most impressive things I took away from this book was just how much our dogs learn to understand "Human."

The Other End of the Leash:
Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, PhD.
Ballantine Books
isbn 034544678x

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