Posts filed under ‘books’

Cesar’s Rules – a ‘must read’ review

My friend Alison Lever recently wrote a wonderfully detailed and perceptive review of Cesar Millan’s latest book, Cesar’s Rules over on infopet. Go, read the whole thing now.

Alison discusses Cesar’s philosophy on living with dogs, his evolution as a trainer and compares popular behaviorism with Cesar’s dog psychology. Her observations on life with dogs in a small Spanish village provide an insightful bridge between Millan’s rural Mexican roots and the experiences of American dog owners.

I was especially struck by her discussion on the importance of touch in our relationships with dogs. In my puppy and beginning classes I spend much of my time teaching people how to use touch and other aspects of body language effectively. This is something I feel that I’ve always known and I’m sure that (like Cesar) I picked these skills up during summers spent on my grandparent’s farm when I was a young child.

Dogs on that Iowa farm didn’t have much formal training, but they had good manners and they understood what was expected of them. Even though they rarely, if ever, came in the house, they existed as fully integrated – and fulfilled – members of the extended family, like many of the dogs in Alison’s village in Spain.

The current fashion of treating dogs like voters (independent agents whose behavior should only be manipulated by indirect methods) strikes me as insulting to dogs and to their human owners. So when Ian Dunbar is quoted as saying that “Most human hands cannot be trusted,” I can’t help but wonder if the man hides some kind of dark secret.

Dogs are brilliant social creatures not just capable of tolerating, but rather thriving on, a full range of social input. And, with only rare exceptions, people aren’t mindless violent brutes. We all make mistakes in handling dogs – but those mistakes are an unavoidable and valuable part of life.

I believe that the growing fashion of “hand’s off” philosophy is having a terrible effect on dogs in the US today. Some trainer friends and I have been commiserating about how difficult it is to get our clients to commit to going beyond very basic management and bribing to deal with problem dog behavior. As the idea that “human hands can’t be trusted” gains traction, our society is losing the ability to use our bodies effectively to communicate with dogs (and also with each other). These skills are most effective when we learn them intrinsically, as a part of our culture (see the writings of Edward Hall for more on this), and I am deeply concerned that if we continue down this road it will be difficult, if not impossible, to turn back.

Based on Alison’s review, even though I’m not one of Millan’s fans (or detractors) I’ve added this book to my ‘must read’ list.

May 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm 7 comments

October is…

Book month and adopt-a-dog month.

To celebrate we’re giving away three books donated by Hachette Book Group.

  • How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete. One of the classic books on dog training and one I’ve recommended to many people. I agreed to do the give-away specifically because Hachette included this book in the group.
  • Dog Tags by David Rosenfelt. Rosenfelt writes dog-themed legal-thrillers. I read very little fiction these days, so can’t offer any advice on this one. If you win the drawing and send a review, I’ll be glad to post it. 
  • GoD and DoG by Wendy Francisco. I’m not a religious person, haven’t read the book and am not likely to – but the youtube video that inspired it recently generated a lot among my friends in the English Shepherd world so I thought it was appropriate to include it here.

If you’d like to enter the drawing leave a comment below. Make sure you include your real email address as that is how I’ll contact the winner. The winner will be chosen by a drawing to be conducted by the OddMan. Entries close Wednesday October 27, 2010.

The books will be sent to the winner directly by Hachette Book Group. I am receiving nothing  (other than a wee bit of blog-fodder) for posting this.

October 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm 20 comments

Media Treats

Slate Magazine has an interesting article on the National Obedience Invitational. Writer Martin Kihn compares competitive obedience to neoclassical ballet. I see it as closer to team figure skating, but along with Kihn, I don’t understand why conformation shows continue to eclipse obedience trials in popularity, or why so many people think competitive obedience is dull.

Yet devotees will tell you that obedience is one of the most exciting spectator sports anywhere and that the absence of big paydays only adds to its spiritual purity. The best teams appear to perform a kind of interspecies voodoo as they glide through intricately choreographed rituals, attached by nothing more than mental moonbeams. The beams connecting Ford and Tyler are among the strongest in the obedience solar system. As a consequence, the dog-trainer duo is staging a quiet revolution on the circuit.

Be sure to check out the video clip of Ford and Tyler’s performance.

A study published this week in The American Naturalist compares the shapes of domestic dogs’ skulls with those of several different carnivore species. The data indicate that variation between dogs’ skulls was as great as that between all other species. According to Science Daily:

This means, for instance, that a Collie has a skull shape that is more different from that of a Pekingese than the skull shape of the cat is from that of a walrus.

Dr Drake explains: “We usually think of evolution as a slow and gradual process, but the incredible amount of diversity in domestic dogs has originated through selective breeding in just the last few hundred years, and particularly after the modern purebred dog breeds were established in the last 150 years.”

In just 150 years of selective breeding we have created a species that now has a range of skull shapes found nowhere else among carnivores.

Dr Klingenberg adds: “Domestic dogs are boldly going where no self respecting carnivore ever has gone before.

“Domestic dogs don’t live in the wild so they don’t have to run after things and kill them — their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they’ll ever have to chew is their owner’s slippers. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing and would therefore lead to their extinction.

If you ask me, dogs aren’t “getting away with” anything – but – dog breeders in search of ribbons and unique consumer products are.

The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports that David Wroblewski, author of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” is working on a couple of new book projects.

One is a nonfiction anthology, he says, based on material he studied during his research for “Sawtelle”: “All these fabulous papers on animal cognition and animal behavior that I think are really interesting and, if they are tied together correctly, would be really interesting for a general readership. But the big thing is the next novel.” Which is still in its formative stages.

I look forward to reading both of them.

Hat tip to the very excellent Sarah Wilson for the link that led to the trailer for the movie Mine:

The Seattle Times reports:

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the levees broke, many who were forced to leave without their pets endured long searches to find animals that had been ferried to safety without them. You’d think that finding that their pets were alive and well after the storm would be pure joy, but for some, it was more complicated.

The documentary “Mine,” opening Friday at SIFF Cinema in Seattle, tells the stories of people who found their pets in new homes, with rescuers or adopters who didn’t want to give them back.

Our pets occupy a unique niche in our legal system. Dogs and cats aren’t persons under the law and they don’t fit neatly under the aegis of traditional property law. We own them, but we see them as members of our families so we end up with a unique category of living and much beloved property whose legal status is confusing to many of us. It should be interesting to see how the film maker approaches the problem.

The documentary is available for pre-order on Amazon.

January 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm 4 comments

Because Marley “Just Didn’t Cut It”

Berkeley Breathed, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning comic strip Bloom County has a new book out.   As quoted in the San Jose Mercury News,  Breathed said he wrote the graphic novel  “Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster”  because:

I’ve always wanted to write a great, classic dog story,” Breathed said. “‘Marley and Me’ just didn’t cut it. You know, this generation’s ‘Old Yeller.’ That’s why I wrote it.”

And for that quote alone, I’m going to buy it!

(Sorry for the light posting this week  – I’ve been flattened by a nasty flu bug)

October 9, 2009 at 5:17 am 2 comments

Around the Web

Seems like everybody’s blogging about Cesar Millan.

The Agitator blogs on a disturbing number of recent cases where innocent dogs were shot by clueless thugs police officers.


Check out the Pet Cave, a combination bookcase and dog house from the most excellent Bookshelf blog.

BioNet reports that F.W. Albert of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology is working to find the genetic basis for tameness.  As he notes, it will be a “formidable challenge’.

June 10, 2009 at 11:11 pm 2 comments

Thurber’s Dogs

James Thurber is known for his cartoons and short stories.  His wit encompassed a variety of genres, including autobiography, fiction, children’s literature, and commentary as well as several books on dogs.  Thurber loved dogs.

“On the lawns and porches, and in the living rooms and backyards of my threescore years, there have been more dogs, written and drawn, real and imaginary, than I had guessed before I started this roundup.”

Celebrating Thurber and his love of dogs, the Ohio State Lantern reports today that:

In 1994, the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra began a collaboration with Thurber House to commemorate the 100th birthday of celebrated Columbus author James Thurber. They sought to create a musical arrangement that would honor his life and pay homage to his work.

This weekend, the Columbus community witnessed what has grown out of that partnership.


In it’s initial production, Thurber’s Dogs images were projected as ProMusica played their symphony.

However, this year, imagery for the show was revamped and illustrated with the help of OSU students.

Students from Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design created 3-D animations of Thurber’s famous dog drawings for a performance of “Thurber’s Dogs-Suite for Orchestra.” The animated segments were sequenced with Schickele’s music.


They did a lovely job. The music and animation have a sense of humor and simplicity very much in keeping with Thurber’s work.  You can see storyboards here and  excerpts of the Quicktime video segments here.

January 12, 2009 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

How to Lie With Statistics


How to Lie With Statistics is a nifty little book written back in 1954. Anyone who is exposed to advertising, reads the news, votes in elections or is affected by corporate operations should read this book. If you have an interest in issues like breed-specific legislation, mandatory spay / neuter or pet limit laws – you MUST read the book.

Author Darrell Huff teaches you how to lie (or better yet, how to recognize a lie) with built-in sample bias, well-chosen averages, small data sets, truncated charts, creative scaling, manipulation of proportions and good-old fashioned sleight of hand post hoc and straw man fallacies. At only 142 pages and liberally peppered with cartoons, jokes and case histories – it’s a simple and amusing read — and Huff’s ideas are as relevant today as they were a half-century ago.

We have come to rely too much on a main-stream media that is blatantly biased and shamelessly sensationalistic — and misrepresentation the creative use of statistics is one of the main tools that the media uses to spread its propaganda message. Educate yourself on how to recognize these lies — and how to take them apart and expose their weaknesses to others. As Joseph Pulitzer said “A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself.”  Well… if we’re all doomed to be cynical mercenaries, we should at least take the time to be well-educated ones.


...or Pulitzer Prize winning journalism


November 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm 5 comments

Now Smell This

Our friend LabRat over at AtomicNerds wrote an excellent post a while back on why the mirror test for self-awareness may not be applicable to dogs – or bats.  Here’s a little sniff:

Personally, however, I’ve always had an issue with the test, because it depends rather heavily on something humans take for granted- vision as the dominant source of sensory information. The fact that dogs never pass the mirror test is something that is frequently mentioned in dog behavior literature as proof that dogs have no self-awareness, no conception of “I” and “you”, that they just learn from stimulus and response. It’s extremely important for humans to bear in mind that dogs don’t think or feel or remember the way humans do, but I really wonder first if a total absence of self-awareness is a logical assumption to make of a complex social animal, and second if the test is a fair measurement of an animal like a dog. (Or, for that matter, a horse or any other complex social animal that has failed the test but doesn’t put much reliance on its eyes compared to other senses.)

For a dog, smell is the ruling sense, the chief and most reliable source of information. Not only is the sense of smell of the average dog (let alone a hound) at least a hundred times more powerful than it is for humans, it’s gives them even more information than vision does for us, because scent is the only three-dimensional sense- it doesn’t just tell them what’s going on now, it also tells them what happened then. We can approximate it by taking clues from our vision and reasoning through them, but we can’t tell that someone was standing someplace an intermediate period of time ago (but is gone now) without going through that reasoning process and doing CSI tricks. For a dog, this is standard information, part of the way they hunt naturally.

There’s no doubt about it, in a dog’s world, scent is king.  Interested in new opportunities to share the fascinating world of scent with your dog? Tired of the same old routine of tracking and hide-and-seek?  How about a scratch and sniff book designed just for dogs?  Each page in “See Spot Smell” includes a word, picture, and smell that, according to the author, your dog will recognize.  Linking scent to reading skills? Wait – is this a ploy to incorporate olfactory learning into a program to teach dogs to read?

I don’t know.  Considering where our economy appears to be headed, if I’m going to spend a bunch of time doing scent work with my dog I don’t think I’ll waste it using pictures of cheese to teach him to read – I’m going to train me a MONEY DOG!

According to their press release:

Money Dog’s Dog-Training Money Scent teaches dog to recognize and find cash. Using dogs natural ability to recognize unique scents, this training scent turns the ordinary household pet into a money dog.  “Any dog” can detect training scents for deer, rabbits or pheasant. Now your dog can detect this training scent, and detect cash. Money Dog’s Dog-Training Money Scent is perfect for games with your dog, a new tracking and trailing job for your dog, or simply to find cash.

Dog training scents come in many different styles and scents, but Money Dog’s Dog-Training Money Scent is the only dog-training scent which uses real cash to produce the unique scent.  Each 4.0 ounce bottle contains an extract of genuine cash, and is re-sealable. Because the training scent is made from cash, the fluid is not for human or animal consumption.

Gen-you-win cash extract! How cool is that? Hmmm, I wonder… if my dog can’t learn to find money using the extract, can I reconstitute it and turn it back into cash?

A money dog sounds like just the ticket. But let’s see how my buddy Audie feels about the program.  I’ll get an appropriate book, a piece of cheese and some cash and we’ll see which one he’s interested in:

I present the problem

I present the problem

Audie considers the options

Audie considers the options


He makes his choice

He makes his choice

...and shows me the money!

...and shows me the money!

October 26, 2008 at 7:28 pm 2 comments

More in Books

Today a short post on three excellent books on dog-training.  The twist is that none of these books was written by a dog trainer, and none of them deal directly – or even indirectly, with dog training.

The first is “Natural Horse Man Ship” by Pat Parelli. Despite the shortcomings of being somewhat poorly edited and including too many mnemonics and cutesy aphorisms for my taste – this book presents the clearest and most accurate and detailed discussion of the use of pressure and release in training I’ve seen.  Pat Parelli also does an excellent job of explaining the dynamic nature of emotional reactions and the need for human leadership in the human-domestic animal relationship. If you train dogs, or are interested in training animals – get this book.  And if you have a chance, attend a Parelli seminar.  To really understand how pressure and release works, you need to see it – and experience it.

Next is Chandler Burr’s “The Emperor of Scent.”  Burr’s story about Luca Turin, a scientist with an unusually sensitive nose provides some fascinating insights on how dogs may perceive – or more importantly, think about – scent.  I found the parts of the book where Turin talks about the way he perceives smells to be utterly fascinating.  Much, I imagine, like a dog – Turin can describe a range or odors from feces to flower with both remarkable accuracy and a refreshing lack of judgement. My ideas about odor, and about dogs, were changed after reading this book. (Sidebar: For a more detailed discussion on the philosophy and neurobiology of scent perception, skip Turin’s controversial book and instead read Wilson and Stevenson’s excellent “Learning to Smell“.)

Last is Peggy Post’s “Emily Post’s Etiquette“, specifically the introduction (A Note to Readers) and Part One, Everyday Etiquette (no – I’m really not suggesting you need to read and follow 847 pages of detailed advice on manners). In this time where an ‘everything goes’ attitude combined with political correctness has led us to a point where what we say and what we do is governed more by an intolerance for moral diversity than by kindness and common sense – the book provides a roadmap back to civility.  From the introduction:

Etiquette must be active. It isn’t enough to now what to do. Courtesy matters only when it is translated into everyday behavior – not just put on for show when it’s convenient. The rewards of an active commitment to everyday courtesy are myriad, though not often tangible. There are also important personal rewards that some peopel may not even be aware of, including the self-confidence that comes from knowing what to do in new or difficult situations; a positive reputation with others; and personal relationships that are more congenial, even in times of stress, because the people involved treat one another with respect.”

The italics are mine, and highlight the sections that relate directly to dog training. Teaching and maintaining some formalized set of behaviors (i.e. etiquette) to your dog needs to be more than just showing him how to perform a series of behaviors. When done properly, training gives your dog a roadmap that helps him navigate an often alien human world and helps instill in him – and in you – a sense of mutual respect.

October 25, 2008 at 6:55 pm 1 comment

The Onion Book for Dogs

Or, more accurately “The Dastardly Book for Dogs” – seems only to be available in the United Kingdom and it’s written as a parody of “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” 

From the publisher:

From the same kennel as The Dangerous Book for Boys, this hilarious doggy equivalent barks one simple question: What’s happened to us?! Designer dog beds? Organic gluten free gourmet doggie biscuits? Spa treatments? Everyone likes to be pampered now and then – but isn’t there more to being a dog than wearing a mini cashmere sweater and riding around in a Louis Vuitton handbag?

What about the simple pleasures of life – feeling the wind in your fur, digging up the grass beneath your paws, smelling another dog’s bottom? Isn’t that part of the great joy of being a dog?

It’s certainly not the best writing I’ve seen from The Onion staff.  (Did they dumb it down for the dogs’ sake?)  In addition, some of the humor in the book relies on cultural icons from the other side of the big pond – making it a bit obscure to the average American reader. 

The preface is, paws down, the best part of the book.  It’s a look into how our lives with dogs have changed in the last century, and it provides some excellent insights on why our dogs find it increasingly difficult to understand the modern world.  Here’s a wee bite of it:

There was a time not long ago when dogs were necessities, not accessories.  We corralled wayward sheep in the heartland.  We brought warming brandy to climbers in the hinterland.  We were a valued asset to every fireman, a faithful sentinel for every rag-and-bone man and a slavishly loyal friend to everyman.  We roamed freely because we had earned our keep, and our aggressions and wanderlust were celebrated, not curbed.  It was a time when we ran on the ground instead of being toted about in frilly pink satchels, a time when we were simpled hosed down in the garden instead of ferried to the groomer.  It was a time B.D. – Before Domestication, when we could be what we are.  Dogs.

The book is organized as a series of short sections on subjects including: primers on begging, territory and “foul smells every dog should roll in” – humorous bits that do a lovely job of explaining problem behavior to humans; sections on creative pee stains and “an indelicate discussion” on poo – stinkin’ great pieces of scatological humor; and a serious of odd vignettes about famous dogs in history – most of which were overly contrived and therefore fell rather flat.

In another bit of oddness, “Rex and Sparky” are listed on the cover as authors – but they aren’t mentioned in a single place in the book.  Not even the acknowldgements (bad publisher!)  IMO the human authors executed a major gaffe here.  A few well-chosen references to the canine authors would have added a nice layer of humor to the book and made it a lot more memorable.

I doubt that “The Dastardly Book for Dogs” will be included on anyone’s “best of” lists for canine literature or humor – but it’s an amusing little book that would be a nice gift for a dog owner – and (appropriately) it’s a great bathroom book.

October 10, 2008 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

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