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Old 08-12-2011, 12:40 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default review:Owens' The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training

Since everyone here has been so helpful, I thought I’d post a review of this book. I just started Owens' The Puppy Whisperer; if there's interest I'll post a review when I'm done. I've also read Brian Kilcommons' Good Owners, Great Dogs and have skimmed Gerilyn Bielakiewicz's The Everything Dog Training Book; I'd be happy to post reviews of them (and anything else I read), as well.

I should note that I'm basing my review on my knowledge of basic psychology and learning theory, and as a soon-to-be dog owner, not as an experienced owner or trainer.

The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training, 2nd Edition
Paul Owens
283 pages

The short review is that this seems to be an excellent, semi-comprehensive book for anyone new to dogs with good general information about providing a good life for your dog. For more experienced folks, it might be an interesting read, but not new material. It’s quite obvious that Owens’ is a product of the 60s, so if you are turned off by the mention of “life energy” in raw food or resistant to meditation and relaxation exercises, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a short, step-by-step guide to basic dog training, this is probably not for you. If, however, you are looking for basic information about raising a well-behaved dog and principles of positive training methods, this is a great start.

The longer review is, well, longer. The Dog Whisperer is divided into four sections: Owens’ holistic approach to dog raising and training, an overview of learning theory, instruction for basic skills, and dealing with problem behaviors.

The first section begins with an overview of why a positive approach is preferable to and more effective than other training methods. The next chapter describes nine essential dog needs (e.g., nutritious food, regular veterinary care, and appropriate exercise and rest). Owens explains that if these needs are met training sessions will be more successful. In some ways this is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; a kid who is hungry and neglected can’t be expected to learn calculus. However, Owens doesn’t rank the needs as Maslow did – all needs are equally important. The next few chapters describe dogs’ ability to read human emotion and the synergistic nature of the dog-human relationship. Pre-training relaxation exercises are suggested to ensure both human and dog are in the correct state of mind. This section might seem too hokey for some people, but I thought his advice was especially helpful for someone like me who would be nervous about getting everything right. The section ends with a discussion of basic dog supplies and safety.

In the second section Owens explains the basic tenets of classical and operant conditioning, including reinforcement schedules. His definitions and examples are well-written and clear. I was especially impressed that he correctly explained negative reinforcement and did not confuse it with punishment (that’s a pet peeve of mine). The only downside is that many of the examples given focus on human situations; I would have preferred more dog- and training-specific scenarios (he does provide some in later chapters). He offers tips to accelerate training and for modifying behaviors. The principles presented in this section form the foundation of all training; with this information, one could devise their own training schedule and plan.

The third section (beginning at about page 150) is where the actual step-by-step training is explained. The first two sections explained the why; this section is the how. Owens provides instructions for different levels (he calls grade school, high school, and college) of training for a number of basic behaviors (e.g., sit, stay, place, recall). The actual text is a bit repetitive, but it reinforces the idea that all training is based on the same principles. Although he advocates clicker training, he says that any type of positive reinforcement can be used and that one would substitute their conditional stimulus (e.g., a word like "good" or "yay") when “click” is indicated.

The final section addresses problem behaviors and conditions (e.g., unwanted barking, separation anxiety, excessive sensitivity). Owens begins with a review of the nine essential dog needs presented in the first section and a reminder that these needs must be met for a dog to behave in an appropriate manner. He then provides strategies to work through each issue. Throughout the book, and especially in this section, he recommends basing training on your dog’s individual needs (comfort, confidence, and personality) and consulting with a professional trainer or behaviorist if you don’t feel confident that you can handle the situation (e.g., extreme shyness or aggression).

As I indicated in the short review, I think this is an excellent book for novice dog owners. It’s well-written, provides a solid general overview of caring for a dog, and a great foundation for building a healthy relationship with a well-mannered dog. My only complaint is that it ended abruptly. Given the general tone of the book, I expected it to end with pep talk or parting words of wisdom.

Last edited by cookieface; 08-12-2011 at 01:04 PM.
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