Thursday, June 5, 2008

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor

(This blog originally posted on 7/22/2006.)

Well, I've done something I don't often do. I've read a book twice. And not a fiction book either.

Don't Shoot the Dog is a collection of Karen Pryors' opinions, observations and conjecture regarding the real-life application of certain scientific principles of positive reinforcement.

The middle section of this book, Chapter 4 to be precise, is rare and useful resource. Ms. Pryor creates 10 typical household scenarios from a grouchy spouse to a cat that won't stay off the table. For each scenario, she presents a way to address the problem using a wide range of approaches from pure punishment to purely positive.

This section is absolutely invaluable to anyone who has to deal with other people or animals. It gives a way to say "if I do this... what might happen?" Or "so and so does this, I want them to do this... how can I change their behaviour?"

When I first read this book, I was new to the whole world of behavioural manipulation. Now many years and much wisdom and experience later, I read it a gain with a new and suprisingly more objective perspective.

I have never been convinced that the purely positive approach is our evolutionary destiny, and Don't Shoot the Dog reinforced me. There are wonderful things you can do with positive reinforcement, but most of the successes seem to come from the timely use of a marker signal. And when the subject does the right thing, of course he should be rewarded... But I digress. This is a review of Ms. Pryor's opinions, not mine.

For an ethologist, or anyone trying to sew together evolution, biology and behaviour, there are a lot of frayed edges in this book. But average Joe and average Jane, looking for a way to make dinner with Grandpa tolerable, will quickly pick up on the books main theme.

Reinforce the behaviours you want, while giving minimal attention to those you don't.

The most novel thing about this concept is that the behaviourists think they invented it. The underlying principle however, is really the foundation for that other social institution we call "manners". Judith Martin has written advice columns for the past few decades reflecting this approach over and over and over.

The behaviourists did explain it to us though, and gave us insight on how it works and how to refine and perfect it.

Ms. X recommends: Don't Shoot the Dog is good advice for getting along with grandpa, grandma and that annoying Aunt Bee. Chapter 4 alone is worth the price of the book."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pro Pet Choice

(This blog originally posted on 5/14/2005.)

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Designer Dogs
Complete Idiot's Guides
Margaret H. Bonham - Author

Ms. X hasn't read this book, so don't consider this an endorsement, yet. However, I think the concept's sound.

"With photos, descriptions, specifications, and characteristics of more than 22 designer “breeds,” this helpful guide provides detailed information on everything aspiring pet owners need to know, including finding a breeder."

This is a great idea. Crossbreeds are an 'idea whose time has come' you might say, judging from their popularity. But truth is while the advantages of crossbreeds have only just begun to be sought in dogs, crossbreeding is a long established practice with other domesticated animals.

And finally, some ambitious, dynamic and caring dog lover (stop now, I know what your thinking but it wasn't Ms. X ) has stepped up to the plate and written an all-persons guide to these modern advancements in pet choice.

And what's her reward? The pedigreenatics claim "How Irresponsible!"'

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Worlds' Window

Throughout the course of history, when someone or a group of someones have wanted to gain control of society, they push their agendas by influencing emotions and undermining the real knowledge of the masses.

In other words, buying indulgences to keep your loved ones out of hell was par for the course, until the Bible was translated in everyday language and Gutenberg invented the printing press and Viola! People could learn truth for themselves.

Today there are many books, all printed in common languages. But that doesn't mean they are actually read. Certainly in dogdom there are still many someones pushing agendas through emotional appeal and suppression of fact.

You see it in the breeder who tells her vet how to treat her dog. "You have to do it this way" she says. "Because an experienced breeder said so!" And THEN she gets on her chat group and asks "why do we do it this way?"

It's in the dog trainer, that espouses "purely positive" tactics but has never heard of Breland or Bailey.

In GutenDog Press, we'll share insights from real educational works, and go to ground after emotional hype.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Dog, Structure and Movement

(This blog originally posted on 4/26/2006.)

The Dog ... Structure and Movement by R. Smythe, M.R.C.V.S

This little gem of a book isn't cheap. But it is Essential. It's a major weapon in the arsenal of the smart puppy buyer.

The only thing that will ever improve the quality of pet puppies in this world is the educated puppy buyer. This book is a beginners textbook to the structure of the dog. WHY do the bones fit together the way they do; WHAT happens when breeders purposely change one little thing here or there. And most importantly, Dr. Smythe tells the reader where the "withers" are, what a "barrel-shaped" ribcage looks, etc.

When you finish this book you will be able to pick out the dog with the long, obliquely angled shoulder blades, and you will know if it is a good or a bad trait for that type of dog.

Ms. X has often heard the complaint about a pet breeder whose dogs don't match the standard, and she's heard the show breeder using this as an excuse to tell pet buyers they should only buy from show breeders. Yes, Mrs. Show Breeder's dog may match the standard better, but she may also be matching an interpretation of the standard that is BAD for the dog's structure.

How's a puppy buyer to know?

With Dr. Smythe's book, you can. With Dr. Smythe's book in one hand, and a standard for ANY breed of dog in the other, the now-educated puppy buyer can look at the parents of any potential new family member and tell 1) do they fit within the standard for the breed? and 2) do they have a strong, healthy structure?

Ms. X recommends: BUY BUY BUY. The Dog, Structure and Movement is about putting the power to make smart choices back in the hands of the puppy buyer. And the puppy buyer's intelligently discriminating decisions will benefit all dogs.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New to Breeding?

(This blog originally posted on 6/26/2005).

"Raising Puppies for Pleasure and Profit" by Elizabeth Schuler, copyright 1970.

"Raising puppies can be one of the most rewarding of family projects. I like to think that boys and girls who grow up with dogs around the house somehow get to be the best men and women. Certainly having a mother dog is an easy way to teach some of the facts of life; she provides some fun money for Mom; and really it's not all that much trouble." - page 1, Chapter 1 "Puppies for Pleasures and Profits".

"Heresy! I tell you! Mad, mad heresy!" giggles Ms. X. Should she say, "Finally, a book that treats dog breeding in a realistic, sensible manner for the average person"? Except this particular gem was written in 1970.

Oh, then that means it's an outdated, antiquated manual based on folklore and old wives 'tails'. Books like that are the reason shelters are full and purebred dogs have health issues.


Nope. Wrong again. There is nothing antiquated about the advise in this book. Ms. Schuler gives ample warnings about health problems in breeds and genetic disorders to be watchful for and to test for. If she fails to list all of the ones known today, even the dullest reader can extrapolate her intentions to cover modern ailments.

What's more, Ms. Schuler gives great advise on caring for and housing the mother and the babies, what to do during the delivery and tips for socializing and training puppies. Careful selection of proper homes for the babies is not neglected either.

And she does this all with a friendly, helpful, easy-to-understand style, respectful of the new breeder and encouraging of their sure success.

In fact there are only two areas where Ms. X found Ms. Schuler to be behind the curve -
1) in nutrient recommendation. This is easily understood when you realize that the quality of kibbled and canned dog foods was not as good in 1970 as it is today.
2) Ms. Schuler recommends yearly vaccination schedules. Understanding of vaccines, and improvments in vaccines have also changed since 1970.

Just like with nutrition, today's new breeder will surely research beyond any single text to provide the very best for their pets.

But for every new breeder, and many old ones, this book would be a valuable addition to the dog library. Ms. Schuler wisely captures truths that have evaporated from most modern dog literature - that something is wrong if breeding dogs is just back to back problems.

And most appealing of all, Ms. Schuler respects her readers.

Ms. X recommends: "You won't regret tracking down a copy of this Out of Print gem. Great overview of breeding, just don't make it your only dog reference book."