Friday, January 6, 2017

The Secret Language of Dogs by Victoria Stilwell, 2016

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World-renowned trainer and star of Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog Victoria Stilwell reveals the secret language of dogs, allowing owners to recognize what their dogs are trying to say, then effectively communicate and change their dogs' behavior for a better-behaved and happier pooch.

Victoria Stilwell is a well-loved and trusted name in America's pet media, winning over audiences with her SuperNanny-like British mannerisms on her Animal Planet show, It's Me or the Dog. In this book, Stilwell uses the latest research on canine language and behavior to reveal what your dog is really thinking--and saying--through its body language, expressions, and actions. Unlike other guides to understanding how dogs think, Stilwell takes it a step further, providing training tips for changing your dog's behavior--as well as tips on communicating back to your dog. Filled with adorable full-color photographs and instructive line drawings, this insightful guide will make you a bona fide "dog whisperer."

(151 pages)

Okay, just for starters: before I requested my copy of The Secret Language of Dogs, I'd never heard of its author Victoria Stilwell. Apparently she's some sort of animal trainer/dog whisperer, but I don't watch much TV in general (and definitely no reality TV) so I've never seen It's Me or the Dog. My dog-training days are pretty much over, at least for now, since the only dog we have is a beautifully-behaved Boxer. She's never growled in her entire life, she doesn't bite even when I shove a pill down her throat, and she's an angel with children. In short, she's perfect! Also, she's crazy-intelligent: it's like she can read minds, that's how well she can know when we're talking about her or follow random commands that I give her but never taught her.

Sorry, I think I got off on a tangent talking about my dog. Focus, Jaina! Let's talk about the book. It's divided up into two parts, "The Secret Inner Experience of Dogs" and "The Secret Meaning of Body and Vocal Languages," both of which are subdivided up into smaller chapters. Nearly every page includes at least one gorgeous full-color picture of a dog (all of whom are at least as cute as that fluffy creature on the cover!) or a pretty pencil drawing of dogs in different positions that illustrate whatever description the text provides. It's a very attractive book, with thick pages and photos that make you want to ignore the text altogether.

As for the content of that text, I thought it was pretty good. I read a ton of dog behavior/training books back when my dog Daisy was a puppy, so I don't think any of the information really blew my mind, but it was presented in a very pleasant and accessible format. The author is very opinionated about the way we should treat dogs (i.e. extremely respectfully), and while I completely agree with her that we need to respect our animal best friends I do think she went a little overboard on that a few times. I got the vibe that she's one of those people who kind of think that dogs are more important than humans.

I do like the emphasis she put on bonding with your dog in order to train it, though, and that she pointed out the way you can use body language to punish your dog more effectively than you ever could by yelling at them. The few times Daisy has gotten in trouble (usually for eating something expensive off the table when we weren't looking), the fastest way I knew to make her feel punished was to put her outside and make a show of glaring at her disappointedly and then turning my back to her. She hated it!

All in all, this is a pretty good book. I'm docking one point from four to three, though, just because of this paragraph:
Interestingly, hand preference could also be linked to learning and emotional issues in people. Approximately 85 percent of people are right-handed, and a preference for using one hand over the other is noticeable in children by about eighteen months of age. Right-handed bias could have evolved because natural selection produced a majority of people with speech and language control in the left brain hemisphere. Because the left hemisphere also controls the movements of the right hand, evolutionary development produced a majority of individuals with a left hemisphere speech/language bias and a right-handed preference to produce written language.
As a third-generation lefty, I can't help but point out how not cool it is to imply that left-handed people are sociologically inferior and probably the left-overs from a natural selection process that weeded the rest of us out. I think it's pretty safe to say that Ms. Stilwell is not left-handed.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program.

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