🐾 Lifestyle

"The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs" by Patricia B. McConnell *Book Review*

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February 17, 2021

Key Takeaways

This is animal behavioral science, not dog whispering, and it ought to be required reading for everyone who has a dog, is considering getting a dog, or is at all thinking about dogs. It’s a needed antidote or at least counterpoint to the “wolf pack/dominance” school of dog training.
The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs: Patricia B.  McConnell: 8601419962846: Amazon.com: Books

The book is structured to compare and contrast primate (consisting of human) behaviors and their hidden meaning with canine (wolf and dog) behaviors. McConnell itemizes and then analyzes the natural behaviors that people, as primates, display and how these are sometimes at odds with those of dogs, in some cases result in precisely the opposite action one is trying to attain, and in some cases are downright terrible.

Whatever from hugging, to taking a look at, to speaking to your dog– behaviors that are so common and natural among people, however which are typically utterly confusing or even off-putting to your canine friend.

Check out the book just for this, and you will have lots of a-ha insights.

It is the conversation of dominance – status – aggression that I hope people pay most attention to. The style runs throughout the majority of the book, and the subject is covered in detail in several chapters. McConnell does a great, thorough however diplomatic, job in taking apart the au courant pack management dog training ideology, and explains how its underlying property is flawed, fundamentally mislabelling pet dogs as wolves. She then persuades us of the more powerful, kinder, evidence-based and more reliable value of favorable training (reinforcement/reward).

And, she doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – which is important. Like the behaviorist she is, she carefully remedies and offers option, well-reasoned techniques that have a better opportunity at working.

The problem with training based upon dogs-as-wolves comes from they deeply flawed theory that since dogs are come down straight from wolves (true), they for that reason act like wolves (not real; or at least, not true in some essential and very specific ways). The dogs-as-wolves theory goes on make a lot of presumptions about what supremacy is, how it is displayed in wolf packs, how supremacy (or rather, status) is attained in wolf packs and the majority of specifically, how adult wolves correct their pups. The gap between these already erroneous beliefs is then more widened when the presumptions are shifted to pets, and ends up being in fact hazardous (McConnell utilizes the term “violent”) when these presumptions are utilized to obtain training practices for dogs.

McConnell does an outstanding job here at peeling back the layers of mistaken beliefs – including the prevalent ones that connect to how wolves discipline their young (truth: by extremely sharp, quick nips at their muzzles as a last hope after overlooking them hasn’t worked; fiction: by pinning them or by shaking them by the scruff of their neck) and how so-called pack leaders act (even, who load leaders are and what that really indicates).

She acknowledges the controversy within the dog training world about these concerns, right down to terminology: supremacy, aggressiveness, status, discipline– now an unholy mess of bad and misinterpreted assumptions and meanings, no longer having much to do with the evolutionary biological facts and causing not simply confusion, however out-and-out harm to animals.

Dominance-aggression? Incredibly rare, she says; a misapplication of 2 terms that are currently inadequately specified to a wide range of behaviors that may not be either (i.e., a dominance screen or an aggressive one). Not only does she acknowledge the prominent controversies, but she examines both sides of some of the practices that have actually emerged, consisting of for example the “dogs shouldn’t walk through the door first” principle that numerous hold as sacrosanct. (On this, she says there is some importance to pet dogs of who goes through the door initially, but it’s not about who is the pack leader.).

The chapters taking a look at pack management versus kindhearted management are insightful, well-articulated and – I would hope – eye-opening to those whose only frame of reference for the function that humans play in their dogs’ lives is shaped by TELEVISION celebrities and fitness instructors telling us we should assume the role of pack leader.

She information some really tragic cases where owners have gotten training advice, applied it blindly not knowing any much better, and wound up with extremely damaged pet dogs, a few of whom merely could not be restored. She also informs heartwarming, motivating and beautiful stories of where an easy readjustment based on a more complete understanding of the behavior has resulted in a strengthened human-canine bond and – most notably – delighted, healthy pets and individuals.

She yaps about her own canines – Border Collies and Great Pyrenees. You will fall for them.

She describes why behavior is the main and essential consideration in selecting a dog that’s right for you – and not necessarily reproduce.

She acknowledges private distinctions, even – and especially – within types. At the same time, she understands the complex, inextricable link between genes and environment in producing behavior. She uses a terrific simile to explain it that will stick to me: “Asking if the behavior of either one of us is “genetic” or “ecological” is like asking if bread is formed by the active ingredients or by the process by which you put them together.”.

McConnell is a researcher – rigorous, analytical – and an unabashed dog lover who confesses to investing long nights, every night, spooning with her pets. She enjoys them unreservedly. That is what leaps off this page, like a Border Collie in a field of sheep: her intelligence and her emotion, dedicated and healthy to supporting the healthy, happy human-canine bond.

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