Monday, February 4, 2008

Book Review: Before and After Getting Your Puppy

I finally found the time to write up my review on Ian Dunbar's Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Dog. So without further ado...

My first impression of this book? Ian Dunbar is a total drama queen. Don't get me wrong, I really like this book. It has a lot of great advice that is presented simply and very specifically, which is something I've said was lacking in many of the other books I read. To help convey what I mean, I'm going to sum up what the first chapter says:

"If you don't do exactly what I say in this book your dog will die. By not following my exact instructions your dog will become impossible to live with and you will be forced to put your dog outside. Your dog will feel crappy living outside and alone and will develop behavioral issues that will make it impossible to live with your dog and you will be forced to give him/her up to a shelter. Most dogs who go to shelters, end up dead. Thus, if you don't do as I say, you will be responsible for the inevitable death of your dog."

I kid you not, that's how it reads! Ok, maybe that's just how I read it, but to me he writes in absolutes, and thus, drama! Another good example is the quote on the front cover of the book: "There is no single person on the face of the planet to whom dog trainers and owners (not to mention dogs) owe more." To me that reads like a quote that would show up on a Stephen Colbert book! Hehe. Ok, but other than that, it's a good book. He says early on how he's going to organize the book, and even states that he's going to repeat himself a lot to drive home the important points. Since I read it sporadically over time, I appreciated the repeat of important information.

This book is about puppy development and when you need to worry about important puppy stages. Dunbar divides the important info into six important categories: doggy education, puppy progress, house/chew-toy training, socialization with people, bite inhibition, and the world at large. Doggy Education is really about educating yourself on dogs. It's the standard first or second chapter about how to choose the right puppy. Puppy Progress is a general overview of basic manners. Chapter 5, chew toy and house training, is where the book starts to get beyond the obvious advice. While Dunbar is a bit dramatic, he gives some solid advice not only on the basics like crate train and give chew toys, but also on the specifics of how to make them successful. He tells you the full days schedule for proper crate training and he tells you specifically when to give a chew toy, and the right kind of chew toy. I do have to add that Kong chew toys are either a godsend or this guy gets a kickback from the company. He works specifically with this brand.

His views on the socialization with people are, again, a bit dramatic, but I also think he's right on the money with driving home the importance of doing it early. He says that within the first 12 weeks your puppy should have met at least 100 different people. I don't know about you, but if I get my puppy at 9 weeks of age, that gives me less than two months to have 100 people over to my house (since I can't go to the dog park or anything like that until the puppy is full vaccinated at 4 months). I don't know 100 people, let alone 100 I would want in my house! No thank you. I think this is another one of the times in the book where I understand the gravity of what he's saying, just not the application per se. I'm definitely going to have over all my friends (and their kids where applicable) over as much as possible. I know I won't meet the 100 people mark, though. I hate having people over. lol! Hopefully the puppy will have met several people through the breeder before I get there. Also, people like vets count as well. I'm thinking I'll get to about 20 or maybe 30 if I'm lucky. This is one of those instances where I'm hoping Dunbar is just exaggerating and that I'm not really going to stunt my puppy because I'm not a social butterfly.

The chapter on bite inhibition was, personally, the most important chapter for me because it told me a lot of information that I didn't already know, and in fact, my understanding was quite the opposite. Puppies nip and bite. I've never met a puppy that didn't. I've always hated it, but after reading about puppies, I understand that puppies use their mouths to understand things like human babies use their hands. My plan for my puppy was to highly discourage any nipping, even if it was playful and painless. After reading this chapter, I now understand that's not the best idea. Bite inhibition is not teaching the idea that all biting is bad, but the idea that dogs need to learn the strength of their jaws, and just how squishy us humans really are. By letting your puppy gnaw on you, and letting him know when he's hurting you, you're not only teaching your puppy how to play with people, but how to bite people too. If a dog wanted to give you a warning, he would probably nip at you. If he wanted to give you a more stern warning, he would probably bite you, without the intention of drawing blood or doing any real damage. But a dog first needs to learn that people aren't dogs, and what is just a nip to a dog, draws blood on people. Now before you start thinking I'm crazy, I'm not saying that I'm going to be ok with my dog biting people! But consider it this way, an example from the book, if your dog gets his tail slammed in the car door (not a danger with most PWCs, hehe), his knee-jerk reaction of surprise and pain might be to bite. If your dog has been desensitized to people, his gut reaction bite is likely to be much softer than a dog that has never really been taught how hard is too hard for people. It's called teaching your dog to have a "soft mouth". I think this is just such a great idea and I totally changed my views on the subject after reading this chapter. I'm now going to let me puppy nip at my hand, and just make sure to correct him when he bites too hard.

The last few chapters of the book focus on the later months of the puppyhood and are helpful, but nothing earth shattering. The very end of the book Dunbar sums up the entire book very nicely into a matrix that lists the six important categories by importance and...some other criteria I'm not remembering at the moment... But it basically says why it's important to teach your dog in those areas at a specific development period and what may happen if you don't.

Overall I thought this book was pretty great. While Dunbar is totally dramatic, he's also very knowledgeable. I learned a lot reading this book and feel I'll be a better puppy owner because of it. I would recommend this book to anyone with a dog under 1 year of age, or anyone thinking about getting a puppy and want to know what they're in for. Like most books, I don't think it needs to be followed to the letter (like you could probably use a chew toy other than a Kong if you really want to!), but Dunbar displays some good common sense, always a trait I admire.


Lynn said...

Before and After Getting your Puppy is actually two pamphlets put together, but they are an interesting read when put into one book. I agree with you that he is a bit of a drama queen, and getting a dog to be a "chewaholic" is hard! I actually gave up on the kong thing because I was afraid that Lucy wasn't eating enough. I'm going to have to go back and read the bite inhibition chapter again... Lucy's been very nippy lately, especially when she's really excited...

JuLo said...

Yeah, I don't know about the whole idea of feeding your dog its entire kibble ration for the day as treats. I just have a hard time with that idea. But some is ok. I think I'll stick to peanut butter. :)