Decoding your dog (book review)

Cover of the book Decoding Your Dog I have been reading (and listening) to a book called Decoding Your Dog. I say listening, because I have a hard copy of the book, but I’ve mainly been listening to the audiobook I downloaded through my subscription.

The book, which is both interesting and informative, was written to provide dog owners with up-to-date information about canine behavior. It includes detailed information about normal and abnormal dog behavior, as well as training suggestions and advice for dog behavior problems. Each chapter is written by a veterinarian who is a member of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. The book is fairly long (350+ pages) and packed full of information. One thing I liked about the book is that the chapters almost read as stand-alone essays on particular topics. So, it’s a book that could be read cover-to-cover or a book that could be used as a resource for information about particular topics.

(Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. However, I was not compensated for this review and I was under no obligation to write a positive review of this book on my blog. I review products on my site that I feel my readers will enjoy. This post also contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!)

What you’ll find in Decoding Your Dog

Decoding Your Dog covers a wide range of topics related to dog behavior and training. Many of the chapters address everyday behavior questions and training issues that most dog owners will encounter throughout their dog’s life, including interpreting dog body language, potty training, basic obedience training, how dogs learn, enrichment and mental stimulation, and caring for a senior dog.

clicker training with mocha the catahoula puppyIn addition, the book also includes several detailed chapters about more specialized problem behaviors that dog owners sometimes encounter, including aggression, separation anxiety, sound phobias, and compulsive behaviors. Each chapter provides a thorough overview of the particular behavior issue including possible causes, best treatment options, and suggestions for preventing the behavior from developing in the first place.

The training advice outlined in the book reflects current research on dog behavior, training, and cognition, and the authors mention research studies throughout the book to support their recommendations. They also explain why positive reinforcement training methods (such as clicker training) work best, dispel myths about dog dominance, argue why punishment has no place in dog training, and describe practical training solutions for training alternative, acceptable behaviors to replace problem behaviors.

As a professional trainer, there were just a few places where I would have loved to engage the authors in discussion regarding why they offered particular recommendations and where I might have suggested something different to a client. However, of course, depending on the dog and owner, the dog’s past history, and resources available, there are often multiple “right answers” for how to address a particular behavior problem. Overall, the book offers sound and practical advice regarding dog behavior and training and the suggestions in the book reflect what is currently considered best practice in the scientific and training communities.

Who should read Decoding Your Dog

Blu - a Husky - Blue Heeler mix v2Decoding Your Dog is written to educate dog owners about dog training, dog behavior, and learning theory. The book offers great advice for a first time dog owner or for someone with a newly adopted dog and it would make a great gift for your neighbor with the unruly golden retriever or your sister who just adopted a squirmy little terrier puppy.

The book is easy to read and includes lots of examples and case studies to help illustrate the concepts discussed. In addition, the book includes photographs and tables which help clarify important concepts and make it easier to refer back to find particular sections.

The comprehensive nature of the book, especially with regard to indentifying and treating problem behaviors, would also make it a valuable resource for those working with shelter or rescue groups. In addition, it’s a great read for anyone interested in dog training or who aspires to be a trainer. For the experienced professional trainer or for someone who has read extensively about dog behavior and training, there’s probably not a whole lot of new information in this book. However, the book still might be a valuable one to add to your bookshelf as a reference book.

Finding professional help

Decoding Your Dog provides an overview of several more complex dog behavior problems, including aggression and separation anxiety. This information can help owners better understand their dogs and understand more about possible treatment options. Of course, as the authors caution, dog owners should seek professional help if they are experiencing some of these more severe problem behaviors.

Dexter croppedMy biggest issue with this book was that repeatedly throughout each chapter, the authors recommend contacting a veterinary behaviorist if you need additional help with any of the behavior problems discussed in the book. In some chapters, they even go as far as suggesting contacting a veterinary behaviorist if your dog has normal but unwanted behaviors, such as not coming when called.

Unfortunately, this is unrealistic, as there are only about 60 veterinary behaviorists in the entire United States. For many common behavior issues, a competent local dog trainer would probably be a much more feasible, practical, and affordable option. Rather than recommending over and over again to contact a veterinary behaviorist, I would have loved to see an additional chapter or appendix that covered different types of dog behavior professionals, how to select appropriate professional help, how to evaluate group classes and other dog training programs, and how to work with multiple professionals (such as veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, trainers, etc.) to build a treatment team for dogs with more severe problem behaviors.

Final thoughts

This book provides an interesting and thought provoking introduction to dog behavior and many common dog behavior problems. I think dog lovers will enjoy this book’s comprehensive nature and up-to-date scientific information. As well, I really liked that the book discusses several topics that are not always included in other dog training books, including a whole chapter on health and behavioral issues for senior dogs and another that addresses children and dogs. So, if you’re looking for an interesting and informative book about dog behavior and training to give to a friend or to add to your own bookshelf, I recommend picking up a copy of Decoding Your Dog.

This post is part of the Friday Pet Parade blog hop.

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