Book review: The Possibility Dogs

I’ve been doing lots of reading lately! I’ll be sharing several book reviews on my blog over the next month. One book that I’ve had the chance to read recently is Susannah Charleson’s new book, The Possibility Dogs (Amazon link). If you’re looking for an interesting dog book to curl up with on a cold day this winter, I definitely recommend this book.

What does it take to train a service dog? In The Possibility Dogs, Susannah Charleson recounts her journey to train Jake Piper, a young, sickly, rescued puppy, as a psychiatric service dog. The book is incredibly personal at times. Charleson got her start working with dogs as a search and rescue dog handler. However, she herself has struggled with critical incident stress and PTSD as a result of some of her search and rescue work.

If you’re not familiar with psychiatric service dogs, these are dogs that are trained to help people with PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and more. Intertwined with Charleson’s personal story are stories of a handful of other service dogs and their partners who Charleson meets along the way. The stories are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes humorous, and occasionally sad, and Charleson kept me turning the pages and wanting to keep reading until the very end.

Training a psychiatric service dog, or psych dog, as Charleson refers to them in the book, is no easy task. Service dogs must have exceptional obedience skills, as well as specialized training. They also need to be able to stay calm and cool in any sort of public setting. Charleson weaves a delightful story of her training adventures and misadventures. For instance, during one chapter, Jake Piper learns the “take me home” command, to take Charleson back to her house. While practicing one day, he instead steers her off track to find a wonderful nest of baby opossums!

Although this book was fun to read, I also found it quite informative. Charleson incorporates information about service dogs and psychiatric service dogs throughout the book, including information about how dogs are selected as service dogs, how service dogs are trained, and some of the legal differences between service dogs, therapy dogs, and other types of working dogs.

Psychiatric service dogs are still gaining widespread acceptance in the United States. Many people still do not understand why they are useful or needed. When a person is blind or in a wheelchair, it is usually obvious how a service dog could assist the person. Psychiatric service dogs are often harder for people to understand, because these dogs are usually assisting people with “invisible” disorders and diseases. Here’s a quote from the book that illustrates what a psych dog might do:

“If Melissa has attempted to get away and is now lost, she can forestall the resulting panic by telling her trained dog “Backtrack,” a scent-driven task that requires the dog to find and follow their trail back through the maze of hallways, down the elevator, and to the starting point. Now acting as a guide, Melissa’s dog can steer her around hazards. If she attempts to wander onto a busy street, her dog can block her from doing so…It sounds a little like fantasy and a lot like Hollywood, but for some psych service dogs, this is business as usual.” The Possibility Dogs, P. 37

I think anyone who likes dogs and appreciates a good dog book would enjoy The Possibility Dogs. In addition to all of the stories about service dogs, the book is also filled with tales of Charleson’s own lively bunch of dogs, most who are rescues and some that have quite amazing stories. Charleson now runs a non-profit to help support owner-trained service dog teams. You can find out more about her non-profit here. If you’re looking for an interesting book for yourself or your dog loving friends this holiday season, check out The Possibility Dogs.

Book giveaway!

Finally, I will be giving away a lightly read copy of The Possibility Dogs on my blog this week! It’s really easy to enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick one winner at random on Friday at midnight, so if you’re interested in winning, please leave your comment by then.

And if you don’t win the giveaway, The Possibility Dogs, of course, is also available through Amazon, as well as most major bookstores.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the Publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt earlier this fall. I was under no obligation to write a review of the book on my blog.

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