BOOKS: Animal behavior studies

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1999:

The Dog Who
Would Be King:
Tales and Surprising Lessons
from a Pet Psychologist
Rodale Press (33 E. Minor St., Emmaus,
PA 18098), 1999. $18.95 hardcover.

Is Your Cat Crazy?
Solutions From the Casebook
of a Cat Therapist
Macmillan (1633 Broadway,
New York, NY 10019), 1994.

John Wright has long been popular
with members of the animal welfare and animal
care and control communities. As one of
about only fifty certified animal behaviorists
in the United States, he is a frequent speaker
at conferences as well as an instructor at the
National Cruelty Investigators School.

Like his first book for popular readership,
Is Your Cat Crazy? Solutions from the
Casebook of a Cat Therapist, now in its third
printing, The Dog Who Would Be King, Tales
and Surprising Lessons from a Pet
Psychologist is a compilation of case histories.
Most begin with a frantic call from a
frustrated, bewildered, desperate, and sometimes
even frightened dog or cat
owner––someone who genuinely loves a pet,
but whose life has been severely disrupted by
an animal’s behavioral eccentricity. Most
callers have been referred to Wright by veterinarians
or trainers.
Wright states plainly in each book
that it is not a “how to” manual, for owners
with problem pets to use in devising their own
behavioral modification strategy. Rather,
these books are meant as entertainment for
dog and cat lovers that offer insights into why
dogs and cats do what they do. Wright
explains and interprets common dog and cat
behavior, including tail-wagging, barking,
spraying, and pouncing, and offers easily
understood advice on how to select a behaviorally
sound pet and then how to interact with
that pet to prevent possible future problems.
For example, Wright points out that
attempting to dominate a dog by playing
“alpha wolf” (rolling him over onto his back
and growling in his face), or by “hanging”
him from the end of a choke chain and leash
when he does not comply, may lead to an
aggressive response, and injury to the human
involved, should the dog respond to such
rough “discipline” as a challenge. Placing a
cat’s litterpan in a high traffic area, or filling
a home shared with a cat with air fresheners
and potpourri may lead to inappropriate elimination
problems. Wright also explains. He
strongly recommends positive reinforcement
of appropriate behavior, and absolutely discourages
corporal punishment.
Wright does not “train” animals or
actually modify their behavior himself.
Instead, by interpreting a pet’s behavior and
teaching the owner to respond appropriately
and consistently, Wright assists the pet owner
and pet to work together to the point of enjoying
a pleasurable coexistence.
Wright tells the stories of these
“problem animals” with genuine warmth, but
with a scientific perspective.
As an avid reader of animal books
of all types, I found both The Dog Who
Would Be King and Is Your Cat Crazy? informative
and just plain “fun”. As a humane
society executive director, I found them inspirational
and heartwarming.
––Vicky Crosetti
[Executive director, Humane Society of the
Tennessee Valley.]

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