BOOKS: The Other End of the Leash

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2004:

The Other End of the Leash:
Why we do what we do around dogs
by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.
The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group
(1745 Broadway MD 18-2, New York, NY 10019),
246 pages, paperback. $13.95.

The Other End of the Leash opens up a
whole new way of looking at animal behavior.
After reading it, I can quite understand how
much difficulty a dog must have in trying to
understand the garbled way we go about
“So here we have two species,” writes
Patricia B. McCon-nell, “humans and dogs,
sharing the tendencies to be highly visual,
highly social, and hardwired to pay attention to
how someone in our social group is moving, even
if the movement is minuscule. What we don’t seem
to share is this: dogs are more aware of our
subtle movements than we are of our ownĊ  Surely
it would be a good thing if we knew what we were

We give off signals, don’t even know we
are doing so, and then expect the poor dog to
decipher the whole mess.
McConnell helps us to look at those
signals from the dog’s point of view.
She is particularly critical of both
outdated and trendy training methods that purport
to be based on how dogs think, but have no
actual analogy in the normal behavior of dogs
with each other.
“I had two women as clients,” McConnell
relates as one example, “who reported that their
cattle dog mix was disobedient and very dominant.
When I asked why they thought she was dominant,
they said, ‘Because she’s very resistant to an
alpha rollover.’ I asked them to demonstrate.
One woman, a seemingly kind and loving person,
grabbed the dog by the scruff, swung her up into
the air, and slammed her down on her back. This
hapless cattle dog is just one of millions of
dogs who are physically abused in the guise of
Such “training methods” seem designed to
make dogs unmanageable. Yet most dogs are good
dogs, despite human ignorance. My own two
well-behaved bull mastiffs must be masters of
interpretation, I now realize, as I look back
on the many different and often conflicting
instructions they have received to do exactly the
same thing.
Dog training is worth doing right. To do
that, we have to know more about how dogs really
think, and then give direction in an unambiguous
As Jon Katz writes in The Dogs of Bedlam
Farm, “If you want to have a better dog, you
will just have to be a better goddamned human.”
–Beverley Pervan

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