BOOKS: Training Your Dog the Humane Way

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July/August 2011:

Training Your Dog the Humane Way
by Alana Stevenson
New World Library
(14 Pameron Way,  Novato,  CA  94949),  2011.
194 pages paperback.  $15.95.

Training Your Dog the Humane Way,   by Alana Stevenson, squeezes into a crowded market of training manuals,  but stands out for emphasizing non-violent methods.  Stevenson doesn’t believe in the use of shock collars,  or the spiked collars often seen on bully breeds.

Contrary to common training advice to demonstrate dominance over dogs,  Stevenson points out that slamming a puppy to the ground, for example,  for soiling in the house does not speed up housebreaking.  Use of force may break a puppy’s leg,  or make the puppy fearful of people,  and may induce submissive urination–part of the very problem that the exercise of “dominance” is nominally intended to prevent.
Stevenson begins with a summary of canine behavior which owners often fail to appreciate. Dogs are social creatures who crave human companionship. They live in the present,   so beating a dog at 5 p.m. for chewing the couch at 9 a.m. is not only cruel but counter-productive,  especially after the dog has just greeted his person’s return with great enthusiasm. The dog’s memory may not stretch back to the offense.

Stevenson encourages passive training,  which is waiting for a desired behavior,  such as sitting down on command,  and then reinforcing it through praise or snacks.  Dogs work for human praise and snacks.  Punishment such as locking the dog in the yard or physical abuse does not shape behavior.  Rather,  it creates timid dogs who may turn into fear biters.

All dogs benefit from behavior training.  For adopted dogs, this might be brushing up on skills already acquired,  or partially acquired,  but not recently reinforced in a positive way. Stevenson’s book has tips from basic commands all the way up to advanced training. Some people are satisfied if a dog is house-trained and responds to simple commands such as “sit,”  “stay,” and “come.”  Others may pursue animal assisted therapy or canine sports which require more complex training.  Stevenson also discusses introducing the increasingly popular “drop it” command,  coping with thunderstorms,  leash walking,  and introducing dogs to cats. —Debra J. White

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