Train Your Dog Positively
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May/June 2013:
Train Your Dog Positively, by Victoria Stilwell Ten Speed Press (c/o Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019), 2013. 248 pages, paperback, $14.99.
Whether rescued or from a breeder, all puppies need training to learn potty manners, basic commands, and how to walk on a leash. Adopted older dogs may need to brush up on their skills. Television dog trainer Victoria Stilwell offers her perspective on how best to do this in Train Your Dog Positively. Oddly, though, while having emerged as a leading opponent of legislation meant to curb the proliferation of pit bulls, Stilwell mentions pit bulls only briefly, and does not discuss any of the special issues they present, such as unusual reactivity, a propensity for attacking other animals, failure to give warning signals before attacking, and in the case of rescued pit bulls, a likelihood of having had multiple unstable homes before arriving at a shelter, a likelihood of having prior bite history, a likelihood of having been routinely chained, and a possibility of having been used in dogfights. Like most trainers these days, Stilwell believes in the power of food rewards. “Food has the power to help a dog learn and overcome any fear or anxiety she might have by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain, stimulating her desire to seek or move toward a reward,” Stilwell explains. Stilwell explains why tethering dogs is not a good idea, how to handle canine aggression in a multi-pet household, and how to cope with jumping, barking, and leash-pulling. Her treatment of separation anxiety may be especially helpful. A dog suffering from separation anxiety typically misbehaves soon after the dog’s people leave, ripping apart shoes or chewing on a table leg. Punished hours later, when the people return home, the dog may have no idea why. The punishment often makes the dog even more anxious, anticipating when the people leave that they will return in a bad mood. Stilwell presents methods to overcome separation anxiety, including crate-training and medication appropriate for extreme cases. Stilwell also covers the related topic of thunderstorm phobia, which often produces similar effects on household furnishings and can cause a dog to bolt and become lost. ––Debra J. White