Friday, October 28, 2016

Book Review: The Secret Language of Dogs by Victoria Stilwell

The Secret Language of Dogs is a fun read. Fans of Animal Planet will recognize the author, Victoria Stilwell, as host of the show It’s Me or the Dog. Although she gives tips about dog training, this book is more about dog understanding, essential for a current owner or someone considering adding a dog to the family. From body language to barking, Stilwell attempts to translate dog actions so we dull humans can understand what our pets are really trying to say.

Stilwell is a strong proponent of compassionate training techniques and how they can be used in managing your pet. Dominance, for instance, is important for maintaining order in a pack, but dominance is not the same as aggression. According to Stilwell it evolved as a way to avoid vicious conflict over resources. Dominant dogs can use behavior such as simple looks or paw touches that don’t necessarily involve violence. A person who uses physical force to control an animal is more bully than pack leader.

The book is divided into two sections. Part I: The Secret Inner Experiences of Dogs covers such topics as affection and how dogs learn. She adds a bit of sciency stuff such as the effect of oxytocin on dogs’ brains, but not enough to turn off casual readers. Although this isn’t a training manual, Stilwell also includes brief Top Tips and Training Tips which are more like games you can play with your dog to promote bonding and good behavior. None of them are complicated. All require more patience than anything and would be good activities to help a child learn responsibility for a new pet.

Part II: The Secret Meanings of Body and Vocal Language has topics such as paw preference. (Yes, there are right- and left-pawed dogs.) It also clarifies the meaning between a dog’s different physical movements such as tail wagging and head tilting. I found the section on aging particularly interesting as Stilwell details the physical and mental decline common in older dogs, and how an owner can help boost cognitive health.

The book is light in the section on aggressive dogs. There is no discussion, pro or con, on the use of muzzles or different types of leashes. As I noted, this isn’t a training manual and the sense from the author is that if a dog shows signs of aggression, the owner needs to call a trainer immediately.

The Secret Language of Dogs is fun and uncomplicated with lots of cute pictures that will appeal to both older children and adults. By the end, the reader learns that dogs' thoughts are actually more complicated than Eat now?, Walk now?, and I see a squirrel!

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review. 

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