The Other End of the Leash

(book report)

This fabulous book is another "MUST READ" for any serious dog student ! Much of the book is about how our natural human tendencies , our primate heritage , often get in the way of handling and communicating with our dogs.

The Other End of the Leash

Patricia McConnell, PhD

reviewed by Pam Green , © 2002

This fabulous book is another "MUST READ" for any serious dog student ! Much of the book is about how our natural human tendencies , our primate heritage , often get in the way of handling and communicating with our dogs and their lupine heritage. It's about how we and our dogs are alike in so many ways but different in so many other crucial ways.

Dr McConnell discusses the ways in which we must become consciously aware of our body language, our voice, etc etc in order to influence our dogs. Her basic thesis is that in many ways our dogs are juvenile wolves, but at the other end of the leash we humans are in many many ways juvenile primates (chiefly chimps and also to a degree bonobos).

Dr McConnell has for years been earning her living as an Applied Animal Behaviorist and much of her work is with dogs who have serious serious behavior issues, mostly serious aggression issues. (There is nothing like knowing that the slightest mistake in reading the dog may get you seriously injured to make you really pay attention to every nuance of dog language!!). (And , by the way, a lot of what one should be paying attention to is obscured by HAIR on our shaggy Bouvs -- for many years I have suggested that people having trouble reading their Bouv should temporarily get rid of the facial hair and possibly do a total shearing so the naked dog is revealed.)

She is also a long time herding dog handler and competitor. Her PhD thesis was on how animal handlers from many different cultures and many different languages use sound (voice , whistle, hand claps, lip smacks, tongue clicks, and other sounds) to get various types of animal, especially dogs and horses, to do things. Three very basic rules emerge as to how to get an animal to speed up, to settle and calm, or to halt from motion. (I should add that some of this I learned the hard way in my own herding and other dog training experiences. I'd say she is right right right.)

Chapter 1, Monkey See, Monkey Do, is about visual signals and how they can help or hurt our communications with dogs. Dogs are exquisitely sensitive to tiny movements and dogs assume that we actually intend every movement-message we make. So the many unconscious movements and postures we make often confuse our dogs terribly. Many of our intended movements and their intended meanings, easily understood by humans, have meanings that are diametrically different for dogs. For example the humanly friendly gestures of extended hand-arm and of hugging have the opposite meaning of potential threat to dogs. While our household dogs may learn to understand such gestures and touches as friendly and loving, we tend to forget that this response has to be learned -- and that some strange dog you are meeting may never have learned this foreign language !

Chapter 2, Translating Primate to Canine, is about using your body language, gestures, and postures to communicate with your dog. How to make your body say what you intend it to say through conscious regard for what it naturally means to a dog. The information on using your body posture and movement to say "come hither" can save your dog's life some day -- or save a strange dog's life. Use of your body to "take space" by "body blocks" can help you solve problems like dogs who tend to bolt out the door as soon as it opens or dogs who leap onto your body in loving greeting. Recognizing the meaning of the corners of the dog's lips is crucial to understanding whether the dog is in a state of submission or fear versus confidence or impending aggresion. (And for our Bouviers, this crucial signal is totally hidden by the facial hair. At most one sees a faint twitch of the hair.) The use of "calming signals" to defuse a tense situation is also covered, including use to abort an impending dog fight.

Chapter 3, Talking to Each Other, is about how humans and dogs use sound differently and understand it differently. Well you probably already realized that dogs don't understand verbal language, didn't you? Knowing it isn't the same as living it. Dr McConnell covers the usual list of human verbal mistakes : inconsistancy about commands, repeating repeating repeating and getting louder and louder and louder, and using tone of voice that is inappropriate for the mood we want the dog to be in. Now this is the area of Dr McConnell's very illuminating PhD research. So listen up !

Chapter 4, Planet Smell, is of course about sense of scent. You knew humans and dogs differed a lot about this , didn't you ? Like an almost totally blind person who barely percieves bright light from deepest shadow would differ from Monet and a nearly deaf person from Mozart. But there is quite a lot in this chapter that will make new sense out of scents.

Chapter 5, Fun and Play, is about how humans and dogs retain some love of play into their adult lives. (Hey that's one of the best reasons for living with a dog.) This is about the difference between safe and enjoyable play versus games that can get dangerous.

Chapter 6 , Packmates, is about the social nature and socializationprocesses of humans and dogs. The discussion of the essential need for owners to socialize their puppies all through the first year includes discussion of that second "fear period" of shyness that often occurs during adolescense, that many owners aren't prepared for. Essential information about the role of touch in social relations and how it differs in dogs versus in humans. We humans love to touch and groom our friends. But to dogs, touch is inherrently somewhat threatening. Our dogs have to learn to enjoy our touch and to respond with relaxation. It's so asy to forget that this is a learned enjoyment ! And even for the dog who usually wants to be touched, there are times when touching is unwelcome or can get quite a different response. Final topic is how we humans are hardwired to fall in love with anything that looks infantile, including puppies, a tendency that must be consiciously over-ridden if we are to avoid a world of hurt.

Chapter 7, the Truth About Dominance, may be the most crucial chapter of the book. It's all about what social status and social hierarchy really does and does not mean, and about how to achieve real leadership. Many dogs are needlessly labled as "dominent aggression" and this lable quite often is a death sentance. And many cases of aggressive behavior by dogs are caused by the owner's misunderstanding of concepts of dominence and leadership. High social status is about having the right to make choices, the right to have priority access to whatever you really want and value that is or is percieved as being in short supply. (That sometimes makes it hard to discern which dogs really are the highest status ones, because it may be that they value different resources, or that there is nothing valued that is in short supply. Eg my dogs wouldn't concern themselves about access to water because there are several bowls always available. They do sometimes show status about who gets petted first or most, because my availability for this is sometimes in shorter supply than some of my dogs would like.) Dr McConnell takes great pains to debunk various mistaken notions about dominence. She points out that dogs are far less obsessed with status than we humans believe, than the adult wolf model has led us to believe. She goes to great effort to make clear that "dominence" does not mean "dominating" or "domineering" or "aggressive" behavior. Humans do not have to do vigourous or violent displays and manuvers in order to be percieved by their dogs as packleaders. This is a MUST READ chapter for everyone.

Chapter 8 , Patient Dogs and Wise Humans, is about how to be a benevolent and wise leader and how to teach your dog that it pays to be patient and polite.

Chapter 9, Personalities, is about how every dog is different, with good advice about finding a dog whose personality is compatible with your own.

Chapter 10, Love and Loss, deals with compassionate and responsible re-homing (when you and your dog are driving each other crazy, how to find someone to whom that dog will be a treasure) and about the inevitable grieving when the dog who is the love of your life runs out of life.

This book is lavishly referenced for further reading. (I found "Peacemaking Amoung Primates" by Franz de Waal fascinating.)

In conslusion, this book is an absolutely MUST READ for everyone seriously involved in dogs, certainly for every breeder , trainer, and behavior consultant. It is on my list of REQUIRED READING that I wish everyone would read before undertaking to live with a dog. It's probably number 2 on my Top Ten list, right after "DogSmart" by Myrna Milani DVM. (It might improve your relationswith other humans as well.)


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/12/03 revised ?/?/03
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