Cheryl May's Book Reviews

Aggression in Dogs: Practical Management, Prevention & Behaviour Modification

by Brenda Aloff. Available from Dogwise.

Anyone looking for a comprehensive how-to guide to raising a mentally sound, confident dog who can handle any life situation should consider buying Brenda Aloff's new book.

The title is "Aggression in Dogs: Practical Management, Prevention & Behaviour Modification." I think she could have sold a lot more books if she'd left the "A" word out of the title. Truth is, the book has so much more than aggression management. It's a training manual for life with a dog.

You don't need to be the owner of an aggressive dog to love this book. Aloff's protocols help owners of normal dogs coach them through challenging life situations. The dogs benefit by becoming confident and knowledgeable in basic communication skills they'll need their entire lives. Owners benefit by having a dog that is solid in public and at home.

As an obedience instructor I frequently meet people who have aggressive dogs, but who deny the problem. But avoiding this book because it is up-front about aggression would be a mistake. Aloff provides step-by-step instructions for protocols that will solve a variety of behavior problems, including aggression. I bought the book to use with people and dogs taking my classes, but I am happily using it myself with my very sound adolescent puppy to make her even better.

Aloff tells it like it is. One of my favorite chapters is on "Canine Social Systems" where she explains that many owners often either make mistakes interpreting dog language, or worse yet, don't understand that the dog is communicating something to them. She uses an example of pet owners who think it's cute when their puppy guards her dinner dish, but realize they have a problem when the dog grows large and still guards her food, her toys, her bed I or maybe even the owner's bed, which she has decided is her own.

Aloff says the book is devoted to teaching owner and dog how to operate as a team. It's all about educating the dog to communicate and thereby reducing the dog's perceived need to react aggressively.

I've long felt that most dogs need a lot more coaching on how to live their lives than most people provide. While living with a dog-aggressive sheltie for eight years, I learned how to modify the dog's behavior and manage him so that only those who had known him in his early years knew that he was aggressive.

Preventive coaching would have been so much easier on the dog and me. And that's what Aloff's book provides to the owners of "normal" dogs.

Aloff encourages extensive socialization and exposure to a variety of people and dogs beginning as soon as you get your puppy, and continuing through 24 months. She suggests that if you have a good place to take the puppy for classes, where the methods are humane and use positive reinforcement, that you take a puppy kindergarten class and then plan on repeating some sort of class every two to three months until the dog is two years old. This is especially easy for agility enthusiasts, who often are constantly taking classes anyway.

Using positive reinforcement and management, Aloff leads the reader in small steps toward solving problems -- even serious ones.

Enlightened trainers have known for a long time that aggression can't be fixed with harsh methods, but this is the most comprehensive resource I've seen so far that tells us what to do, how, and when.

The book's $49.95 price tag will turn off a lot of potential readers, but it is one of the best bargains I've purchased. It is worth every cent. This hefty book -- at over 400 pages -- is worth its hefty price -- the quantity and quality of information are simply incredible.

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