Cheryl May's Book Reviews

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D.

If you know someone who is considering getting a dog, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort explaining all the ins and outs of dog purchasing and ownership. Just buy them a copy of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog."

Author Sheila Webster Boneham covers everything a prospective owner needs to know. She doesn't shy away from telling people where to go to get a dog, and more importantly, where NOT to go. She has excellent advice on how to tell a good breeder from a backyard breeder. She analyzes some typical ads that will make experienced dog people laugh (or groan) and then contrasts those with an ad from a good breeder. She explains, in clear language, how readers can analyze ads in their local newspapers.

She also discusses puppy mills and pet stores and explains fully why we shouldn't get our dogs from either source. She pulls no punches when she says, "No responsible breeder ever sells puppies through a pet store."

Rescue dogs get their own chapter, along with a long list of good questions to ask the shelter staff.

Clearly, the person who reads this book before getting a dog is going to be better informed.

In a chapter on "Size and Other Big Decisions," she asks my favorite question, "What do you want from your dog?"

Most performance people have a pretty good idea of what they want in a new dog. But even experienced people will do well to carefully consider this question. If we want intensity in the obedience and agility rings, do we have time to exercise the dog's mind and body enough that it doesn't become a problem in the home? Sometimes our competitive selves want a border collie in the ring, but a couch potato at home. Since that doesn't exist, we need to make compromises. We'll either become extremely active with our border collie every single day, or we'll decide that a little less intensity might be better for everyday life.

Our answers to the question of what we want from our dog will determine whether we have a dog we love -- but don't like -- or find the perfect canine soul mate.

Chapters on health and nutrition cover everything from vaccination issues to feeding, with suggestions on how to make these tough decisions. She handles the topics - which are potentially controversial - fairly and objectively.

She also offers resources so readers know how to get more information.

Throughout her book, she advocates obedience training. In her chapter, "What Every Dog Should Know," she offers advice on training and reinforcement. And she again urges her readers to take their dogs to at least one good obedience class.

Since beginners would have no idea of how to tell if an obedience class is a good one, she offers a list of suggestions on how to tell if an instructor is qualified to teach the class. She encourages readers to be good consumers by asking the instructor what her credentials are. As an obedience instructor, I believe most of us would be happy to answer this question since it gives us a chance to brag about our dogs, and the dogs of our current and former students.

Since many people have difficulty grasping the concept of canine pack hierarchy, I found it helpful that Boneham includes comments about the importance of recognizing the alpha dog in a multi-dog home. Treating dogs fairly by alternating who is petted or fed first only causes confusion and encourages fighting. She explains the alpha dog concept very well.

"If you try to apply human ideas about equality and fairness to your family of dogs, you create confusion. For instance, if you try to treat the dogs equally and you alternate who gets a treat first 'to be fair' you undermine the dominant or alpha dog's position. In a pack, the alpha eats first, gets the best bed and controls the resources. If your alpha dog is hogging the chewy toys and you take them from him and divvy them up, you again undermine his position."

Other chapters cover canine medical emergencies, including what to include in a first aid kit; caring for aging pets; dealing with common behavior problems; and an extensive section on participating in organized dog sports. A helpful "doggie dictionary" and several helpful appendices complete the book.

The jacket notes indicate that Boneham competes in a variety of dog sports with her dogs, and does dog-assisted therapy as well. This experience shows in this well-written book.

All in all, this is a terrific book, at a great price, and one I can heartily recommend -- and you can too -- to new dog and puppy owners.

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