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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Read Local: Stilwell's Dog Training Book Fails to Distinguish Itself

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 9:01 AM


My tale is not an unfamiliar one: For my entire life, I longed for a dog to call my own. In 2009, after 27 years of dog fever, I finally brought home my very own 4-month-old puppy. Within the first hour, a six-pound ball of fluff stole my heart -- and shat on my floor.

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Nearly four years later, Rosie is still at it. All of it. I love her, but she continues to ruin my floors. As I've patiently recounted to the many people who like to dole out judgmental, unsolicited advice, I've read nearly a dozen books on the subject, watched informational programs about it, and attended private and group training sessions. I work from home and take her out every two hours. Still, she has a few accidents a month, and far more in new places. Voluntarily parting with Rosie is unfathomable, and so I have simply made peace with the good along with the bad.
Rosie enjoying Ocean Beach.
  • Rosie enjoying Ocean Beach.

That shouldn't suggest I've given up entirely. Rosie is brimming with infinite possibility, I'm sure of it. She has improved with age, thus I regularly troll dog training websites in search of groundbreaking information. When Ten Speed Press sent me a review copy of Victoria Stilwell's new book, Train Your Dog Positively ($14.99), I eagerly read it from cover to cover. For the uninitiated, Sitwell is a judge on CBS's Greatest American Dog, and host of Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog.

On the back of the book, Good Morning America's Dr. Marty Becker wrote that he "dog-eared page after page." Robin Ganzert, President of the American Humane Association, called it a "must-read for pet owners!" With all due respect to Becker and Ganzert, I think they're full of it, at least when it comes to Train Your Dog Positively. Sitwell is no doubt a fine dog trainer with an international platform, but this book is no different than the other six other titles that already live on my bookshelf, or the dozens you could find at your local library or bookstore. I'm not suggesting that Stilwell's book is without substance, but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. Consider, for example, the short chapter most relevant to Rosie, "Housetraining Hell." It is chock-full of axiomatic information: a schedule is best, crates can be useful, and patience is key. How can you respond "positively," the leitmotif of the whole book? Don't punish, says Stilwell, by rubbing your dog's face in her mess, or harbor suspicions that your puppy is a vindictive pooper. If nothing else works and you can't watch your dog like a hawk, confine her. New dog owners with nary a book to instruct them would surely find this title helpful, but any dog's person in search of new information or innovative approaches would do best to look elsewhere.
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Alexis Coe


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