A Review Of Think Dog By John Fisher
Our latest Blog is a review of the book 'Think Dog' by John Fisher.
Here at eDogAdvisor we were fortunate enough to get hold of an advance copy of ‘Think Dog’, a book which aims to help you improve your canine companion’s behaviour by understanding how he or she thinks. It was originally written by John Fisher in 1990 and has recently been updated by Pam MacKinnon. It sounded like an interesting idea and we were keen to find out what my dog was really thinking when he looked at us - apart from how to scam the next treat.
The book starts at the very earliest stages of a dog’s life and has some useful tips for those choosing a new puppy and what behavioural traits to look out for. As our dog has just turned three and is unfortunately long past the formative period, the advice rather fell into the ‘things we wished we’d known earlier’ box, but if any of you are thinking of getting a dog, it’s worth reading this first to avoid a whole heap of problems later. You might though be pushed to find a breeder who would happily put your prospective pup through the rigorous tests suggested to identify its personality traits but it’s sound logic.
So for those of us for whom the puppy advice comes too late, what did we take away from this book? ‘Think Dog’ has little time for the pack theory, which is widely discredited now, or the ‘showing the dog who’s boss’ approach to dog training. In its place the book advocates setting clear boundaries for your dog so it understands what it can and can’t do and stresses the importance of being consistent in applying these, both of which seem like common sense when you think about it from the dog’s perspective. How’s he supposed to know that it’s ok to jump up and kiss us when we are in gardening gear, but not when we’ve taken ages to get ready to go out? The book takes this further by suggesting that setting boundaries can make dogs less anxious generally as they understand what is expected of them which, in turn, also improves behaviour. We are definitely going to try this.
The book is strong on positive reinforcement as a way of teaching dogs how to behave. You can see, from a dog’s point of view, that if he gets punished when he – finally – returns to the owner after having failed to come back when called in favour of a particularly juicy squirrel, he’s not going to want to repeat the experience. We are not sure though how much success we would have with some of the training exercises suggested in the book. We don’t whether it’s that dogs in general (or just ours) have become smarter over the last twenty-five years (perhaps there is a canine ‘Think Human’ equivalent which he’s been studying) but we think ours would either get bored or quickly work out that he can get me to give him higher value treats each time as a reward for the behaviour we want. Sometimes we underestimate dog intelligence at our peril…
In a lot of ways, this book was ahead of its time. We were particularly struck by the emphasis it places on diet and the effect that this can have on dog behaviour. We still find it incredible that so many owners are seduced by the marketing of so many popular dog foods which, at best, will make your dog hyper and, at worst, affect its health. Would you give your child food with the additives and colourants you find in many of the leading brands? No and you shouldn’t give them to your dog either. There’s no point paying vets’ or trainers’ fees to ‘cure’ your dog of an ailment or exuberant behaviour when a bit of research on better quality dog foods (which aren’t any more expensive as the dog needs less as it’s not bulked out with filler – or worse) would achieve the result you’re after. Have a look at the reviews on our Dog Food review section which will help in making an informed choice for your dog.
Similarly, it contains some interesting views on complementary medicine, which again would have been rather revolutionary in the early 90s. This is becoming more common, but there is still a way to go. We have never yet met a vet who suggests a change of diet or complementary medicine as a solution to a problem rather than prescribing drugs. We are with Noel Fitzpatrick here (and who isn’t) on developing human and animal medicine hand in paw as the way forward.
Where we did take issue with the book was on its views on castrating dogs and we think that the 2016 revision would have benefitted from including some of the more recent research in this area rather than relying on American studies from the 1970s. Research published recently show that castrated dogs, particularly those who have the operation before their bones are fully formed, have a far greater risk of a wide range of cancers (admittedly not testicular) and cruciate ligament damage, not to mention the effect it has on their weight and coat. That’s not to say that there’s aren’t some instances where it’s the right choice, but it’s not a cure all or a substitute for training your dog properly. There is a link here to the more recent research which you might want to have a look at if you’re thinking that castration is the right option.
The section on dog and dog aggression also gave some interesting advice which we are not sure we’d be brave enough to try at home. Essentially if your dog meets an aggressive dog in the park, the advice is not to interfere or try and stop the ‘normal course of events’ as you’re more likely to get hurt than the dog. The theory is that this is natural dog behaviour which will find its own level and the dogs will sort it out ‘amicably’. Well that’s the theory. Personally we think you’re better trying to read your dog’s body language (ours has a tail which does a very passable impression of the upright feather in an Italian general’s hat when he’s unsure of a situation) and avoid potential conflict where you can. Otherwise we suspect the only one who will profit will be the vet.
‘Think Dog’ is an interesting concept and we are sure that both dogs and owners would benefit if we took a little more time to think about how our dog sees and interpret certain situations, and more importantly, our reactions to them, rather than just thinking human. This is the strength of this book and we certainly took away some things to try with our own dog. It’s also ahead of its time on thinking on diet and medicine. It would have been even better had the revision included more modern thinking in certain areas although we fully understand that the intention was to keep the book as close as possible to the original in memory of its author.