Each installment of The Dog Whisperer begins with the caution, "Don't try this at home." From there, Cesar Millan proceeds to get heavy with animals plagued by a variety of disorders. Some are vicious; others are shy, and many are afflicted with bizarre phobias, such as Kane, the Great Dane who grew terrified of linoleum floors.
Tapping into the tough approach that brought him fame and riches, Millan forced the tremulous, 160-pound dog to roam a linoleum-floored hallway until Kane seemed, finally, to calm.
Millan can rightfully claim credit for prodding dogs such as Kane through their traumas. Where the trainer draws considerable fire, however, is in his one-size-fits-all, domination-oriented approach to canine control. Too often, say critics such as the American Humane Association, Millan is over-reliant on shock collars and pinning the dogs down by their necks. One nationally recognized veterinarian, from the famed Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University, accused Millan of "setting dog training back 20 years."
While Millan's approach has landed him gobs of press, the take-home message remains troubling: Must all dog owners manhandle their peaceful pooches into submission?
My answer? Skip the trendy Millan, and pick up a copy of Am I Boring My Dog? And 99 Other Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew. Authored by pet specialist and longtime Tucsonan Edie Jarolim, this smart and funny book replaces hype with refreshing common sense. Don't be deceived by its airy, entertaining tone; Jarolim is serious about dogs, and her book is, too. It's a mark of her skill that you come away with more doggie knowledge than you'd bargained for, all expertly tucked among the chuckles.
Within these pages, we meet Frankie, Jarolim's rescue pup and four-legged muse. Together, they address some of the more ticklish aspects of contemporary dog ownership, from the tricks of pet travel—Jarolim is widely known as an ace travel writer—to gauging whether your canine obsession borders on the pathological.
Consider the section titled, "Am I using my dog as a substitute for my kids who left for college?"
Answer: "Yes. And why do you think this is a problem?" Jarolim writes. "When did your children last take long walks with you, listen to you without interrupting to ask for money, and fail to criticize your clothing choices?"
Readers will also find plenty of easily digestible tips for new dog owners and owners-to-be. This is key, because you quickly sense that Jarolim's primary goal is avoiding the mistakes that land far too many animals in the shelter.
This underlies important points in the first chapter, appropriately titled "So You Think You Want a Dog." Topics range from, "What's the best age at which to get a dog?" to, "What if I get a dog who doesn't like me?"
There are also sections on health care, food and grooming, and another devoted to behavior and bonding with your pet.
In the section, "I'm okay with my dog's behavior. Why bother with anything beyond housetraining?" the author lists several serious reasons for training. They include teaching Fido to come on command ("You may think your dog would never run out into traffic ...") and keeping your friends. ("Just because your dog's eating habits don't disturb you, others won't necessary appreciate your pup jumping up on the table and grazing from their plates at dinner parties.")
My only criticism is that this section doesn't go far enough in addressing the remarkably bad behavior many dog owners seem either to relish or ignore. Then there's the subject of unrequited dog poop that abounds in our fair city.
But perhaps that's beyond the narrow mission of this clever, concise book, which should be mandatory reading for anyone planning to adopt a pooch and keep it off the adoption line.
Meanwhile, those tiring of Millan might enjoy Jarolim's take on discipline. "Theories aside," she writes, "the more that professional dog trainers used the reward system, the more they discovered that it worked, that it worked long-term, and that it didn't pose dangers to owners—as punishment-based training often does. Performing the much-publicized alpha role, for example, is a good way to provoke a dog into biting your face off."