Back when my boyfriend and I first started talking about getting a dog, I decided I should read some books about dogs and dog training. The Other End of the Leash (2009) was a little bit older, but it looked interesting and had very positive reviews. McConnell was also the author of The Puppy Primer, that I recently read, which is a book dedicated to the specifics of training puppies.
The Other End of the Leash discusses dog training, but it’s more general. Its focus is more on the evolutionary traits of people, the evolutionary traits of dogs, and how they can work best together. I really enjoyed reading it, and I’m encouraging my boyfriend to read it before we get a dog.
Although people and dogs have been living and working together for thousands of years, our evolution has been quite different. McConnell highlights these differences to let us know that when people do things that come naturally to us, the dogs in our lives might not understand us or they might take it the wrong way. For instance, people are used to greeting each other with eye contact and hugs. Dogs like to greet each other by sidling around each other and sniffing each other’s butts. McConnell makes sure to point out that strangers towering over a dog, staring at it, walking straight towards it, and patting it on the head can be somewhat terrifying. The better way to approach a dog is to stand sideways and ignore it, letting it come to you. Not all dogs you encounter on the street want a pat on the head from a stranger.
In addition, what comes so naturally to us when we see an adorable ball of fluff–hugging–is not natural to a dog. McConnell showed a number of pictures of people hugging dogs where the people look delighted and the dogs look like they are tolerating an uncomfortable intrusion.
McConnell also compares how people use spoken language to communicate while dogs use mostly body language. She mentions that when training your dog, you need to be very careful about the cues you use and being consistent in your language. It was very helpful to imagine our constant babbling from the dog’s perspective. There are only so many words they understand and the rest is just noise that they tune out.
Finally, McConnell discusses pack dynamics and dominance. She says there is a myth that the dog owner must show dominance over the dog. She goes into a lot of detail here that’s worth reading because it is complicated, but alpha dogs never pin lower dogs to the ground. Dogs flip over onto their backs voluntarily to show submission. If a dog is being corrected it’s by a fast snap to the dog’s cheek–something humans are way too slow to accomplish. The alpha dog is quietly authoritative. Dogs that make a lot of noise and fuss are usually juveniles and not a leader in the dog world. As dog owners, you want to be a leader, so it’s best to be calm and decisive.
McConnell included a number of stories of her own dogs as well as stories of dogs she’s met through her training business. This book was right up my alley. I love animal behavior and I love dogs, and I have a lot of interest in knowing what I’m doing when I finally get one.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.