Review: Bringing Light To Shadow, Captain Haggerty

Dog News Book Review by Captain Haggerty

Pamela S. Dennison, the author of two new dog books, appears to be developing into a prolific and accomplished dog writer, not a “one trick pony,” writing the same book over and over again. Both books, while on the same topic, are as different as night and day.

As to journalistic integrity, I must point out that both books take a purely positive approach. I would use a more balanced approach, but that is not what these reviews are about. It is my job to review the books and both are great books in the genre.

Many would ask which one is best? I would recommend both. They each have a completely different slant. The close publishing date of both books fascinates me, as well as the fact that they are by two different dog book publishers. Dogwise is a “new kid on the block,” publishing books that other publishers won’t touch, yet “deserve” to be published. They started by selling dog books and grew into a publisher. Alpine has been around longer and even bought out some of the old Denlinger book line. Both publishers put out a lot of dog books and are independent as compared to the earlier dog book publishers that have become part of large conglomerates.

First, let’s review Bringing Light to Shadow; A Dog Trainer’s Diary. This is a great and appropriate title. Shadow is the dog that trainer Dennison chose to rehabilitate from its aggression problems. She also delivers the goods by having an 18-month diary of her journey to successfully obtaining Shadow’s Canine Good Citizen title. I find it troublesome when a book doesn’t deliver on its promised title. Granted, it is not a day-by-day diary, but there are enough entries in its 234 pages to be called a diary.

Dennison uses quotes as chapter titles, and I thought it was a wonderful, imaginative idea. Also, the self-depreciating humor (at least I hope it was meant as humor) was particularly appealing. Dennison’s opening line is, “There is no doubt in my mind that I am crazy.” Dog people can all say that about themselves.

In Bringing Light to Shadow, you accompany the author on her journey of rehabilitating a problem dog. You see her despair and frustration and her thoughts on “bailing out.” Dedication to the task at hand and her pre-conceived notion that this dog will be a great competitor keeps her trying.

Dennison’s layout is interesting, convenient and functional. There are sub-headings such as “Training Concept.” This is an outstanding approach in presenting this book. When a concept is mentioned, it is explained. Dennison mentioned Shadow taking a Herding Instinct test and she mentioned a couple of sheepdog terms. There was a brief explanation of the terms but not an in depth analysis that would have been inappropriate and distracting. One of the good qualities of the book is that Dennison subtly repeats important points. She doesn’t bang you over the head but eases you into it. As one French director told me in the explaining the importance of rehearsals in French, “Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!”

“Hindsight” gives us the unfolding of Pam’s thought processes. She unabashedly lists her errors (and boy do we all make them). Pam continues explaining why they were made. You can see her growth before your eyes. She corrects herself when making verbal corrections. Here is a true purely positive trainer and you learn to appreciate the complexities of dog training, particularly with all positive methods.

I appreciate fanaticism and Pamela is a fanatic. Before you jump all over me for calling her a fanatic, it is meant as a compliment. Look at the word roots of fan and fancier.

The diary approach would be something I would enjoy reading by dog training icons but we will never see that sadly. By the time the great dog trainers reach that plateau, they would not remember what went before. Furthermore, the truly great dog trainers rather than being immersed in theory feel what to do.

“Good Pam!” and “Good Doggie!” were comments that often ended a day’s work. “Good Doggie” explained what Shadow did and “Good Pam!” noted the right things the author accomplished. Another repeated exclamation was “Holy Smokes!” These comments were more in common in the beginning of the book and petered out towards the end. Pam praised Shadow more than herself and was quite enthusiastic in her praise. This rather than a sub-heading was a postscript.

Her exuberance spilled over to her “assistants.” On May 1, her 339 day of training she headlined, “Today get the ‘HOLY SMOKES’ Award!” She sang the praises of a couple of her “dog bait” (her term, not mine) omnipresent “friends.” Dale Carnegies classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” should be updated by Ms. Dennison. Putting the dog bait mantle is NOT the way to make friends, but she certainly has the ability to influence people. They continually reappear in her book and she is always searching for fresh meat (my term, not hers).