Review by Janine Adams
Pamela Dennison, a dog trainer and certified animal behavior consultant, writes what she knows. After her adopted 1 year old Border Collie “Shadow,” turned out to be aggressive toward humans, Dennison sought methods to rehabilitate her dog. Within 18 months, Shadow had earned his Canine Good Citizen certificate and Dennison had gained skills and expertise that have allowed her to help other people use positive methods to help their aggressive and reactive dogs.
Rehabilitating an aggressive dog takes work. “There are no magic potions, special tools, complicated training methods or mysterious mumbo-jumbo gimmicks I can give to you to work with your aggressive dog,” Dennison writes. She explains that punishing aggression just suppresses behavior – and the aggression may eventually be expressed in other ways.
Her solution is a program of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, desensitization and counter-conditioning that changes the way the dog reacts to situations that once provoked aggression toward people or other dogs.
Before that program can be established, however, the dog must know some foundation behaviors, including name recognition, eye contact, a solid recall, heel on a loose leash, accept touching and a few others. The author gives clear, step-by-step instructions on training these behaviors. She then explains how to design a desensitization program – “a slow but extremely effective process.”
Because she’s been through this herself, Dennison writes with compassion for the owner of an aggressive dog and places no judgment on owner or dog. In addition to the rehab program, she also provides suggestions for handling real-life issues using the foundation behaviors she suggests, such as taking your aggressive dog to the veterinarian at your local animal hospital, or dealing with guests coming to the door.
Dennison presents her advice clearly and patiently and even manages to infuse humor into this serious topic.