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Dog ListenerThe behavioural problems covered in The Dog Listener will sound all too familiar to anyone who shares their life with a canine companion. During the 25 years that Jan Fennell has been working with dogs, she’s been increasingly aware of the ways in which communication between man’s best friend and ourselves has broken down. Inspired by Monty Roberts, Fennell embraces similar ideas to those found in The Man Who Listens to Horses. Rather than trying to fit human psychology to animals, the starting point is observing how animals communicate, how they structure their groups in the wild and what they think their role is.
Initially Fennell looks at the role that dogs have played historically–primarily a working role, in which human and animal worked side by side to the same goal. Many owners flinch as the idea of a dog “working”, with associations of oppression and hierarchy. But dogs naturally form a hierarchical society with the strongest, most intelligent dog leading the pack. Humans might thrive on the concept of democracy but dogs don’t automatically feel the same way. When we understand and respect a dog’s mindset, effective training can be done with intelligence and compassion.
Each chapter deals with a different case study and owners of problem or “challenging” dogs will be kicking themselves as they realise just how wrong they’ve been getting it all this time. Some myths dispelled: “Tugging games are fun and it makes my little dog happy to think he’s the winner.” Wrong–if you let the dog win it reinforces the idea that he is the top dog in the group. “My dog can’t bear to be left in the house … because he loves me so much.” Wrong–your dog thinks that he is responsible for you, the acute anxiety that results from separation can be likened to that of a mother who’s has a toddler wander off by itself into untold danger.
Much of what we do to show affection to our dogs actually has the result of creating insecurities and confusion. In this respect many ideas are similar to those in John Fisher’s Think Dog, particularly on remedies for anxious and aggressive dogs. Here though, the use of real life case studies offers encouragement that following this advice can initiate a rapid transformation in your dog’s behaviour. Jan Fennell writes with affection and a real conviction that sharing her work with others can make a real difference. Her wide and admiring audience of happy dog owners would indicate that the title of “dog listener” is a highly appropriate one.–Tony Martin