Perfect books for First-Time Dog Owners


Of course this post caught my eye! That would have happened even if I didn’t have a litter of puppies right now, but naturally my interest was especially keen because of the puppies.

Sure, let’s see what’s here … oh, this is funny:

In this hilarious romp of a book about time-travelling historians, a cat named Princess Arjumand and a bulldog named Cyril are important characters. Cyril, the titular dog, is an adorable goofball. I am a complete pushover when it comes to four-legged creatures. So is Ned Henry, the main character who befriends Cyril and his human Terrence on a trip to the Victorian era. The scrapes that he gets into while trying to adjust to Victorian life on a boat with a dog are extremely entertaining. This book is proof that life is always better with furry friends, even if they cause you to be attacked by a very angry swan in the middle of the night.

This is an entertaining story, but while I liked To Say Nothing of the Dog, it’s a comedy of manners, which is not my favorite genre, plus I listened to the audio version which made the pacing seem slower than it actually is. So, basically, what I’m saying is, this one isn’t my favorite of Connie Willis’ books. I’m not sure what would be, in fact. I certainly haven’t read everything of hers by a long shot. Anyway, it’s not what I was expecting in a post about perfect books for first-time dog owners.

This one sounds good:

The main character in this book is a Lipan Apache teenager who can raise the ghosts of dead animals. She has a fabulous ghost dog sidekick named Kirby who protects her as she investigates a murder. 

That sounds like a fine idea for a story. You know what, now I’m thinking that ghost dogs may be numerous enough to focus a whole post just on them. I’ve got one in The White Road of the Moon, Dean Koontz has one in the Odd Thomas series, here’s one in this novel, what are some other ghost dogs that any of you can think of? Surely there are quite a few scattered hither and yon through fantasy novels.

This post does go on to make more practical suggestions, such as this one:

This is the most practical book on the list. Dr. Yin was a pioneering advocate for positive reinforcement training for dogs. In this book she lays out the theory of scientific and humane training and guides the readers to apply the theory to their training exercises.

Sounds like a fine choice, probably, though I haven’t read it. I have, however, read a heck of a lot of dog books, so I can suggest some titles that are in fact perfect for first-time dog owners. I’ll go further: If you’re not sure whether you want a puppy or not, then you owe it to yourself, your family, and every potential puppy you might ever get to read this book first, before you get a puppy

Ian Dunbar: Before and After Getting Your Puppy. This is the single book that EVERY FIRST TIME DOG OWNER SHOULD READ. If, after reading this book, you realize that honestly, a puppy is too much trouble for you right now, then that is GREAT. Rescue organizations are absolutely flooded with pets abandoned by people who thought they wanted a dog, but in fact wanted a stuffed toy; or who thought they wanted a Siberian Husky or Belgian Malinois or whatever, but found out that whoops! they absolutely did not have the ability to cope with such a demanding breed. Pet abandonment, not puppy production, is the big problem in the US right now and has been for the past thirty years. More like fifty years by now, probably.

The pet abandonment problem could be solved overnight if people stopped getting pets that do not and could never work for them.

But which dog breed would actually work for a person or family? Well:

Chris Walkowicz: The Perfect Match. This breed book is old and therefore missing a lot of newly-recognized breeds. On the other hand, it’s accurate and provides more than pretty pictures and platitudes. Walkowicz was an all-breed judge and she knew what she was talking about when it comes to breeds.

Right now, the Siberian Husky is a fad breed in my part of the US. This is terrible. Siberians are independent, disinclined to care about your opinion, very high-energy, have way too much of a sense of humor to be easy for the average person to train, and are canine Houdinis who see every fence as a puzzle and a fun challenge. They are delightful for the right family, but a disaster for the wrong family — and most families will find a Siberian a challenge at best and impossible at worst. A far easier breed, the Keeshond, is one among the many breeds that most people have never met and probably never heard of. Almost everyone who thinks they want a Siberian would do far, far better with a Keeshond. Walkowicz describes both breeds clearly and accurately so that people can perhaps change their mind and get a Keeshond instead of a Siberian.

And so on, of course, that was just a random example.

Here’s another great book to read before getting a dog:

Jean Donaldson: The Culture Clash. An amazingly interesting and useful book about how dogs think. There’s a little training, but that’s not the point of the book at all. This book is about psychology. People who understand dogs have a much easier time with their pet than people who really don’t, and who therefore keep attributing emotions and thoughts to the dog inappropriately. He’s being spiteful, she’s so stubborn, why can’t my dog just understand that running into the road is dangerous?

Over the past thirty years, I’ve worked with a whole lot of dogs and dog owners. It’s therefore become clear to me that many people operate on the implicit assumption that a dog secretly understands English plus has about the cognitive capacity of a human teenager, and then the owner blames the dog for problems that arise. A book like Donaldson’s nixes that assumption and helps people understand that actually, dogs are animals, and it’s the human’s job, not the dog’s job, to figure out what is causing problems and then solve those problems.

Nate Schoemer: This series of training videos. Here’s where to go for training, especially the handful of training issues that come up for practically all puppies and are so easy to deal with if you’re experienced, but so difficult if you’re working with your very first puppy, such as play biting and jumping up and whatever. Nate has a whole series of videos. First-time dog owners could save themselves many headaches and quite a lot of frustration by watching some of these videos before getting a puppy and then again as they start teaching the puppy the basic rules of the home.

Also, public service message, here is what every dog owner needs to know about dog health:

–Panting when not hot or anxious is a sign of PAIN. I don’t mean trivial pain. I mean serious pain.

–Shivering when not cold or nervous is a sign of PAIN. Same as above; shivering is a sign of excruciating pain.

–“Looking sad” or “looking depressed” is usually a sign of a PHYSICAL problem. Only if the dog’s long-time companion just died is “looking sad” likely to have an important emotional component.

–Suddenly clinginess or sudden hiding is usually a sign of a PHYSICAL problem. Only if there has been a major upset to the household is this sort of behavior change likely to have an important emotional component.

–Restlessness and an inability to settle is usually a sign of a PHYSICAL problem. Unless you have a Belgian Malinois, in which case it’s perfectly normal and won’t represent a sudden change in your dog’s behavior.

–Inappetence plus lethargy are frequently signs that something is seriously wrong and whatever that problem is, it’s probably going to get worse, so keep a very careful eye on your dog and get him to the vet if those signs do not resolve in short order. Any problem where your dog continues to act lively and happy is quite likely minor. Any problem that presents with both inappetence and lethargy is much more likely to be serious.

–Diarrhea is seldom a problem, but if there’s a lot of bloody diarrhea and it’s bright red or looks like raspberry jam, you are probably looking at hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and your dog will be dead by morning if you don’t move aggressively to get him treated. This problem happens out of the blue, can strike any dog of any age, and I personally know two people whose dogs died of this condition, so it’s something to have in the back of your mind. And you know the first signs of this problem? Yep: inappetence and lethargy.

–Sudden onset geriatric anxiety is typically a sign of a very serious physical problem. If the vet can’t find anything wrong, the odds are high that whatever problem has developed will become diagnostically evident sometime in the next two to six months, and it will be serious.

There, I feel better now that I’ve laid that out there. Hopefully none of you will ever need any of that information, but if you own dogs for any length of time, the odds are good something on this list will come up.

And seriously, if you’re thinking of getting a puppy, try taking a look at some or all of the books and videos linked above. You and your dog will both be happy you did.

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1 thought on “Perfect books for First-Time Dog Owners”

  1. Camille McAloney

    I love Dr. Yin’s stuff, her works do a great job of breaking down dog behavior and actual, dog-focused reasons behind it, similarly to how you do here. She was an incredible behavioralist!

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