Book Review – The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell, PhD

SUGGESTED AUDIENCE: Dog lovers who want to improve the relationship with their dog by understanding how dogs and primates can better communicate with one another.

Back in the early 1990’s, when we still lived in Wisconsin, and before we got into the pet care business, Paula and I attended several dog training classes with our dogs, Gus and Shed. It was not until 1994 that we found Dr. Patricia McConnell and her training school, Dog’s Best Friend. This dog training class was the first that all of us, humans and dogs alike, truly enjoyed. Why? Because of Dr. McConnell’s understanding of how dogs and humans communicate and her emphasis on rewarding good behavior. Now the world can benefit from her knowledge in her new book, The Other End Of The Leash.

The Other End Of The Leash is an information-packed, yet readable book. In it, you will learn how to have an improved relationship with your dog through better communication. As a scientist who has studied both primate and canine communication systems, Dr. McConnell has a keen understanding of where the communication between humans and dogs often breaks down, creating frustration and stress for both species. For example, she explains how simple innate greeting patterns of both species can cause conflict. We know that when two people meet, the polite thing to do is to make direct eye contact and walk straight toward one another smiling. However, as Dr. McConnell notes: “The oh-so-polite primate approach is appallingly rude in canine society. You might as well urinate on a dog’s head.” The fact is direct eye contact, and a direct approach is very confrontational to a dog.

Dr. McConnell also emphasizes how dogs primarily communicate visually, while humans are a very verbal species. The picture she paints of the frustrated chimp, jumping up and down, waving their hands, and screeching repeatedly is only a slight exaggeration of the frustrated human, saying “sit, sit, sit, ahhhh please sit” while displaying countless bits of body language. Primates, including humans, “…have a tendency to repeat notes when we are excited, to use loud noises to impress others, and to thrash around whatever is in our paw if we are frustrated. This behavior has no small effect on our interactions with dogs, who in spite of some barks and growls, mostly communicate visually, get quiet rather than noisy to impress others, and are too busy standing on their paws to do much else with them.” With these fundamental differences, it is amazing we can communicate with our dogs at all.

While Trisha’s book will certainly enlighten you, it will also move you. Her description of her relationships with her own animals leaves no doubt about her love and commitment. Reading her recollection of how her beloved Luke was almost hit by a car and the passing of her little Border Collie Misty had me very near tears.

FAVORITE QUOTES: “If humans are understandably a bit slow at responding to the visual signals that our dogs are sending, we are downright dense about the signals that we generate ourselves.”

Forcing dogs into ‘submission’ and screaming in their face is a great way to elicit defensive aggression. It makes sense that a dog would bite, or at least threaten to, in this context. Within their social framework, you’re acting like a lunatic.”

It seems very human to stay fixated on the negative: ‘No!’ seems to come out of our mouths as easily as breathing. But saying no doesn’t teach a dog what to do, and it keeps the attention focused on it and nothing else.”

I highly recommend The Other End Of The Leash for anyone with a dog in their life.

©29DEC02, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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Dog Training – Clicker Training: A Dog’s Point of View

By Jade Ramsdell

Jade #2I groaned in disgust when my mom came home and announced I would be attending an obedience class. Wasn’t she aware that I already knew everything? Why was this insane woman putting me through these nonsensical commands all over again? She even seemed convinced that this “new style” of training was going to be fun! UGHHHHH…Oh well, I realized that mom was determined. At my age, I was going back to school.

The first day of class arrived much too soon. Mom packed me up in the car and off we went. The previous group was just finishing up as we arrived – a bunch of immature pups. I could comprehend the logic of their being in class, but surely not me! My class was up next. They called it “Click N’ Trick.” I found it unbelievable that these humans thought they were capable of teaching me anything new. Aside from all of the basic commands, I had already taught myself to open windows, doors, even kitchen cabinets. And they thought they could train me to do more! Well, I decided to show them. I made the decision to do a perfect down stay for the duration of the class. That would definitely teach everyone that I had nothing left to learn. Maybe then mom would give up this ridiculous idea.

Everything got quiet as the instructor started explaining to the people about animal training and some weird device called a “clicker.” (Humans need lots of explanations!) This clicker thing was made of metal and plastic and the instructor was periodically pressing down in the center of it. The clicker made an interesting noise. Against my better judgment, I was actually beginning to get curious about it. SNIFF SNIFF SNIFF, I smelled food!! I am blessed with a very sensitive nose, among other things, and knew for a fact that it was good stuff. All of sudden looking bored was not so easy. I HAD to figure out how to get that food!! Thanks to my extreme intelligence it only took me a couple of seconds to make the connection. When I heard the click that the piece of plastic made, I knew food might follow. Now, if only I could discover how to make the clicker work…

The next step was the hardest. I wanted my mom to make that plastic thing click, but she was not telling me what to do. I tried sitting – that did not work. I tried laying down – that did not work. I even tried speaking – still no click. In my confusion, I started to walk away and all of a sudden CLICK! What was going on here? Mom was clicking me for going away? That couldn’t be. Then I saw it. There in front of me was a ladder. Now I understood. I was being clicked and rewarded for going to the ladder. Next I decided to see what she would do if I put a paw on the ladder. CLICK! It was unbelievable. My mom was actually encouraging me to climb ladders. I had never been to such a weird dog training class before. It was actually kind of cool!

I really like this new style of training. Nobody is telling me what to do or placing me in awkward positions. Instead, I have to figure it all out for myself, and as we all know, us hound dogs are independent thinkers.

Mom is now teaching me how to shake my head “NO” and to walk backwards (Mom is a bit of an oddball.) My sister learned how to close the refrigerator door and sit in chairs (The sitting in chairs helps her when visiting people at the nursing home.)

By the way – mom got really well trained in this class- now she has to always look to make sure there are no ladders for me to climb on when she is not around.

Jade Ramsdell

Hounddog, First-Class

Originally published in Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints, Winter 1997.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>