If you are looking for a hippy-dippy, mystical dog training book, then look no further! This book is all about understanding the dog at an emotional and - yes - spiritual level. Clothier is a disciple of Linda Tellington-Jones, the pioneer in "bodywork" with horses and dogs aka therapeutic massage that treats animals' behavioural and emotional imbalances. Clothier's basic thesis is that dogs have rich emotional lives and that without respecting that enough to build a high-quality, equal, respectful and loving partnership with them, as you would with any being you loved, things will go awry.
Writing in 2001, this book came before the current synthesization of ethological-behavioural-cognitive approaches and the debunking of a lot of the alpha-wolf pack nonsense. Clothier states openly and upfront (and somewhat defensively) that her theories are not founded on that-there school book learnin' or any recognized academic credentials, but come from her own experience and rather eclectic reading which ranges from Lorenz's classic work in ethology
through to Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Buscaglia's Love.
Like I said, hippy-dippy.
But I didn't dismiss it outright, as is my wont with bullshit mystic fruitcakes these types of authors, because she issued a challenge, and dammit, she is right. Just what do we have to lose by thinking of and treating animals in a loving, whole and respectful way - and shouldn't the results and the relationship that develops speak for itself? Where's the resistance?
So I let her take me along for the ride, and you know what? There's some great things in here, which - albeit accidentally - reconcile the hardcore, scientific behaviourist data with the more whispery kinda animal training that talks about balance, quality, soul, authenticity.
Among other things to read this for is the clarity of her discussion of alpha/dominance/submission - she dismisses all the terminology as misunderstood and misapplied, and wipes the slate clean to take it back to status-seeking behaviour which expresses itself differently depending on context and is ONLY expressed in relation to another being. She does as good if not a better job on this than even Patricia McConnell in The Other End of the Leash.
Following from this, she discusses "aggression" at length, and provides some beautiful examples and analogies that make it clear how: 1) we miss the early warning signs of aggression; 2) what we call 'aggressive' acts are often anything but; 3) true aggression is a serious issue that is an animal trying to tell us something is very very wrong - don't underestimate or ignore it.
She does a great job with the necessity to exert leadership with animals, much like with children - and takes the entire concept up a notch to avoid the whole "pack leader" mess and instead, nest leadership in the context of setting boundaries, providing structure, having the animal's (or child's) best interests at heart, taking ownership for any bad behaviour as a failure of the leader and not the fault of the dog/child.
She does a beautiful, if hard to read, dismantling of dog training by so-called experts who in fact propose and practice inhumane, cruel and outright sociopathic approaches. She shows these as the end result of a philosophy that starts with alpha and ends in confusion, frustration, pain, harm and even death. She names names. This section will make you angry, angry, angry as it should. There are still practitioners out there - Brad Pattison comes to mind; Milan might also be in this camp - who strenuously defend their practices. She says (I'm paraphrasing): you never have to defend methods that are kind, respectful, compassionate. You only have to defend methods that could be perceived as other than this. If you have to defend your practices, you need to question what you're doing and why you're doing it.
She is steadfast and fully committed to her own philosophy of kindness, respect, empathy and love to build healthy relationships. She is uber-authentic and attentive to her own theories and behaviour being 100 per cent aligned with her underlying philosophy.
At the same time - and this is part of her authenticity - she is open about her past acts that have *not* always been congruent with a loving, respectful, humane approach. She recognizes the baggage she brings and has brought into her relationships with humans and with animals, and she encourages us to do the same if what we seek and value are healthy, happy, loving and genuine relationships. And she delves into the murky, grey area that exists in any relationship where there is a power imbalance, and where one individual must act as leader to ensure the safety of the other. She explores the sometimes-uncomfortable mantle of leadership, the need for a leader to not just persuade but sometimes coerce ... and the thin line between coercion and what might be classed in a different context as cruelty.
She goes on a bit and keeps selling after the sale is made; she sprinkles quotations like confetti seeking to be profound by proxy; her metaphors are sometimes hackneyed; she occasionally strains to make a joke; and she veers into sexist (or at least, stereotyped) analogies a bit too frequently for my own comfort. But, BUT. She redeems herself, she really does.
She writes with an underlying logic and authority that overcomes (despite her own lack of confidence) our doubts and allows us (well, me anyway) to forgive her for her woo-woo metaphysics. She ends up taking you to interesting places and will open your mind and heart to new thoughts and feelings - I had many a-ha moments here. And she is truly funny and also forgiving of herself and others (a lesson she's learned from the doggies).
She may get some of the details wrong (she repeatedly calls "if ... then" scenarios doggy math instead of the more accurate doggy logic; and she muddles up classical and operant conditioning leading her into dangerous baby-bathwater territory), but by the time she's done, she's presented an absolutely coherent philosophy/theory that one can acknowledge as practical, usable, sensible ... and really quite lovely.
The last five or six chapters take you right into the heart of the end of a relationship - i.e., the death of several of her own and others' pets - and will have you weeping and blubbering along with her or at least it did me. And then, she goes out on a couple of chapters that rest on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience," which she extends to the doggies.
Well, hell. Why not, huh?