When I first picked this book up at a bookstore, I thought it was “yet another book about dog language.” I’m always looking for primers on dog language, and I’m glad there are so many out there (they’ve helped me further my understanding of dog body language and behavior). But I haven’t yet found “the best” primer on dog language, the book that I can recommend to my clients as the way to learn how to understand their dog.
This book is both less and more than “yet another book on dog language.”
There’s info in here on dog body language, especially dog-to-dog communication, and it’s pretty good stuff. Photographs with captions complement the text and illustrate such things as “greeting behaviors” and “common body language of an aggressive dog.” Pictures and descriptions help the reader recognize good play language versus miscommunication and aggressive displays.
But the book on the whole is more about understanding dogs and what they’re saying well enough to help them “play well together” than it is specifically about dog body language.
And that includes an overview of dog behavior and general breed differences, basic “obedience training for good behavior” (foundation behaviors such as “look,” “sit,” “down,” “come,” “heel,” etc.), determining “what kind of dog you have” (tips on understanding your specific dog and especially what may drive any aggressive displays your dog exhibits), and ways to help your dog learn to greet and interact properly with other dogs.
And that’s where the true strength of this book lies. It takes a slightly different approach to addressing dog-to-dog reactivity and aggression than other books I recommend (”Click to Calm” by Emma Parsons and “Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt in particular) in that the goal of the methods is to get the dog actually interacting well with other dogs if at all possible.
Part of that approach is to let the dogs communicate with one another without interference, as long as it can be done safely (with a fence separating them or muzzles on, for example). Using the control established through basic obedience training (especially “come” and “look”), the handler can help the dog through various encounters with other dogs, teaching the dog good social skills in the process.
For someone whose goal is to get their dog to get along well with other dogs, there’s some good information in here that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I see this book being helpful especially when first integrating dogs into a multi-dog household or if doggie daycare or dog parks will be an important part of the dog’s exercise and social life.
This book has some weaknesses, though. One of those weaknesses is that the author tries to cover a lot of material in a short period of time, with the result that the book doesn’t go into things like training and dog body language in quite enough depth for it to work well as a sole source of information. I’d recommend that anyone working with a potentially dog-reactive or dog-aggressive dog start with “Click to Calm” first, and move on to “Dog to Dog Communication” and its dog-interaction exercises only after a good foundation has been built using “Click to Calm” to teach the dog self-control plus a number of foundation behaviors.
Another weakness is that Jamie Shaw, the author, uses a lot of “dominance” and “pack” terminology, which may end up hindering rather than helping understanding what dogs may be saying to each other. Recent research has shown that dogs actually don’t form “packs” in the sense of tight-knit groups with strict hierarchies. Rather, dogs left to their own devices form loose associations and fluid hierarchies that often change with circumstances. And some dogs simply don’t care about status.
She also talks about “dominance aggression,” specifically as it relates to one dog attempting to control other dogs. The term “dominance aggression” is more properly used when referring to an entire complex of anxiety-driven behaviors including aggression directed at human family members.
As I consider the behavior she calls “dominance aggression” more “bullying behavior” driven by anxiety than actual “dominance,” I’d approach it a bit differently than Jamie Shaw does. But Jamie is right in one respect: it is possible to teach even these “bullies” to behave safely around other dogs, and it begins with strong foundation behaviors.