“Dog Town”, Another Barking Great Read

DogTown: Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Redemption Stefan Bechtel


The BlurbA national rescue organization with more than 200,000 members, DogTown is the area where dogs live at the nation’s largest companion animal sanctuary run by Best Friends Animal Society. This informative, inspiring book presents representative stories of dogs considered unadoptable by other shelters. They come from many backgrounds: some were abandoned; some prowled the streets as strays; others suffer from mysterious illnesses, serious injuries, or antisocial behaviors that discourage potential adopters. But good fortune led them to Best Friends and the dedicated people devoted to helping them recover and find welcoming homes.

These compelling, winningly illustrated true stories, each uniquely moving and inspirational, draw upon the experience of veterinarians, trainers, and volunteers to probe a range of tough, touching cases that evoke both the joy and the occasional but inevitable heartbreak that accompanies this work. Each chapter follows a dog from the first day at Dogtown until he ultimately finds (or doesn’t find) a permanent new home, focusing both on the relationship between the dog and the Dogtown staff and on the latest discoveries about animal health and behavior. We learn how dogs process information, how trauma affects their behavior, and how people can help them overcome their problems. In the end, we come to see that there are no “bad dogs” and that with patience, care, and compassion, people can help dogs to heal.

What I Thought:

Sometimes I avoid dog books because I become upset when reading of an animal’s suffering and the cruel things people can do to them. However, I’m happy to report that this isn’t one of those books that focus’ on the suffering – it rather focus’s on the dog’s recovery and it’s “happily ever after”. It is filled with life affirming moments both from the actions of the wonderful staff and the dogs themselves. Even when dealing with a death there is great solace that the dog found its way to a place where it could experience happiness, comfort and a fulfilled life.

After reading this I too want to pack up and head to DogTown to not only help out in caring for the animals, but to also meet the amazing, dedicated people who care for them.


Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Rescue Dogs, Various Behavioural Issues

Tool(s) Used: Book Resource

Cost: I got the kindle edition from amazon.com for $5.79

Ease of Implementation: Not applicable. Though there were some really great tips in the book, these are aimed more at dog owners and inspiring them when things are tough, as opposed to a “how-to” guide.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. Effective mainly because it inspired me to carry on and realise that there honestly is a light at the end of the tunnel and that with time and effort I just know we’ll get there – she’s already made so much progress!


Have you read the Dogtown book, or seen the TV series? What do you think of it?

Her Mistress’s Voice

Storytelling for Phoebe.

To help Phoebe cope with the loneliness at work it was recommended to me that playing the radio for her might be a good idea. I thought about it, and not only is it something that is easy to implement, but I also realised that when I’m home I have a radio playing in the kitchen all the time out of habit. I like the soothing sound of it playing as I wonder around the house cooking and doing chores, so she must be used to it as well, and if I leave during the day I can imagine that she especially feels the “loudness” of silence if it’s off.

And they say that music soothes the savage beast, so why not try it out?

At first I kept the radio on my usual channel, but realised that it’s a student rock station so perhaps that wasn’t the best option. Next I tried our local talk radio station and I noticed a slightly relaxed and positive change in her at the times when it was on, unfortunately though the signal was weak and kept drifting in and out. At this point a friend recommended that I record myself talking and play it for her during the days. I laughed at this ridiculous suggestion.

But then I thought about her suggestion more and more, and even though it sounded like a silly idea to record myself, I realised there may be a very valid point to the suggestion. I decided to try it out.

I found a basic downloadable program (Apowersoft Free Audio Recorder) to record myself, took out the mic I have from the early skyping days when I had a laptop without a built-in mic and sat in front of the computer ready to record. I waited for inspiration on what to say. I waited and waited, but came up blank. What can you fill an hour long broadcast of yourself with?! (Related note: I have newfound respect for talk radio DJ’s! 🙂 )

And then it hit me! I would record stories for her! After careful consideration I decided that the best would be to pull out all the old fairy tale books and give those shot. I settled on a collection of Aesop’s Fables.

Is that a Britney Spears mic?! Have a become a Telecaller?! NO! It's just little old me recording fairy tales for my dog. Nothing unusual here...

You may remember seeing this pic of me on the last day of the ’31 Day Blogtember Challenge’. Now you know what THAT was about!

Now I know that this is all silly and I’m borderline anthropomorphising, but my reasoning for choosing Aesops Fables was:

1) The stories are short, so I could record full stories in between doing chores

2) The stories are all so wholesome and more often than not are about animals overcoming hardship from either people or daily struggles. That appealed to me as being apt for Phoebe.

3) There are different characters and storylines so I could use different pitches and tones to keep it less boring.

4) I could easily fill many cd’s without having to scratch around to find materials to read – it was all there.

5) The recordings can now double up as “stocking-filler” gifts for family and friends with babies.

Like most people, I felt self conscious about recording myself (and worse, having to listen to the playback!), but I kept in mind that it was all for a good cause!

Now I have a 70 minute cd with 12 stories interspersed with short clips of me telling her she’s a “good girl”. I put this disc on repeat when I leave in the mornings. I’m not 100% sure it works, but I like to think it does.


Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Separation Anxiety, Appealing to her Aural Senses

Tool(s) Used: Computer, Recording Software, Book of Fairy Tales, Writeable CD

Cost: Low. Assuming you have a computer with basic features you just need to pick the right book to read.

Ease of Implementation: Low. Once made, you literally just press a button when leaving.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 3/5. I can’t say for certain that this works well, but I think it works, and hey, it can’t harm, can it?


Hell on 4 Paws, A Story of Love, Life and Chesil, the Delinquent Dog

Hell on 4 Paws: A Story of Love, Life and Chesil, the Delinquent Dog – Gwen Bailey

hell on 4 pawsThe Blurb“As a bestselling author and owner of the Puppy School franchise, Gwen Bailey is one of the UK’s most respected dog behaviour experts and has helped millions to transform their troublesome pets into obedient and happy hounds. So what happened when one of her students – Chesil, the most dysfunctional pooch in Britain – refused to lay down, and he just so happened to be her own dog?! “Hell On 4 Paws” is the witty and wonderful story of how Gwen’s life was turned on its head when she took on a new man in her life, his family, and the unruly Chesil, her greatest challenge yet. As if adjusting to a new relationship, new home and new responsibilities wasn’t tough enough, Gwen also has to deal with Chesil’s bizarre and antisocial behaviour, a constant distraction in her crazy new life.

Follow Chesil’s amusing exploits as his outrageous personality clashes with Gwen’s time-tested techniques, and see him slowly change from an aggressive, possessive nightmare to a proud winner of the Gold Award for good citizenship. A feel-good and inspirational tale for anyone who’s ever had trouble raising a rowdy hound, “Hell On 4 Paws” shows that sometimes even the best trainers can encounter problems, and that, with a little persistence, even the worst pets can become compassionate creatures.”

What I Thought: A great read! I thoroughly recommend it!

When you take on a rescue dog, it always feels like you are taking one step forward and two steps back. Just when you think things are getting sorted, there is a sudden backward slip for no obvious reason – Gwen Bailey

This book was recommended to me as a one that was funny and filled with enough information to be both useful and entertaining. It chronicles the story of a respected and well-known dog trainer who ended up with a dog whose behaviour seemed beyond repair.

I liked the fact that she was so honest about her feelings of having to deal with this dog and how she felt so helpless, frustrated and even angry at times. It’s something that I often grapple with myself (luckily not nearly as much as in the beginning) and I often still find it so hard to cope with all Phoebe’s issues at times. This book makes you feel ok for feeling those perfectly normal emotions.

Some of my favourite moments were:
  • When Bailey discusses how she refused to take photos of Chesil in the beginning because a part of her was so reluctant to record a dog that she felt she would fail to love and would be a failure in terms of her training abilities. I never thought of it consciously, but when I read that, it suddenly hit me that I had done exactly the same thing with Phoebe! I have hundreds of photos of my cats and previous dogs, but was so reluctant to ever photograph her – now I realised why! It also made me realise that as time passed, there are more and more photos of her now. A great sign that we’re both accepting and relaxing!
  • When Bailey explains how she managed to finally teach Chesil how to accept and play with a ball. Something I always thought should be simple and instinctual, but haven’t managed to get right with Phoebe yet.
  • The anxiety she felt when enrolling Chesil into the Canine Good Citizen Test and how proud she was of her for passing both levels. I’ll be doing the test with Phoebe soon, and though I’m totally prepared for her not to pass, it’s nice to know that even a trainer can get nervous about how well their dog will do before a test
  • The happy ending. I’m a sucker for a happy ending – especially if I can find the story so relatable! :-)

But she stayed with me, her brown eyes looking into mine as if she knew I wouldn’t lead her into trouble and I felt incredibly proud to have earned such trust – Gwen Bailey


Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Separation Anxiety, Fear, Reactivity

Tool(s) Used: Book Resource

Cost: I got the kindle edition from amazon.com for $5.79

Ease of Implementation: Not applicable. Though there were some really great tips in the book, these are aimed more at dog owners and inspiring them when things are tough, as opposed to a “how-to” guide.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. Effective mainly because it inspired me to carry on and realise that there honestly is a light at the end of the tunnel and that with time and effort I just know we’ll get there – she’s already made so much progress in our first year together!


Scaredy Dog! Another Barking Good Read

Scaredy Dog: Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog – Ali Brown

I got this book a few months back when I finally accepted that Phoebe was truly a reactive dog and that the fear aggression wasn’t just going to magically disappear on its own – I would have to put in some serious work with her.

While scouring amazon this book caught my eye and I thought it looked like a good place to start.

scaredy dog ali brown

A great place to start when trying to understand and cope with your reactive dog

The Blurb: When dogs growl at other dogs, lunge at people and bark at everything it’s often mislabeled as “aggression.” But behavior that looks like aggression is often fear-based and should be treated as such. The appropriate term for this constellation of behaviors is “reactivity.” This book helps dog owners and trainers to understand the reactive dog and help him change for the better. The process is easy to grasp, and once the changes begin to take shape, owners become so encouraged that improving their dog’s behavior suddenly becomes fun and exciting!

If your dog can’t pay attention to you in public places, doesn’t behave like a good member of the family when guests visit, and loses control when other dogs are nearby, this book has a lot to offer. All training methods and classroom techniques are non-force and based on developing a ‘working relationship’ with your dog. Easy to read and understand, 148 pages, with 68 photographs and graphics to help you improve behavior and solve problems.

What I Thought: I’m happy I started here because this book is written in a way that is simple and easy to understand. The problems experienced by owners of reactive dogs are clearly spelt out and Brown covers all aspects that may affect your dog and your training decisions. She covers nutrition, environment, how positive reinforcement works, and the steps of training at a constant, but comfortable rate. There are also handy pictures to help you better understand the training method she’s explaining.

The training methods are all based on positivity and learning positive behaviours and responses, and explains why the “dominance” or “fear based” training methods that many (*ahem, I’m lookin’ at you Mr Milan*) espouse are actually harmful for dogs who are already in emotional turmoil.

Though I had heard a lot of the tips before, reading them helped it all to finally sink in and allow me to become more relaxed when walking with Phoebe. I had to learn that sometimes I need to calmly turn away from anything ahead that would potentially upset Phoebe, and get her used to the stimuli of another dog at a slow pace and in an environment that I felt I had as much control over as possible. Phoebe had to learn that I would always only make decisions that would keep her safe and happy, and that would mean not only having control over the situation, but also only ever setting her up for success.

A note on the title: this book is not for owners of dogs who experience general fear and anxiety, but specifically targets reactive behaviour. So if your dog is hyper reactive to dogs or people, lunges, barks and gets upset, then this is the book for you!


Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Dog Reactivity

Tool(s) Used: Book Resource

Cost: I got the hardcopy edition from amazon for £11.05. You can also go directly to Ali Brown’s website here.

Ease of Implementation: Easy to Moderate. The training tips and suggestions are easy to implement, but you will need to be consistent and dedicate enough time to training.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 4/5


Have you read any good books or articles on Reactivity? Do you think they add value, or do you prefer “hands-on” learning?