Best books on four legs

Now that the snow has all but disappeared, my house is a sea of mud – tracked in by two large dogs and three large sets of rubber boots, and no doubt mixed with a bit of manure to add to the fun. Thus, with my credentials established (you now know that I own both dogs and horses and that housekeeping is almost completely off my radar), I’d like to mention several fantastic books about both species.

If everyone who ever so much as thought of buying a dog were to begin their research with Paws to Consider, the world would be a better place. As dog trainers, Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson have a broad understanding of breed characteristics, styles of owners, and matching them up properly so that everyone will be happy. They don’t have the room to extensively cover every breed in the Kennel Club, but this is a great place to start your research, and they present an unbiased look at the problems you may encounter along the way. If I could only refer to one book for breed research, this would be my top pick, in spite of its limitations (for example, it doesn’t cover the Finnish Lapphund – great breed!). They also coined a great go-to saying for puppy rearing: “You get what you pet”… easy to remember and fundamentally true – behavior that gets rewarded is the behavior your dog will repeat.

Of course, at the library you don’t have to limit yourself to only one book! We have lots of comprehensive books with breed descriptions and matchmaking systems.

I am a huge believer in operant conditioning for both dogs and horses, otherwise known as positive reinforcement. For those who cling to the discredited alpha/dominant theories of animal handling, check out Temple Grandin’s work Animals Make Us Human, or In a Dog’s Heart by Jennifer Arnold, or the classic work by C.W. Meisterfield, Jelly Bean versus Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I challenge anyone to read all three of these books and still believe that it is necessary to “dominate” an animal with physical force. You will discover through these books that wolves actually live in fairly peaceful family groupings, that animals are not at all confused about which species they are, and that our role as humans is to be humane.

For horse lovers, my absolute top pick is Mark Rashid’s Horses Never Lie. I have read and re-read every book of his that I can get my hands on. He puts words to some of my instincts about working with horses, and more than that, he doesn’t promote a “system” of horsemanship, which unfortunately so many other horse trainers have tried to do. When it comes to horse handling, there is literally no replacement for a knowledgeable instructor/mentor. But the concepts behind Rashid’s thinking about working with horses go beyond the hands-on techniques to the truths that lie behind our relationship with these animals. He may lead you to new ways of thinking about horses, or about how and why something worked or didn’t work in your day to day interactions with your horse. I find myself wanting to include my own anecdotes as I read his; to chime in as if we were having a conversation – I know what you mean! I’ve seen this too!

Again, at the library we have many more horse books to explore – from Horse Showing for Kids by Cheryl Kimball to George Morris on show jumping, there’s something for everyone. Happy reading!

…um, by the way, does anyone have any suggestions for books on houses that magically clean themselves?


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