Dr. Barbara Hoekje, director of the English Language Center, is a self-described “dog person” who is currently reading The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs by Patricia McConnell. McConnell is an applied animal behaviorist, with a Ph.D. in zoology and a specialty in ethology, the study of animal behavior.
Why did you choose this book?
The title intrigued me: Who is on the other side of the leash? Is the human the focal and the dog the other—or is it the other way around? After reading this book, I really get it: the point is that dogs and humans are in communication with each other. It’s a two-way street. And a lot of behavior problems can be traced to differences in how we communicate verbally and nonverbally with each other.
What’s the most important thing you took away from reading this book?
McConnell sees tragic cases a lot—dogs who have acted out aggressively and have bitten or attacked others. She has a deeply sympathetic view of the communication issues as stemming from behaviors that are inherently different between us as primates and dogs as canines. It’s not about good or bad. It’s about different.
She explains how human nonverbal ways of communicating are counter to dogs’ instincts. For example, moving toward a dog face first in the way that primates greet each other can make him feel encroached upon. Primates like to show affection by hugging, using the “ventral ventral” (heart to heart) position with arms around each other. A dog may tolerate this but can experience an arm over his back as a dominance move.
And in verbal communication, McConnell advises to keep it simple. We use our human facility to word and reword and keep rewording commands to our dogs. SIT down, SIT down over here, don’t SIT there… etc. All the dog hears is SIT and sometimes we’re happy and sometimes we’re not. How confusing is that? We need to become aware of the messages we send with not only the amount of talk, but its volume and pitch as well.
Would you recommend this book?
If you have a dog, this book will give you immediately usable tips on how to be in better communication without needing to force dominance behaviors over your dog. Whether you currently have a dog or, like me, are “between dogs,” reading this book will make you think more about communication—seeing the world through another’s eyes—not just when you communicate with members of another species, but when you communicate with members of your own.
Do you have a favorite passage or quote from the book?
Here’s a passage that summarizes the author’s advice on how to handle a dog that is doing something you don’t want her to do:
“So when your dog is doing something wrong, say, “No” quietly, use another sound to startle him to get his attention, and then redirect him on to doing something that he should be doing. Don’t think about physically punishing him; think about teaching him. Replace the hot, red aggression of old-fashioned dog training with the calm, cool benevolence of sky blue. It’s a lovely color.”