Sunday, May 13, 2012

In a Dog's Heart: What Our Dogs Need, Want, and Deserve--and the Gifts We Can Expect in Return, by Jennifer Arnold (author, reader)

Random House Audio, ISBN 9780307938985, October 2011

This is Arnold's second book, the training-oriented book that I had expected Through a Dog's Eyes to be. I had really looked forward to this, and I'm sorry to say I have mixed feelings about the result.

Arnold builds the book around her experiences in building and running Canine Assistants, and that's a fascinating and rewarding tale in itself. She covers every aspect of dog care, including both training and feeding. As a trainer, she's knowledgeable, practical, and positive-oriented. She makes excellent use of both her Canine Assistants experience and her experiences with Golden Retriever rescue to tell stories illustrating both how well dogs can be trained with positive methods to perform even very complex behaviors and to exercise judgment and choice, and the negative effects correction-based methods (used incorrectly) and a failure to understand the dog's point of view and the dog's body language can do to a normal, healthy dog. One interesting point is that Arnold is strongly in favor of changing the name of an adopted dog. The old name may have negative associations, and the new name can be a fresh start. I can certainly see her point, and I know from my own experience that a dog will quickly learn a new name if it's associated with fun and positive things.

Where Arnold and I part company is on feeding. She's strongly convinced that the only really safe choice is major, name-brand commercial dog food. She's sure that raw feeding or home cooking is just too hard for the average person to get right, and should only be attempted with the assistance of a veterinary nutritionist. That's not really a surprise. I know too many people who successfully raw feed or home cook for their dogs who have happy, healthy animals to agree, but it's hardly an unusual or out-there opinion.

More surprising is the fact that she regards high-end "holistic," "natural," or "super-premium" foods perhaps even more negatively. This is based on a highly negative experience she had, in  the earlier years of Canine Assistants, of receiving a "donation" of a high-end, holistic dog food for the Canine Assistants dogs. Suddenly her dogs were all getting sick, vomiting, having diarrhea. After some investigation, in proved to be the food, which was rancid. Being the cynical person that I am, I leap to the suspicion that the "donation" consisted of food past its use-by date. Arnold, on the other hand, leaped to the conclusion that all these high-end, "holistic" foods aren't safe and you should stick with major brands. I'd be less irritated and annoyed by her insistence on that point if this book hadn't been published in late 2011, over four years after the pet food poisonings and recalls of 2007. Foods at every price point and in every category--the major, standard brands, the really cheap foods, the expensive brands of "natural," "holistic," and "super-premium" foods--there were recalls. Thousands of dogs and cats sickened and died. We spent the entire spring and early summer waiting for the latest Friday night dump-and-run recall announcements, which were always preceded by Friday afternoon FDA announcements that all the foods still on the store shelves were safe.

It literally didn't matter what you were feeding, how you approached the question of "how to feed the dog and cat;" if you were feeding a commercial food of any kind, you couldn't rest easy that spring that you weren't poisoning your pets with melamine every time you fed them. And yes, Hill's and Iams, two of the most respected major brands, were heavily affected by these recalls.

I'm amazed and distressed that, four years after that horrible spring, Jennifer Arnold has no hesitation about saying "feed major brands only," condemning anything that isn't a major brand, and telling people they can't risk home cooking or raw cooking because they'll make their pets sick. What we learned in the spring of 2007 is that, however you are feeding your pets, you need to be careful, you need to be alert, and you cannot blindly trust any food source--not even, as some home cookers and raw feeders would have it, the human food sources because there are not two food supplies.

So while I definitely recommend this book for its perspective on training and its great stories about Arnold's experience, I would say get your food advice elsewhere, and whatever you are feeding, don't blindly trust any source. Be alert, follow the pet food news online, and watch your pets for any unusual reactions to whatever you are feeding them.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Click on the cover image to purchase this book from Amazon.

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