Thursday, August 18, 2011
Book Review: The Evolution of Charlie Darwin, by Beth Duman, CPDT-KA
Charlie Darwin is a “borderless collie” (so called because of the likely erroneous breed label given to him by a rescue organization, as well as his propensity to escape from fenced yards) who didn't really meet trainer Beth Duman's criteria for her next dog. Still, he somehow managed to worm his way into Beth's heart, and it's a good thing he did, because the result was this delightful training book.
The back cover promises to help readers who have been “overwhelmed reading long, complicated training books” learn how to train their dogs, and that it does. Starting with how to choose your new canine companion and introduce him into your home, moving along to discuss socialization, handling, and teaching good manners, and finally culminating with a section on using life rewards instead of cookies, The Evolution of Charlie Darwin: Partner with Your Dog Using Positive Training is an excellent introduction to the concept of positive training.
The strength of this book is Beth's gift for writing about complicated concepts in a refreshingly straight-forward way. Unlike many other training books I've read, it never gets bogged down in scientific terminology that the average dog owner has no use for (or interest in!). She bypasses theory in favor of practical advice, and her style is engaging and easy to read. That, coupled with short chapters with descriptive titles, make the book incredibly user-friendly for the new dog owner (or one who is simply new to training).
The information is interspersed with diary-style entries that chronicle Charlie's first year in his new home. While I would have occasionally moved the order in which the information appeared (for example, I would place the section on potty training earlier on), this format still provides an easy-to-follow chronological structure for the book. The Charlie stories also serve to provide some comic relief (Beth adds height to her fence, only to discover that Charlie is crawling under it), and show that even professional trainers will struggle with their new dogs from time to time.
I love her for this honesty; she comes across as genuine, and despite her frequent warnings against the use of pain and fear in training, she never seems preachy. Although the clicker purists may cringe at times (she advises that if you've overestimated your dog's ability to respond to your recall command, you can choose to “reel him in” by a long line), she is both sensible and pain-free in her methods, which is exactly the kind of advice that the public needs.
I especially loved her section on socialization because it emphasizes the idea of quality, not quantity. While other books I've read give numbers and benchmarks, she recommends tailoring your socialization to the dog's needs. The goal is not to have many experiences, but rather, to have good experiences. I also really liked the charts she included. Her Sensitivity Assessment Chart did a great job of explaining how to work through a dog's fears, and the “May I touch your body?” game (and accompanying chart) provides a systematic way to teach a dog to tolerate, if not like, being handled.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I would have no reservations in recommending it to friends and family. If you'd like your own copy, you can purchase it Dogwise, Amazon, and the author's website.
(I am apparently required to make the following FTC disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author, but was not otherwise compensated for this review.)