Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Review: Control Unleashed The Puppy Program, by Leslie McDevitt

No, I don't have a puppy, and no, I'm not planning to get one. But I was excited for this book anyway because the original Control Unleashed is one of my five favorite dog books. Well, it was, because The Puppy Program has totally taken its place. Let me tell you why.

While the original CU was targeted towards distractible and reactive dogs, CU Puppy is written as more of a prevention manual. It's meant to help you give your puppy a foundation of coping skills by teaching him confidence, relaxation, and trust in you to deal with things that might concern him. It does this by systematically teaching attention skills, self-control skills, and arousal regulation skills. In the process, it also creates rule structures that will help your dog make sense of an often chaotic world by letting him know what to expect, and what is expected of him.

Many of the key concepts and exercises from the original book are present in this one, although they've obviously been rewritten with puppies in mind. There are also some new concepts and training exercises. Perhaps my favorite chapter was the one on social pressure. Whenever you ask your dog to do something, Leslie says, you put pressure on him. This is true of all dogs, but some will be more sensitive to it than others. A wise trainer will not only recognize how social pressure is affecting her dog, but will also find ways to relieve the social pressure, and incorporate it into the reinforcement process.

I also really liked the chapters on the economy of energy and the bite threshold model. “Everything affects everything,” Leslie writes, and it's so true. I have experienced this time and time again- and it's why I've been so slow and methodical about reintroducing Maisy to trials. I've tried to write about some of these concepts here, but Leslie does it much better than I have. In fact, she does such a lovely job that everyone with a reactive dog should buy this book simply for the first 100 pages.

Finally, I really enjoy Leslie's repeated emphasis on treating your dog like an individual. You cannot get bogged down in who you think your dog should be, whether that's based on his breed type, your past experiences, or your own desires. When things happen, when your dog behaves in a way you don't expect (or don't like!), that should be seen as information. Your dog is telling you what he needs to be successful. Address those things, not by mindlessly following some pre-determined training method, but by really paying attention to who your dog is. Like Leslie says, “We can spend so much of our time wishing that our dogs were different, rather than appreciating who they are and just working with what we've got.”

There is so much more to this book- I didn't even tell you about the new exercises and games!- but suffice it to say that I really liked this book. In fact, I think everyone with a dog should read it. If you have a puppy, performance prospect or not, this book will give you the tools you need to raise a well-adjusted adult. And although this book is geared towards puppies, that doesn't mean it can't be applied to our adult dogs- especially nervous, worried or even reactive ones.

In fact, I much prefer the organization style in the puppy book; it covers one concept or exercise per chapter, and does a much better job of explaining how they each build on one another. To me, this makes the book far more user-friendly, especially for novice handlers.The only downside is that its natural focus on puppies means that it doesn't explain how and why each exercise is so good for treating reactivity. Still, the book is absolutely amazing, and I think pretty much anyone reading this blog would find it helpful.

So what are you waiting for? Go buy it already!

For the record, I was not paid or compensated in any way for this review. I even bought my own copy of the book!


Jen said...

I really enjoyed Control Unleashed, and "know" some folks on forums who train with CU trainers and sessions.

My only issue with the book is that its organization seemed like it could need some work. But I really like it, and think McDevitt makes a lot of great points.

Raegan said...

How accessible is the material to "just pet" puppies? Do you need to be a trainer to implement exercises effectively, or are they doable by people more interested in the product than the process?

Crystal Thompson said...

Jen- I agree about the organization, which is why I love the puppy book so much! I think the original CU is pretty amazing for what it is (groundbreaking ideas, by a first-time author), but this is just.... I love it. ;)

Raegan- That's a really good question. I think the exercises are definitely doable by "just pet" people. The writing is really clear, and the directions are pretty easy to follow. I also really liked some of the "um, it's not working" material- the chapter on Give Me a Break does a really nice job of describing what to do if your dog doesn't return (or doesn't leave!).

That said, I'm not sure that "just pet" people would read this and see the value in it. Like its predecessor, the book makes a lot of references to agility. It would be easy to think "this doesn't apply to me" even though there are some examples in the book for just "pet people"- how CU helped Leslie's dog become more comfortable with kids, for example.

Anonymous said...

What a great review! I've referenced the original CU heavily in dealing with my own severely anxious dog and wasn't sure if this new book would have much for "adult-onset" issues or training an adopted adult dog. And Crystal - I discovered your blog several months ago when our dog's anxiety began to spiral out of control. Because of your writing, my husband and I sought professional help quickly and we all now feel we're on the road to recovery. Thank you for the time and thought you put into writing and assembling resources. We had no idea there were such wonderful, dog-friendly, science-based trainers, authors and vets out there to help. So thank you for "introducing" us.

Jamie Lynn

A to Z Dals said...

Hey folks, just learned that Cleanrun has opened up the FREE SHIPPING window on this book through Friday, 2/17 - and that's worldwide. So go for it...

kristen58 said...

So, do you think this book can be useful for a dog older than a puppy who's already gone through some CU training? We have the first CU book and are working through it, and I'm interested to read about the new games in the puppy book, but I just don't want to buy the book if I really can't use it with my dog. What do you think?

Crystal Thompson said...

Oh, Jamie Lynn, what a lovely comment. Thank you so much. I'm so glad to have had a small part in your dog's recovery. That is EXACTLY why I blog. :)

Kristen- I DEFINITELY think the puppy book is applicable to adult dogs. I think the puppy book is especially strong in the concept/philosophy section; there is so much good stuff in there about expectations for your dog, management at trials, stress thresholds, etc. I just loved it, and think that was worth the price of purchase alone.

There are only a few new games/exercises- biofeedback (which previously eluded me and I'd like to start trying), "ping pong puppy" (a low-stress way to introduce your dog to things that worry him), and "watch the distracted handler" (although I'm not sure that's so much of a new game as just a high-criteria LAT).

As someone with no immediate plans for a puppy, I felt the book was useful, it gave me a few new ideas to try with my dog, and I definitely think it was worth the purchase price. Besides... someday I WILL get a puppy, and then I'll be ready. :)

Joanna said...

Okay, this review has convinced me! It's not in my budget at the moment but it's on my wishlist and I'll get it at some point. :)

Tegan said...

Sounds cool. I have the original CU and, once I got through the draggy introduction, I liked the book. I'll put the puppy version on my 'to get' list (which is about a mile long).

Valerie said...

Oh, I hadn't even heard of this book yet! I loved CU, I can't wait to get my hands on this one!

Anonymous said...

I'm part way through this, and agree it's fantastic :)

I've been wanting CU for months, but hadn't been able to get it yet - then this was released and more easily available, so I got it. Now I'm wondering, do I need Control Unleashed as well or will the Puppy one provide everything I need? (I have a dog reactive 13 month old)

Crystal Thompson said...

CU Puppy explains HOW to do the games. The original CU does a great job of explaining WHY they help dogs specifically with reactivity. If you're like me, and want the explanations, definitely get the original- it provides more context and depth, and I need that. Otherwise, all the tools needed are in CU Puppy- you just have to accept it on faith that it will work.