“Do-Over Dogs:Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First-Class Life”

By Pat Miller. Dogwise. $17.95.


Emotional baggage, psychological landmines and a package of unknowns are just a few of descriptive labels tagged to shelter dogs. 


All of these are deftly addressed in Miller’s sharply focused glimpse into the elongated history of second-chance dogs. Using vignettes for emphasis, the author cites fear, neglect and abuse in previous homes as the seeds for owner release and a target priority for shelter behaviorists.


Those problems originate from private homes to crowded puppy mills and hoarding scenarios, the latter of which place dozens of animals in a tiny one- or two-bedroom home filled with feces and a pungent odor scent.


The emotion surrounding pet adoption is high-stakes drama, the bulk of which is played out in the home. The key, however, is for the adopter to identify potential problem behaviors, and here is where Miller is at her best, outlining a 13-step, get-acquainted protocol to help you determine if a particular dog is right for you.


That assessment will help you evaluate the dog’s level of socialization and confidence; provide information of how the animal accepts routine touch handling; training and husbandry procedures; determine how easy – or difficult – it might be to interrupt the dog if he’s doing something inappropriate; how a dog responds when a human is near his cherished play toy or food; how a dog reacts to an approaching stranger.


Not all shelters have the luxury of a staff veterinarian on-site, but Miller emphasizes that some adoption candidates may be suffering from a pain-causing condition that will affect their behavior.


Some of us thrive on challenge and believe we can turn around the life of a beleaguered pound or rescue pooch. For those who do, Miller offers an eight-point reality check, two of which emphasize that love is not enough and be prepared for heartache.


One of the volume’s highlights comes when the author lists 10 of her favorite behavior myths, with an explanation as to why each should not be used as the justification for a training or behavior-modification technique.


Here’s an example: Myth 1, Puppies should not go to puppy classes/the mall/friends’ houses until they have had all their vaccinations at 16 weeks/6 months of age.


This falls “squarely at the top of the ‘dangerous myth’ category,” she argues. “Many neophobic dogs are in the Do-Over category, she emphasizes, “because their humans believed this. It’s generally perceived as creditable by new puppy owners because it’s offered by the pup’s veterinarian or some other canine professional.”


While it appears scientifically sound, she adds, puppies that aren’t properly socialized are at a much greater risk for developing behavior problems, including aggression, which may shorten their lives.  She notes that the dog should receive its puppy shots and subsequent boosters, but the lack of socialization poses a greater challenge to its survival and entry into Do-Over status later.


Seasoned heavily with anecdotes, “Do-Over Dogs” is an evenly-paced, must-read for anyone considering a shelter or rescue dog. One minute it feels like a sobering reminder that good intentions aren’t always enough. The next, infused with insight and confidence, it supplies the tools for you to move forward, make a difference . . . and save a life in the process. 


(Editor’s note: This book is scheduled to be published in July, but the release date was uncertain at the time this review was posted. Check www.dogwise.com for updated information. )