“Through a Dog’s Eyes”

By Jennifer Arnold.  Spiegel & Grau. $25.


Dominance, alpha, negative re-enforcement are hot-button topics in dog-training circles that have been the source of considerable debate among professionals.

In Jennifer Arnold’s opinion, there is no place for any of these in classes or in the home, and she wastes no time letting the reader know her feelings.

Founder and executive director of Canine Assistants, a nonprofit service-dog facility near Atlanta, Arnold says, “I am deeply concerned and disappointed with the dog-management methods that have recently gained popularity. Training methodologies, once headed in the direction of kindness and respect, have largely reversed course over the past several years. . . . Also making a comeback, sadly are certain types of collars that cause dogs pain and discomfort, such as shock collars and choke chains. What happened here? I may never fully understand what caused this shift, but there is one thing I do understand. This cruelty must be stopped.”


In this stirring travelogue of history, science and psychology, Arnold presents an arresting and valuable analysis of canine temperament and how to cement the optimum relationship with your dog.  Recognizing the animal’s needs and body language head that list.  As a longtime trainer of service dogs – chiefly golden retrievers, Labs or mixes of each – she pinpoints her methodology keys toward developing a sensitive and responsive animal that implicitly trusts its human partner.


Keep in mind, Arnold adds, that the vast majority of recipients cannot physically dominate their dogs, hence the animals must comply out of devotion rather than fear or force.  “The whole idea of our dogs desiring to dominate us is vastly overblown,” she says.


While wolves may have been the ancestors of dogs, there are many differences, physically and psychologically, between the two, she notes. 


The canine senses of sight, smell and hearing receive plenty of attention anecdotally and scientifically, but so do emotion, stimulation and play, body language and character. In the process, Arnold focuses on the need to see the world through the dog’s eyes, noting “It is critical that we recognize that dogs neither input nor process information exactly as humans do. Consequently, they cannot fairly be expected to think or respond as we do. That said, dogs are far more sensitive and intelligent than we may realize.”


Arnold’s job calls for her to know dogs – and people, since success is measured by match.  And she’s doing quite well on that front, thank you. Nearly 90 percent of the matches made by Canine Assistants are still intact one year later.


Without offering hints, she is at her best when citing several “dogisms,” which are the cornerstones of the dog-human relationship she has learned in two decades.


“Through a Dog’s Eyes” is a rich, insightful examination of man’s best friend packaged with a nicely balanced toolbox to help us keep it that way.