Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Review: Bringing Light To Shadow by Pamela S. Dennison

Title: Bringing Light to Shadow: A Dog Trainer's Diary
Author: Pamela S. Dennison
Year published: 2004

You can't rehabilitate an aggressive dog using positive training. You must show the dog who is the alpha in order to gain respect. And besides, positive-based trainers won't even take on aggressive dogs.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard a combination of these statements. Add to them the usual glorification of Cesar Millan, and you have the complete picture. According to these folks, he rehabilitates "red zone" dogs, the dogs others have given up on, the ones the positive trainers won't work with because they don't have the guts/know-how/calm assertive energy to rehabilitate them. These positive, rewards-based trainers are handy for training tricks, but that's it.

Except...that's not quite true. Bringing Light to Shadow proves those statements wrong. Pamela Dennison, who already had a houseful of dogs (a border collie mix, a border collie, and a sheltie), decided in a moment of craziness to add a 4th dog to the mix: a rescued border collie named Shadow. She did not know, at the time she brought him home, that Shadow was human-aggressive. As with many aggressive dogs, most of his issues were based in fear. He was a dog who, under different circumstances would have been put down. He was a dog who, under the "rehabilitation" of Cesar Millan, would have lashed out or shut down, leaving him living in a sort of hell.

Instead, Shadow ended up in the hands of positive trainer Pamela Dennison. At the time she had little experience working with aggressive dogs. She had been training dogs for agility, obedience, and herding work. But Shadow became a project of love and she stuck by him through thick and thin.

The book is written in journal format and are the actual entries Dennison made in her journal about Shadow's progression (and sometimes regression) toward becoming a "normal" dog. Included within the pages not only are her moments of looking back and pointing out what she did right and what Shadow did right, but also those moments where she made a wrong move and caused Shadow to regress a bit.

This book is truly insightful and should be on every dog trainer's bookshelf. If you have a dog with aggression issues, this book can make you feel hope. And mostly, it can make anyone realize that positive training can WORK with an aggressive dog. In 18 months she turns Shadow from a human-aggressive dog to one who passes his Canine Good Citizen test. 18 months may seem like a long time, but at the end of the book he was only 2 1/2, so there are many more years to come.

I really enjoyed this book and it's one I'll keep on my shelf and keep referring back to over and over again.

Buy Bringing Light to Shadow by Pamela S. Dennison

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