Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jim Heath: Your Dog is Watching You

Quick guide to quality: I am not a dog lover; have never owned one; but have been bitten by one recently while out in the country and minding my own business. So I am not the most obviously suitable reader for Jim Heath's Your Dog is Watching You. Nevertheless, I read most of this book with some interest, so it must be pretty good.

It's fairly obvious, I suppose, that this is a non-fiction book, aimed at dog owners. The subtitle is 'A writer finds out about dog psychology the hard way'.

What happened was that Jim acquired a small dog, and, as you do, took it out for walks. This led to various unpleasant and alarming incidents in which Jim's dog was attacked by bigger ones. The dog (named Mono) was also a bit reluctant (I euphemise) to obey orders. Fortunately, Jim was lucky enough to come across a dog psychologist, Jacquie Humphrey, and it is her ideas and teachings which form most of the second half of the book.

What we have here is, in my view, the ideal birthday or Christmas present for anyone who owns a dog, or, better still, is thinking about acquiring one. It would have been immensely useful, for instance, to at least half a dozen dog owners of my own acquaintance, many of who tested my patience (not to mention my nerves) when their uncontrolled animals threatened my person.

I remember one rabid beast in particular, all of twelve inches high, which would bite fingers off anyone who tried to take it to the vet. Treatment could not begin until the vet had gone out into the car park, and, from a distance of some fifty yards or so, had fired an anaesthetic dart into it.

Crowds used to gather to watch this performance. But even then, when paralysed by a dose large enough to lay out the average cow, this dog would, like the dying Stalin, open one eye and snarl menacingly. Several people were seriously injured by being trampled underfoot in the ensuing panic.

All of that can be avoided by close study of Jim Heath's book. Not only will readers learn how to improve their dogs' manners, but they will also learn quite a lot of interesting stuff about how the present-day dogs were all bred from wolves -- and not so very long ago at that.

It is perhaps not surprising that Jim Heath should have written such a useful little book (129 pages), because he's done the job before. The back cover tells us that he has published books and long articles on electronic encryption, insects, the inside story of debt collection, water supplies, rare orchids, and a lot more. So he knows how to do the job. After travelling widely, he and his wife now live permanently in Australia.

Suppose, for example, that you also live in Australia, and you've been wondering about those damned flies. Fear not. Jim has written a book for you, and it's available free online. The original self-published version, by the way, sold out all 7,000 copies of its first edition and made a handsome profit.

Of course, just as some people are obsessed with doggies, my own obsession (as is well known by now) is with writing. And I did get the odd smile, here and there in Jim's book, when I compared the behaviour of dogs (and their owners) with the behaviour of writers.

On page 24, for example, he describes how you can more or less guarantee (usually inadvertently) that your dog will get into a fight. Ah yes, I thought, and we all know how writers can more or less guarantee that their hopes will be dashed.

And then there are references to the way in which dogs try to enhance their status by peeing higher up a tree trunk than the other dogs. Ye-es....

And then there are the dog owners who have read all the right stuff, know what they should be doing, but don't do it because it's all too time-consuming and too much effort.

Oh yes. All human life is there. Even if it is a book about dogs.

Jim Heath's Your Dog is Watching You is a classic example of the kind of book that I fully endorse. It is one man's hard-earned experience, put down on paper so that others can benefit. And it's published (since it's unlikely that anyone else would consider it cost-effective) at his own expense. This is another Booksurge effort, and a tidy enough example for its purpose. You can find it through any branch of Amazon (ISBN 1-921019-20-4), or through Booksurge's own bookstore.


Merisi said...

Dear GOP,

thanks a lot for this information.
I shall send my owner a note to buy a dozen of that book and hand them out to all those huge dogs around my neighborhood.



Wanna have a look at me?

a. m. burns said...

A canine dymentia book sounds interesting, but Grumpy's commentary delights me so much I worry the book wouldn't compare. Nice writing as usual, Grumpy. My little spotted terrier, Henry, is eyeing me from my favorite chair. I'll go see if he needs my attention, or a blanket, or a biscuit refill.

Like a dying Stalin,

a m burns

Anonymous said...

Does this mean I can finally read and enjoy Marley & Me without feeling like I should be reading "literature" instead?

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