Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Stephen Baker’s approach is very simple. He takes the basic format of your standard dog-training manual and proceeds – with a completely straight face – to subvert it irredeemably by introducing that most anarchic of all ingredients: reality.
In nine helpful chapters bearing titles like “Feeding the Neurotic Dog”, “Training the Neurotic Dog” and “Travelling with the Neurotic Dog” he examines every facet of owning a neurotic dog, and how to cope with each of them.
To begin with, he sensibly considers how dogs become neurotic in the first place:
Dog learns early in life to depend on his intellect rather than his size. He realistically accepts the fact that nature made man a larger, more powerful creature … … But he knows that physical prowess puts his master only at a temporary advantage, and in the long run, dog’s superior reasoning power will win out. Dog has the ability to wait patiently for his turn. He plans his moves way ahead. At times he lets man feel his intellectual equal to throw him off balance.
At the end of each chapter, we are given a succinct summary, with bullet points of the things to remember. Thus:
Do be patient with your neurotic dog. Try to understand the underlying cause of his neurosis: it’s you.
Having grasped that, we then move on to basic training:
One of the most important words in your dog’s vocabulary is NO. He must learn that NO is the antonym of YES, even though the two words sound so similar to him as to cause confusion.
(As anyone who has ever owned a dog will corroborate, this is only too true. Dogs have enormous difficulty hearing the word ‘No’. They can hear a crisp packet from 250 yards. They can’t hear the word ‘No’ from 2 feet …)
Then, we have teaching your neurotic dog to ‘Sit’. Stephen Baker characteristically gets straight to heart of the problem. The problem is not usually getting a dog to ‘Sit’ – it’s getting him to stand in the first place. Once you’ve done that, the ‘sitting’ bit is easy … because in order to reassume the prone position, he has to pass through the sitting stage:
This can be done by taking a firm grip on the scruff of his neck, or better yet, by pulling on his leash. The purpose here is to keep his head up at a safe distance from the ground. Let his backside sink down while you are holding his head up. You will find that your dog is now in a natural sitting position. This pose he will maintain as long as you are able to keep his head up. Once you slacken your grip the dog will, of course, fall to the ground.
Does your dog insist on sleeping on – or even IN your bed with you? Then Stephen Baker tells you how to unship him. He recommends starting gently, undulating your body and pushing, and then gradually escalating it to yanking the blankets off, batting him with pillows and jumping up and down on the mattress for a few minutes.
At this point some dogs (those known as ‘watch dogs’) will slowly open one or both eyes, although they will probably not be willing to leave the bed. Your next move is to rock the bed. Lift one end, then drop it firmly on the floor. Pull off the mattress. Turn the whole bed over.
If all of these efforts come to nothing, let him know you mean business.
The whole book is played completely straight, and that – of course – is what makes it such a winner. A lot of so-called humorous books are entirely too pleased with themselves, but How to … is magnificently po-faced. It sails on serenely offering absurd advice …
DON’T push your dog around. He may bite you. If he does, chide him and call an ambulance.
… ably assisted by the wickedly funny illustrations. (In my ancient edition, they’re by Eric Gurney … more recent editions are illustrated by Fred Hilliard.)
The book’s greatest comic weapon, however, is the filament of truth running through it: the laugh-out-loud moment of recognition – as in this description of how to teach a dog to come when called:
Get the collar on the pet. Tie one end of the cord to the collar and hold on to the other end. Let the dog get away from you about 10 or 15 feet. If he won’t wake up or he just won’t go away, you walk away. Then say “Come here” … …
Soon you will have developed much muscle power through weeks of concentrated training in pulling the dog towards you while he maintains the ‘down’ position.
Once you find you can drag him as much as 10 or 15 feet, you may begin work on the advanced version of the COME command, which merely involves increasing the distance between you to 20 feet.
Since being published in 1961, this little gem of a book has been through many reprints and isn’t showing any signs of running out of steam. Nor will it, as long as there are enough daft people around who don’t mind having their lives completely dominated by a pair of big brown eyes …
There are many editions available to buy – both new and secondhand. The most recent one available on Amazon is:
McGraw-Hill Contemporary. 2003. ISBN: 978-0071418652. 144pp.