Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

How to Live with a Neurotic Dog – Stephen Baker

How to 2How to Live with a Neurotic Dog is to dog ownership manuals what Sellars and Yeatman’s 1066 and All That is to history books.

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.

And so, quietly but with remarkable efficiency, he fights his battle against man.  In the process he often becomes neurotic.  And so does his master.How to 5

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.

How to 3That’s entirely too true to be funny …

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 How to“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 …

—o—

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.

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11 comments on “How to Live with a Neurotic Dog – Stephen Baker

  1. Lisa
    April 11, 2009

    I MUST buy this. Hilarious. Thanks for pointing this out, Moira :)

  2. Lisa
    April 11, 2009

    Oh and:

    “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 …)”

    How I laughed. So true.

  3. rosyb
    April 11, 2009

    This is brilliant, Moira, and so like my life right now. I loved the Come command bit. Although in my case it’s more a case of walking about shouting come at insanely galloping dog until he eventually bumps into me by accident at which point I praise him lavishly and feel very triumphant about the whole thing.

    There is a brilliant book I had as a child called Games Dogs Play which sounds quite similar to this. You have inspired me to look it up – I doubt it is still in print but maybe I could get a second hand copy. And this one is definitely going into my shopping trolley. (Which illustrator is better do you think?)

  4. rosyb
    April 11, 2009

    Oh yes and how many times have I been told by trainers I’ve consulted and vets and books that “once he is focussed on something he literally can’t hear you”

    But he can hear another dog, the word “sausage” or the faint rustle of the plastic bag as we take out the netball….

  5. Moira
    April 11, 2009

    Rosy – Both illustrators are good, but I’d JUST give Eric Gurney the edge.

    It is a wonderful book. The pages are falling out of mine, and I swear I know chunks of it by heart … in fact, most of those quotes I didn’t really have to look up …

  6. Kate Lace
    April 11, 2009

    I seem to remember another similar called ‘How to Live with a Calculating Cat’. Equally brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny.

  7. Moira
    April 11, 2009

    Absolutely right, Kate. He did write one on cats too … but I haven’t read that one yet. Memo to self: must get hold of a copy.

  8. Jackie
    April 11, 2009

    This was so funny-I literally burst out laughing at parts. I can’t believe it’s been around so long & I’ve never heard of it. But now I’ve got to find it so I can read the rest & laugh some more.

  9. David Crocombe
    July 15, 2009

    Great post. I must get a copy of this book! I loved the way it is delivered so seriously but ends up being sooo funny.

    Thanks

  10. KozyDogs
    September 13, 2010

    Ha Ha I like this very funny and good points too! I must get this book too!

  11. Stacey
    July 20, 2012

    Adorable book, but it was first published in 1960, not 1961.

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This entry was posted on April 11, 2009 by in Entries by Moira, Non-fiction: Humour, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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