Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: The Puppy Diaries - A Great Cover! (dog memoir)

The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout, by Jill Abramson (2011, Henry Holt and Company, $22, 242 pp) 
Whoever said, “You can’t tell a book by its cover” was right! The Puppy Diaries has an adorable white (platinum blonde) golden retriever puppy on the cover: the book inside, however, does not quite measure up to the promise on the outside.
Abramson, an editor at The New York Times, had an incredibly successful column on the paper’s website about her first year of living with Scout, her puppy named after the sprite in the classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
Perhaps the periodic web updates during Scout’s first year were popular because they were unique - following a new puppy in real-time, with all the trials and tribulations and training sessions and puppy kisses, too! What a wonderful idea! And many readers sent in their own photos and anecdotes so the web column was a shared experience in NYC and across the country. Why would the book not be as successful? It just wasn’t.
This is a quick, light read: you can probably get through all 242 pages in one evening, if you don’t end up reading slower and slower. . . .
Abramson drops a lot of names, especially dog-people names from the entire spectrum of scientists, trainers, behaviorists, PhDs, but fails to put their ideas and findings into perspective. For example, Cesar Millan (whom she refers to throughout and is even photographed with), Karen Pryor,            Dr. Katherine Houpt, Dr. Karen Overall, Turid Rugaas, Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Marc Bekoff, Victoria Stillwell, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, the monks of New Skete – from reward-based training to the old-fashioned but still practiced force-based training. Fortunately, Scout was trained using rewards. (I did notice that the author never referred to the PhDs as PhDs, either, with the exception of Dr. Overall)
The Puppy Diaries starts off with a very lengthy portion devoted to Abramson’s childhood and her first dog as an adult, Buddy, a Westie (who appears over and over) – very different in size and personality to a Golden like Scout – and an acci­dent during her more recent dogless years. Several dog books today dwell on the author’s personal life more than life with the dog. I guess because people write the books, not dogs.
Abramson and her husband are better than average dog owners (they used a Gentle Leader and Henry actually attend­ed Pryor’s ClickerExpo in California) but still made some common everyday mistakes – starting training late, not acclimat­ing Scout to the city (NYC) early enough to prevent some problems. Scout is an easy dog, a golden who quickly became house­trained but still had to occasionally attend (and loved!) dog day care (in Scout’s case, Biscuits and Bath in NYC) for dog socialization and to expend canine energy with her buddies.

Is The Puppy Diaries worth the $22 price tag? The cover photo may be. The website, may be all you need. It is very nice.

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, Jul-Aug 2012.)

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