Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: How Many Dogs (dogs, management)

How Many Dogs?! Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household

by Debby McMullen, CDBC, 2010, Tanacacia Press, $19.95, 204 pp. 

Do you have too many dogs? Going crazy, trying to balance their different personalities and needs — and your own? Or do you want another dog, but just don’t know if it is feasible?

How many dogs is too many anyway — for you?

This book helps you answer that question, helps you decide whether or not your family should get another canine, and how to select the best fit. It also teaches how to manage (and prevent) any chaos you or your dogs may experience, now or in the future.


Nowadays, families tend to consist of a single parent raising a family or a family with both parents working outside the home. There are fewer adults home during the day now than there were in the 1950s. In addition, our pets today tend to be the larger breeds — the most popular breed today being the Labrador Retriever as opposed to the smaller Cocker Spaniel, popular when many of us (or our parents) were growing up. Many families have a second dog to keep the first one company during the day, and for other reasons.

How to keep up and adapt to these societal changes is one topic of McMullen’s book.

With multiple dogs can come multiple problems, unless you plan for that eventuality and manage it positively. How Many Dogs?! is just the book with all the answers to help you keep your sanity and enjoy all your dogs!

McMullen has a lovely conversational writing style — what a storyteller! She is a dog trainer with several dogs, albeit not as many as pictured on the cover!

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

When she presents a subject, she describes alternatives and gives the solution she prefers along with the reasons behind her choice. She then explains why other solutions might work for other households and emphasizes that if the situation is under control in your household with a different solution, don’t change it! (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!)

You don’t have to eat your words if you use these. . . .

McMullen uses brilliantly creative terms that describe her ideas succinctly. For example, the person is the “crew leader” who projects “benevolent leadership.” I firmly believe these terms will catch on across the country and will replace undefined terms that don’t work, such as “pack leader,” “dominance,” and “calm assertiveness.”

McMullen describes her new terms, defines them in a short glossary, and refers to them throughout the book.

Tails are Tucked, . . .

I love the Table of Contents, too! I never thought I would say that about a book.

Chapters include Tails are Tucked (canine body language), The Fur is Flying (what to do about tiffs), Tragedy in the Midst (losing a crew member), and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (where do they all fit?...and sleep).

The index also comes in handy, and her Resources and References section not only lists other books by topic, but gives further details about them.

Tidbits abound.

Lovely, lively photos of dogs playing and otherwise interacting, as well as text boxes with key points for emphasis, are scattered throughout so you know what’s really important. Themes of trust and routine appear again and again.

Real Life is not TV

A few chapters include real-life examples from several owners of multiple dogs, explaining how they solve different situations. Their dogs star in many of the photos and we follow the dogs and their people throughout the book for an authentic view of how to implement McMullen’s suggestions, such as mealtime management and different sleeping arrangements.

New Training. . . .

A special bonus is the lengthy chapter on training. It includes how to train skills like attention, wait, go to a mat (safe place for chilling out), recalls, and loose-leash walking — all skills that are mandatory for making life with dogs easier. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with positive reinforcement training, think of it as reward-based rather than force-based.

If you want to be a clicker trainer, McMullen presents a quick intro. Want to learn the difference between a bribe, a lure, and a reward? How electronic fencing systems can create behavior problems rather than solve confinement problems? It’s all here!

McMullen’s How Many Dogs?! offers a wealth of step-by-step information for the multiple dog-owner as well as the single dog person. This is an excellent adjunct to training classes and a delight to read.

(This review appears on, GRREAT NEWS July-August 2010 and in the former Yankee Dog.)

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