As our shelters fill to bursting with dogs surrendered due to their “out of control” behavior, Nan Arthur’s new book, Chill Out Fido! How to Calm Your Dog, arrives like a mercy, offering an understanding of why some dogs act wild and crazy and what you can do about it in order to live peacefully ever after with your canine friend.
Even if your dog is already the epitome of a mellow fellow, there is still much of interest and importance in this book, too much, in fact, to do justice to in a short review. Far from a how-to manual on teaching basic obedience skills, Chill Out Fido! is a guidebook to the foreign culture that is canine.
The book is divided into two parts: Part One identifies 14 possible causes of a dog’s disorderly behavior, ranging from poor early socialization or the wrong diet to insufficient or (gasp!) too much exercise.
Part Two takes a look at the tools necessary to uncover the well-mannered dog our rambunctious pooches are hiding on the inside. Arthur presents 11 exercises, each of which builds on the previous one, designed to teach your dog to relax and to focus on you, including—among other important skills—choosing to relax and greeting strangers calmly.
The book is full of fascinating information, backed by scientific research, that occasionally contradicts commonly held beliefs. For instance, many of us have been taught that exercise, exercise, exercise! will result in calmer behavior in our dogs, but Arthur writes that we need to give our dogs the right kinds of exercise for them, and that “high excitement and overly aroused states such as those seen during hard play or extensive exercise … can force dogs into an overactive stress response.” And stress, as we well know, does not lead to a calm, focused individual. Another example: Did you know that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states that, using common-sense precautions, early socialization is more important than sequestering a puppy to guard against the risk of infection from other dogs?
This is the first book from Arthur, who is a faculty member of the Karen Pryor Academy and owner of Whole Dog Training in San Diego County, Calif. According to her bio, Arthur’s “quest”—in her work as a trainer and animal-rescue worker as well as in this book—is to “help pets stay in their homes,” and that, it seems to me, is the backbone, the beauty, of this book. I predict that it won’t be long before Chill Out Fido! becomes one of the books most commonly recommended by trainers and behavior consultants for their clients with problem-behavior dogs. We would be doing well as a “humane” society if Chill Out Fido! became required reading for dog guardians everywhere. It’s a simple premise with an enormous reach.
This article first appeared in The Bark,