‘Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible’ is a primer on making your dog happy

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“Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible” by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce is a primer for dog owners who love their dogs but aren’t sure that their dogs are living the best life possible. Why should people care about their dogs having the best life possible? Those of us who have dogs and love them as parts of our family know the answer: By making our dogs as happy as possible, we in turn will be as happy as we can possibly be with them.

This unassuming paperback book is filled with ideas on how to help your dog be happier, including the smells dogs enjoy, the food they love to eat, and the ways they utilize all their senses. There are also the “ten freedoms” for dogs, including the obvious, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from pain, freedom from discomfort. Maybe some are not so obvious. Often dogs are chained and suffer from extreme discomfort. If they are chained outside for long, they may overturn their water bowl and end up thirsty.

But also consider the freedom dogs need to be themselves and express normal behavior. Do we expect our dogs to do only what we want them to do? What about what they want to do? And one thing that most dogs love to do is play. Don’t worry — there is a whole chapter on dog playing and what it can look like. That’s more important than one might think. I’ll never forget being at the dog park with my super gentle Doberman. He was playing with a German shorthair pointer, and they were having a great time when the owner of the pointer came up to me and, in a very unhappy tone, told me that my dog was being aggressive with her dog. That was definitely not happening, but I packed up my dog and we left. Now, years later, my four dogs play together in the backyard. My herding dog isn’t interested in playing; he’s happy just herding the others. Two of them love playing and roughhousing together. The rescue from China took years to learn to play. At first, she’d just run around the two playing together and pretend to join in. She still doesn’t quite roughhouse, perhaps because she has a painful leg from many surgeries. But she loves to growl and run and jump with them. And it’s a wonderful thing to see from this formerly dog-aggressive dog.

The authors summarize with “two powerful ways to improve the lives of dogs.” One is to reduce the number of situations that cause stress to a dog. Dogs may get nervous with unpleasant smells or sounds. They might be frightened of certain situations, or by feeling trapped. The other is to provide positive enrichment for our dogs, things that will stimulate their senses and bring joy into their lives. They go into detail about both.

Anyone who is considering rescuing a puppy should most definitely read this book before getting the puppy. As the authors point out in the book, socializing a puppy and giving it a wide range of experiences will help create a calm, secure adult dog. That’s why dogs in training to be service dogs are exposed to multiple sounds, smells, places, modes of transportation, people, and other animals. A service dog who gets frightened by a fire alarm will not be able to do its job. Bekoff and Pierce go through how to learn about your dog — and it’s by watching and listening. Watch your dog’s body language to see what stresses and what pleases your dog. Listen to your dog’s breathing and to the sounds around you and how your dog reacts to them.

This is a great companion book to “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” by Carol Novello. One will tell you how to make your life better by saving the life of a shelter animal, and the other will tell you how to make the life of a shelter dog better so that they can then make your life better. What a good deal!

Please note: This review is based on the final, paperback book provided by the publisher, New World Library, for review purposes.

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