chihuahua wearing glasses reads a book.

I have been reading for as long as I can remember. It is one of my favorite past times, and my super power. I’ve always wanted to do a reading challenge of some kind, so I decided I’d put my love for reading to work for my passion project, All Things Chihuahua.

A few weeks ago I went to the library and checked out every book in their dog section. It is a small, local library, but that is still 20+ dog books. I read every one of them over the course of about 3 weeks.

The books ended up being on a vast range of topics. Memoirs, training books, dog encyclopedias, and so much more. Most of these books I would never have checked out if I wasn’t doing this challenge. A couple of them I’d already read.

I’ll be doing an individual review of each book I read over the coming months, but this is an overview of the things I learned while reading these books.

Our Thoughts on Dogs Have Changed

The first of the books I picked up was a general overview of dog ownership, and it wasn’t all that old. Yet despite being not very old, the advice in the book shocked me to my core. It recommended Cane Corso’s as a tranquil breed (in a book for beginners!) high energy working breeds like border collies as family dogs, and suggested 6 weeks as a fine age to remove puppies from their mother.

(Wonderdog, the last book I read, points out we learned the devastating consequences of early separation from the litter in 1965. Yet even modern books still sometimes reflect information from the 1700s.)

After reading the book, I had a real feeling of foreboding about what I had gotten myself into. As a child I remember reading a book on dog training, and then, confused by the information in the book, asked an online forum what “hanging” a dog as part of dog training meant.

I had not ever owned a dog at that point (my parents were cat people) and the forum was very kind to me, but I learned the appalling truth that some people thought dangling a dog by a choke chain until it passed out would somehow teach them to obey.

We don’t do these things anymore. (I hope.) The first lesson I learned from these books is, cross check everything. Even if it is from a world famous author. Even if it is the latest, most modern book. Especially if it doesn’t sound right to you.

Dogs Need Our Empathy

One of the books I enjoyed the most was Unleashing Your Dog. Although this particular book had the most powerful message of empathy, many of the other books had very similar messages. Sadie from Saving Sadie would have died without empathy, as would Harry from When Harry Met Minnie.

Our dogs are our prisoners, beloved though they may be. They can be thrown out like garbage, left to while away endless hours with nothing to do, or even killed all at the whim of their owner.

Although most of us are unlikely to toss our dog out on its ear, I think we’re all guilty of not thinking about their doggy needs. We expect them to act like toddlers perhaps, rather than their own natural species.

We might do our dog a favor by taking them for a walk, but in the name of burning calories for ourselves, never let them sniff or roll. We leave them for 8+ hours at work, and then come home and never do anything with them. All that time they see the same 4 walls, and if they are lucky, the same boring backyard.

This doesn’t mean our dogs are unhappy with their lot in life, but that we should be mindful of how very limited their options are, and to give them as many chances to express their doggy selves as we can.

We Seldom Train Crisis Scenarios

When do you really need a dog to come? When he’s in the house sauntering towards dinner, or when he’s running down the middle of the road?

While reading Zak George’s Guide to a Well-Behaved Dog, he talked about doing “Surprise Primary Lessons” as well as formal lessons. Primary lessons are where you are formally and intentionally training your dog to do something, such as sit or down.

Surprise primary lessons are intentional, but mimic real life scenarios. An example might be practicing proper “door” etiquette by having the neighbor ring the doorbell. Although you know it is a training session, you have a training lesson in mind.

Other lessons might include leaving food on the counter and appearing to leave, or going to the vet’s office to train.

This makes a lot of sense. Dogs do not generalize, so even if your dog obeys you during a formal training session in the house or the backyard, all that learning is likely going to fail if you don’t practice real life scenarios as well.

When I first got Leia, she had no recall at all. I ended up tieing her to my reliable older dog and practicing “escape” scenarios over and over because while she would listen in the backyard or house after a while, it all bled out her ears when she “escaped” through the front door.

Practicing escape scenarios in a safe way was what eventually helped her realize that recall meant coming back in every situation.

Our System is Broken

One of the overwhelming themes in the memoirs and training books I read is that dogs are suffering and sometimes being euthanized due to human failure. The second most euthanized dog at animal shelters is the chihuahua, so it is of particular relevance to me that we pay attention. Here’s why:

  • Puppy Mills

By far, the biggest problem facing the dog world as a whole are puppy mills. These puppy mills may have up to 1,000 breeding animals pumping out as many as two litters a female per year. These dogs are not health tested. These dogs are not healthy.

They are kept in cages and pump out huge volumes of puppies while discarding older breeders left and right. Rescues and shelters are left to clean up the mess, and they can’t. Dogs die.

Often there is quite a bit of finger pointing and tension between ethical breeders and rescues, with one baying, “Adopt don’t Shop!” and the other pointing out that someone needs to be breeding dogs with their joints facing the right direction or there won’t be any healthy dogs left.

In reality, ethical dog breeders aren’t the problem. Most of them take back unwanted dogs they have bred and rehome them anyway. The issue has never been the relatively small amount of ethically bred dogs, but the huge volume of puppies getting pumped out by puppy mills.

There are currently about 10,000 puppy mills churning out these puppies, totaling 500,000 dogs.

  • Housing

The housing crisis isn’t helping matters much either. Many dogs find themselves at the shelter because pet friendly housing is hard to come by. It is nearly impossible if you have multiple dogs. In 2019, we had to find a rental of some kind while our house was repaired from a fire.

It took months to find dog-friendly rental, with heavy incentives to the landlord from our insurance to let them consider taking our four pups on. Since that time the housing crisis has only gotten worse. It’s all anyone can do to house themselves, let alone their pup.

  • Fostering is Badly Needed

Many more dogs could be saved from euthanasia if they had more time to find a home. Fostering gives them that chance. Many of these dogs are beloved and sweet animals who were simply unlucky. They are good dogs.

Fostering is simply keeping a pet without a home until they find one. It usually takes somewhere between 2 weeks and 2 months. In the book, “Another Good Dog,” most of the dogs were friendly, sweet mixed breeds who just needed a couple weeks longer than the shelter was willing to give them.

Dogs that are fostered also have a better chance of going to their forever home, because fosterers are able to give more realistic descriptions of their personality.

I think this is the most important part of all, because I have known several people who have refused to consider adopting after a bad experience. Lying about a dog’s aggressive or reactive behavior, or simply not knowing because the dog is shut down in a shelter environment, can cause people to not want to adopt.

What Could Fix This?

Ending puppy mills would be the swiftest way to fix these problems. If only 400,000 of those dogs in puppy mills were female, and even if they only produced 4 puppies each twice a year, that’s 3.2 million puppies every year. Dogs that often have health defects and behavioral problems due to where they grew up.

Ending puppy mills would free up shelter space, foster space, veterinary care, behaviorists, and homes for dogs that are healthy and happy. Whether you want to get a purebred puppy or adopt an adult dog from a shelter, don’t support puppy mills. It is the swiftest fix.

We Are Linked By Dog Love

One thing that stuck out was just how different all of these authors were. We met southern belles, female powerhouses, gay men, transgender women, and more. Every one of these people were very different, some with vastly different levels of canine comprehension, but they still loved their dog.

Even when dogs had an owner who didn’t have a good understanding of dog behavior, it was still evident those dogs were loved–and loved their owners in return.

Final Thoughts

Most of these books were not ones I would have picked on my own. I have never read a dog memoir until this time, and I didn’t think there was much a dog encyclopedia could offer me. Although most of these books were not what I normally read, I’m very glad I did.

Some of these books changed how I care for dogs. I now walk them 3 times a day, and let them sniff as much as they want during that time. I’ve tried to create more ways for them to express their doggy natures, and they are loving the chance to be themselves.

I’ll be doing full reviews and talking about the books in the coming months, but if you want to see all the books I read in advance, here’s the list:

  1. The Absolute Beginners Guide to Living with Your Dog by Dr. Piero M. Bianchi
  2. 101 Essential Tips Dog Care (DK)
  3. Dog Shaming
  4. Saving Sadie
  5. Zak George’s Guide to a well behaved dog
  6. DK how dogs work
  7. When Harry met Minnie
  8. Unleashing Your Dog
  9. Dogs
  10. Woodrow on the Bench
  11. The Complete Dog Book by Dr. Peter Larkin and Mike Stockman
  12. Let Me Tell You About Jasper
  13. Sit, Stay, Heal What Dogs can teach us about living well
  14. Another Good Dog
  15. Wonder Dog the science of dogs and their unique friendship with humans
  16. Travels with Casey
  17. Good boy my life in seven dogs
  18. The Forever Dog
  19. Understanding Your Dog by David Alderton
  20. The Dog David Alderton
  21. To Be of Service (DVD the librarian slipped in.)

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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