Book cover

The Dog Who Loved Too Much:
Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs

Author: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

ISBN 0-553-37526-1
Publisher: Bantam Books, 1996
258 pages, paperback or hardcover, no photos
Retail price = $12.95 (US)

Table of contents


Dr. Nicholas Dodman's book "The Dog Who Loved Too Much" has recently become a very popular book in the public press and amongst many dog owners. Dodman's approach to canine behavior problems has become one of the leading forces in the treatment of problem dogs and his views and opinions are pervasive throughout the popular dog culture of the United States. His approach is now widely followed by many veterinarians and has even been taken on by some of the leading behaviorists in the country, with the book serving as the cornerstone of that impetus.

Though Dodman's book is an excellent book, I'm not sure it deserves the elevated status that many have given it. However you must take everything I say about this book and any of his approaches to behavior treatment with a grain of salt because Dr. Dodman and I come from two very different backgrounds. Our approaches to behavior problems in canines are from opposite sides of the problem and though we may achieve similar results, our methods and philosophies will normally differ. To give you a better example of what I'm talking about, you might consider the different approaches that a psychologist and a psychiatrist take towards the treatment of a behavioral condition in a person. The psychiatrist tends to approach the problem through the use of drugs and medical treatment versus the psychologist who tackles the treatment through a series of behavior modification exercises. Both are equally valid and though neither one may ultimately have the better approach to the problem, each certainly thinks that their methods are the preferable ones to treat their patients. In that light, Dodman and I differ in our approach to behavioral problems in dogs, mostly due to our differences in training and educational background. Dodman comes from a veterinary and medical background and his approach to treatment is oftentimes more medical in nature, through the use of drugs and other veterinary treatments -- and rightfully so. My background is one of ethology and animal behavior and my approaches to problems are typically from a more behavioral modification slant. I view the use of drugs as a last resort in the treatment of problem behaviors and Dodman views them as a primary or sometimes secondary method of treatment. Still, I can see the value of Dodman's approach and though I may criticize it as a less advantageous approach to treatment, I certainly would not consider it illegitimate.

With that in mind, I would recommend this book to most dog owners as an insightful and intelligent discourse on canine psychological problems but I would caution people not to jump to the conclusion that "drugs are the answer" to solving canine behavioral problems. Though Dodman generally recognizes the efficacy of behavior modification, he often tempers it with the suggestion that pharmacological methods as an "adjunct" approach (i.e. primary approach) are the better way to go. The reader should avoid the tendency to think that the use of drugs is the answer, as I'm sure even Dr. Dodman would quickly point out. The book is more of a "Day in the life of a veterinary behaviorist" than it is a book on the treatment of behavior problems in dogs. If you're looking to solve a problem you might be having with your dog and its behavior, I would not turn to Dodman's book in order to facilitate treatment. His book is a general overview of canine problems and most of his insights are developed in the form of case studies and tales of particular dogs. Though I might not recommend reading it to solve a particular behavior problem, I would however highly recommend it to help one better understand the psychology of dogs and just how their minds work. Most of Dodman's descriptions of canine instincts and behaviors are right on and though I may typically disagree with his approach to the treatment of those problems, his understanding of the bases of those conditions are exactly the same as I might describe them. In that respect, you can get an awful lot out of this book, especially a better understanding of how your dog's mind works, and that may lead to a better understanding of the particular problem you might be having. Dodman actually approaches his reader from the opposite end, where he describes very particular case scenarios and case studies and helps them derive a general understanding of the behavior from those individual cases. One must then take that better understanding of the general nature of dog behavior and extrapolate it to their own situation. This, however, is the step that this book leaves out.

However I don't believe that Dodman was trying to write a "How To" book on dog behavior but rather was simply trying to entertain and educate his audience with some of his real-life tales from his practice. The book is truly engaging and the problem studies that he presents are clearly described and well presented. The book is a very easy read and you certainly could finish it in one sitting without becoming bored. His stories flow very well from one to another and his occasional use of humor and his down-to-earth style of writing are very welcome. Make no bones about it, this is a well-written book and even though I may generally disagree with his thesis, one can certainly not fault his style.

The first five chapters of the book deal with particular aggression problems, the next five with canine fears, and the last four with obsession problems in dogs. Though these do not represent the entirety of his behavior practice, I'm sure they represent the most interesting cases. This is exactly why they're in this book -- because they are interesting. If you're looking for a fine book to read and an educational experience at the same time I wouldn't hesitate in going out to get this book. However, if you are looking to solve the behavior problems in your own dog and looking for guidelines and a reference to a treatment outline, there are much better offerings. Dodman finishes each of his chapters with a small one-page synopsis of the behavior problem presented in the chapter, along with a numbered list of treatment steps to help solve that problem. Though they are certainly nice and I wish more authors would take the time to summarize their points like this, I really wish he had left them out. The summaries are excellent outlines for the treatment of particular behavior problems in dogs but in order to make them effective, they need to be described in much further detail. This does not come out in his stories of individual case studies and should probably be left to another book. In trying to accomplish both tasks, the entertainment and engaging stories... along with the prescription of treatment methods, he does a disservice to both. The case studies are excellent and educational in and of themselves. The treatment methods on the other hand, need to be far more detailed.

Overall I think this book is a success and I'm sure that most readers will find the stories fascinating. If you'd like a little better insight into how your dog ticks or what it's like to be a professional behaviorist that has to deal with the most difficult behavior cases, "The Dog Who Loved Too Much" should come highly recommended.

I'd give it a B+.

Dr. Nicholas B. Carter


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