• Lori Nanan

Review – Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) of the new book, Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy by my colleague, Dr. Zazie Todd. Dr. Todd (or Zazie, as I call her) has been running the Companion Animal Psychology blog for 8 years now, and she’s helped change the lives of dogs (and other companion animals) all over the world with it. Her focus on research and how we can apply it with our beloved pets has helped make important information accessible for many people who:

  1. Would otherwise have no idea where to find it.

  2. Would otherwise have no idea what it means.

  3. Would otherwise not be able to make positive changes in how they interact with their pets.

This makes my job, and the jobs of many of our shared colleagues that much easier. Thanks to Dr. Todd, we have a resource in her blog that we can reference and share with clients, confident in the knowledge that the information is up-to-date, accurate and easy to understand. We also benefit as professionals from her writing, as she gives us a window into the world of research that we would not otherwise have. Now, with Wag, she not only opens the window – she throws open the door.

Wag features a foreword by Dr. Marty Becker, veterinarian and founder of Fear Free Pets, a movement that is changing not only the way the veterinary community approaches pet care, but grooming, training and sheltering, as well. Fear Free Pets and its owner-directed resource Fear Free Happy Homes are true game changers. Becker points out in the foreword that we can improve our pet’s well-being with knowledge. And he could not be more correct when he says that Wag helps give owners information and tools to do just that. This is the beauty of Wag.

Like most books, Wag is divided into chapters. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of living with and loving dogs. From information on how dogs learn, what motivates them, to dealing with end of life issues, Dr. Todd handles every aspect of life with dogs in such a way that even if you are already doing well by your dog, you’ll want to do even better. You’ll look at your dog and marvel at the absolute wonder he or she really is. In the chapter called “Dogs and Their People”, fascinating research is explored – ranging from the “secure base” effect to whether or not dogs actually do prefer their owners to others. All research is cited and the authors, titles and journals can be found at the end of the book should the reader want to dive more deeply into the research. The findings are fascinating and rest assured: all signs point to the social nature of dogs being genuine and that they do really like us. They rely on us for comfort in strange situations and our presence is, indeed, important to them.

Each chapter of Wag ends with a section called “How to apply the science at home” and this is definitely my favorite part of the book. I love it because so often dog owners (myself included) don’t recognize that there are small things we can do to improve our dogs’ welfare and in this section, Dr. Todd highlights them and makes them doable. If every person who reads the book did just one thing from these lists, dogs all over the world would rejoice.

How to make your dog Wag

There’s also an entire chapter devoted to walks – or as Dr. Todd (and I!) calls them, “walkies”. Walks are so important for dogs, not only for the physical exercise they provide, but when we allow dogs to sniff and wander a bit while out and about, they provide important mental stimulation and enrichment, as well. There’s a whole chapter on enrichment and why species-specific activities are so important, too. Dogs everywhere are going to be whooping it up come release date! These 2 sections speak to me, not only as a trainer (because I know that an increase in activity, both mental and physical can improve a dog’s behavior and well-being), but also as a dog owner.

My current dog Hazel and I go for walkies every day, which is more than I can say for the dogs in my past, sadly. I’ve learned so much from people like Dr. Todd about the importance of walks – and by walks, I don’t mean lock-step heeling. I mean wandering and meandering walks that go from brisk to standstill in seconds if there’s a good smell to be had. About a year ago, we switched almost exclusively from a standard 6′ leash to a 20′ long line so that Hazel has more room to roam and explore and do what her nose does so well – sniff. If you do nothing else for your dog – let her sniff! Going from simple walkies to sniffaris has been one of the best things I have ever done for, and with, her. She gets to explore more freely, and I don’t need to step into high grasses or muddy puddles or get annoyed by her being drawn from one thing to the next. It’s what she enjoys most in life and I love the freedom to be able to do this (responsibly, of course) and I love that Wag will bring these benefits to light for more people.

I have known Dr. Todd for about 7 years and have the privilege of calling her friend, and you may think my thoughts on her book are colored by this. You may be right, but I would disagree. My thoughts are colored by reading her blog for years and following her articles for Psychology Today. They’re colored by trusting that at the heart of all she does we are one step closer to a better world for our companion animals. Wag does just that – and tells us exactly how. This book is a true gift to dogs everywhere. I encourage everyone to order a copy and settle in with it. Grab a cup of tea and a blanket on a lazy Sunday, relax and enjoy. I read it in 2 sittings, my dog at my feet and each chapter made me marvel even more at the wonder she truly is. My gratitude to Dr. Todd for presenting this information, in this way, to the masses is deep. Hazel agrees. Your dog will, too. I promise. Dogs bring us so much joy. They deserve our understanding.

Where to Wag You can find Wag in a variety of places online, and check with your local bookseller or ask your local library to order a copy, as well!

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