Book CoverFull disclosure:  I read Marley and Me (hey, it has a dog on the cover doesn’t it?) and I enjoyed the book immensely.  I laughed at all the funny parts, cringed when required and even cried at the end (come on, you knew it was coming!).  I’ve read that Walking with Ollie is Britain’s answer to Marley and I agree with that in many ways. I also think that both men adore and love their dogs and any judgments that follow are solely in their roles as responsible dog owners, not as good people.

I have four rescue animals – two cats and two dogs.  They are all wonderful creatures, affectionate and loving.  They don’t know they are supposed to be thankful that I rescued them and often act quite cavalier about their living situation (they are, plain and simply, spoiled).  Three of them have stable personalities with no issues that need managing. 

One of them doesn’t. 

He came to us as a four month old puppy and the first time I took him to the vet (the second day I had him) she said “He’s a bit timid isn’t he?”  I wouldn’t realize her understatement until many months later.  By then I had come to realize the little guy was afraid of the car (he puked once he got in), strange men on the street (or boys past the age of 15 or so), my father (even after he’d known him for months), statues of people, holiday decorations, the vacuum cleaner, nail clippers (the dog version and the human version), baby gates, cats, and inexplicably, the Stop N Shop Peapod truck.   Unlike Ollie, he was not afraid of his owner (me) but he did give Tim the fish eye occasionally, just to make sure he wasn’t up to no good.

When I began reading Ollie, I couldn’t help but remember the despair I felt when I realized my dog was not normal.  I felt that I had failed.  I thought that my first dog attempt was a disaster and it was all my fault (did I make him this way?).  That I couldn’t help this poor creature who was just terrified of the world.  I felt for Mr. Foster, I really did.  I’ve been there. 

But I’ve also been on the other side of it.  He is two years old now and he can ride in the car comfortably and he’s over most of his fears (unfortunately the vet one still sticks, as does the Peapod truck and strange men, though it’s tempered now).  The author is perfectly right when he says that bonding with him was the reason Ollie turned around.  A fearful dog needs an ally and if he doesn’t find it in his owner, woe to both dog and owner.  He is also right about patience, something I’ve had a hard time with and something that is probably the most important key to “rehabbing” a fearful dog.  There is, however, much more to it than that – walking and waiting – there is real work to be done.

Part of the problem of course is the difference between expectations and reality.  I can’t help but be frustrated with Mr. Foster (and consequently Mr. Grogan) for having such grand expectations about dog ownership.  Did they really think it would be easy? That a dog just raises and amuses himself?   It amazes me that in this day and age of the Dog Whisperer and shows like It’s Me or the Dog that people still get a dog thinking it will raise itself.  Thankfully both authors became disillusioned pretty quickly and their dogs have benefited, but what of all the other dogs whose owners don’t?  I’m torn about whether books like this are good because they present a real picture of life with a dog or if they make dismissive dog owners feel that it’s OK to keep ignoring real issues.

I’ve raised one dog now and our other pup is coming along.  One was initially stable and one was not, but I have to say that some days I don’t remember which was harder.  Puppies are work, regardless of their temperament.  They need consistency and training – something neither of the authors gave their dogs, at least initially. Thankfully they smartened up.  Though I love any book about dogs, especially ones about owners who love their dogs completely, I just don’t find it heartwarming to read about ineffectual, though well intentioned, owners stumbling around trying to gain control of their dogs.  Because it’s the dogs that suffer ultimately.  Unrealistic expectations are harmful to all dogs, particular fearful ones. 

My dogs aren’t perfect – far from it – but their imperfect behavior is not from lack of training and structure. We all work hard and if they don’t live up to some vague Lassie-eque ideal so be it; I love them anyway.  

Because I never expected them to.