Head of the Pack
By: Christina Potter
Publisher: Aperture Press
Publication date: August 2017
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Assessment date: 19 March 2018
Dog trainer and author Christina Potter, in her third book in the “Chester Gigolo” series, delivers a book that is very fun to read, while also providing readers with a lot of useful information about dog training.
Head of the Pack is divided into sixteen chapters that examine various aspects of the dog world that will help you train your dog. The book opens with an introduction that shares how much dogs enjoy human company and how it works best when both dog and human understand each other. So how do you improve your ability to communicate with your dog? That’s what the book is about.
Right from the first chapter, the author offered advice that drew me in and made me want to read the rest of the book. “Blur the lines between play and training, and you’ll have a dog that’s happy to work with you at any time.” From there, she goes on to explain that you need to be firm, but not too firm. How? She uses an analogy of a spaghetti noodle which works perfectly to get her point across. The chapters are quite short – most are three or four pages – and everything is very easy to understand.
Head of the Pack is “written” by Chester Gigolo, a Berger Picard, and he is a smart dog. Chester shares his training expertise on a wide range of topics from knowing what each breed was bred for (and using that knowledge to choose the right dog, as well as using their innate instincts to advantage during training) to how often to give treats and to and with what kind of treats work best. And unlike many dog training manuals that give tips in a dry, boring way, Chester is quite funny and entertaining. He enlivens each chapter with comments – for example, when he talks about getting treats, “march into the kitchen, load up on delicious treats – in your hands, not your stomach – and let’s get started.”
There is a lot of useful information in this book that both first-time dog owners and more advanced dog fans will learn from. What I especially appreciated is that the author didn’t just share his views and say “it works for me, it will work for you”. Rather, she supports her statements with research from around the world, noting the researchers/institutions/journals, how the tests were conducted and the results. While I’ve had dogs all my life and like to think I know what I’m doing when I train, I definitely learned a lot from this book. Did you know that tail wagging doesn’t always mean a dog is happy? What about growling? For tricks, the author recommends using the dog’s breed to determine which tricks will be easiest for the dog to learn, and then follows up with several real-life examples showing how different breeds react to the same situation. And speaking of tricks, chapter ten (smack dab in the middle of the book) is dedicated to trick training. There are 25 tricks dissected in such a way that it is again easy to see how to learn each trick. Most are also accompanied by a picture of a dog performing the trick. I “dog tested” several of the tricks on my dog Rocco (a dachshund/yorkie mix who is lovable but not the brightest lightbulb of the bunch) and he was able to follow me and do the tricks. That alone is worth the price of this book!