Book Review – Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar

< Updated 13MAR20 >

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Colleen Pelar, CPDT and author of Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos, deserves a huge paws up for her wonderful book. This trainer/author recognized a need for a realistic, down to earth discussion about how to successfully manage the mayhem. Colleen is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose focus is on family based classes and she has personally survived the chaos that ensues when trying to raise kids and dogs together.

For many, it is a deeply ingrained belief that kids and dogs belong together and that no childhood is complete without a dog. Reality however is often very different. The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes children and dogs do not mix well. There is much data out there discussing dog bites and children, however very few books give us good, positive solutions. Yes, we all know that you should never leave a child and a dog together unattended, ever. If only it were that simple! Colleen looks at reality and accepts that kids will be kids and dogs will be dogs, and works with that premise. She does a great job in her discussion of solutions to the many problems faced by parents when trying to handle chaotic situations, and helps to lay the foundation so that your child and dog can build a positive relationship.

The chapters are broken down nicely and cover whether or not you should get a dog (if you do not already have one), the fundamentals of assessing the dog you have (if you do already have one), and looking at growth stages of children and the various approaches that you will need at these different ages. Time is spent on teaching your child how to interact appropriately with all dogs and becoming your dog’s advocate. Colleen discusses “deal breakers” such as resource guarding and how to prevent bites. She explains the equipment you will need to train and manage your dog, and introduces ideas such as boundary ropes. Also discussed is the difference between your children and their friends and how you should handle situations when your kids have little visitors. Colleen tries to hammer home the idea that this pet, while you may have your children in mind, is ultimately going to be the parent’s and thus the parent’s responsibility.

The final chapter of Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos covers the topic of how to help your children say goodbye to your dog, whether it is because your dog has lived a full life and passed on or if it is because you have made the decision that your dog would be better off in a home that does not have as much activity. I must admit that this chapter put me in tears.

While Colleen does not go into the fundamentals of training with her book, she does give an overview of how to train each behavior she introduces so that the average reader would have the ability to implement these behaviors on their own. She also includes games the kids can do to help them learn how to behave around dogs and exercises for them to assist with training. The author indicates times at which families should seek professional help with their pets. At the end, there is a nice listing of resources for those that want further information or assistance.

The important points of each chapter have been graciously summarized at the end so that you can glance at those first to determine your need for that chapter. This is not a cumbersome book and is one that you can easily read when the little one is down for a nap.

I highly recommend Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind. It is by far one of the best books I have read in a long time, fills a long standing void and is a must have for anyone who has children and dogs living under the same roof.

—Katrina Dutra

©13MAR20, Green Acres Kennel Shop, All Rights Reserved
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Book Reviews – Do You Really Know Your Dog? – Part 2

<A version of this article was published in the December 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

Last month I indicated that one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and to our dogs is a better understanding of who they are. I suggested three books (On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, The Other End of the Leash – by Patricia McConnell, PhD, and DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger ) that I believe provide some very fundamental information that every dog lover needs to know. Any or all would make a great holiday gift for yourself or a friend or family member. This month I’m adding to that list with these books.

Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John BradshawEarly on in this book Bradshaw describes why he decided to write this book: “I felt it was time that someone stood up for dogdom: not the caricature of the wolf in a dog suit, ready to dominate his unsuspecting owner at the first sign of weakness, not the trophy animal who collects rosettes and kudos for her breeder, but the real dog, the pet who just wants to be a member of the family and enjoy life.” Bradshaw’s reasons for writing this book are exactly why I love it so much because most dogs are quite simply companions and family members.

Dr. John Bradshaw is an animal behaviorist and the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. If you look at recent scientific papers that have been published on dog or cat behavior, you’ll often find Bradshaw listed as one of the researchers/authors.  In Dog Sense he summarizes the latest research for dog lovers like you and me. Topics he covers include; how the dog evolved, the fallacy of the dominance construct, how the dog’s role in society is changing and how that has led to higher expectations for non-dog like behavior and how these changes might affect the dog’s future. He addresses breeding issues and how the dog fancy’s focus on appearance rather than temperament and health may threaten the existence of many breeds. He also talks about how dogs learn and how research has demonstrated the many advantages of positive reinforcement/reward based training over the antiquated training model based on force and intimidation.

If you want to get off on the right paw with your dog, reading Dog Sense would be a great place to start. Incidentally, Dr. Bradshaw also has a book for cat lovers which I also recommend highly: Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.

FAVORITE QUOTE: The new canine science reveals that dogs are both smarter and dumber than we think they are. For example, they have an almost uncanny ability to guess what humans are about to do, because of their extreme sensitivity to our body language, but they are also trapped in the moment, incapable of projecting the consequences of their actions backward or forward in time. If owners were able to appreciate their dogs’ intelligence and emotional life for what it actually is, rather than for what they imagine it to be, then dogs would not just be better understood—they’d be better treated as well.

For the Love of A Dog – by Patricia McConnell, PhD – Yes, this is the second book I’m recommending by Dr. McConnell and it’s simply because her books are that good! For the Love of A Dog explores the emotional connection we make with our furry, four-footed canine companions. She also discusses how revolutionary it is to view animals as having a vibrant emotional life. Kudos to McConnell for being one of the few scientists with the courage to admit what almost everyone has known all along; animals experience joy and fear and everything in between. We don’t know what it is they are feeling, but it’s obvious the have a rich emotional life; in some cases very joyous and in others quite sad.

After reading For the Love of A Dog you’ll have a better understanding of the science behind emotions and why we and our dogs get along so well. McConnell has also included an excellent section on canine body language, one of my favorite subjects and one that is not emphasized enough in classes for dog owners. If you take your dog to the dog park you MUST know this stuff.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. McConnell speak on People, Dogs and Psychological Trauma at the 2014 APDT Conference, a topic filled with information on emotional extremes and how similar they can be between dogs and people. I suspect another book is in the works, and I cannot wait.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “On the one hand, of course dogs have emotions. It seems so patently obvious to most of us that we feel foolish at having to say it. As much as any animal on earth, dogs express emotions as purely and clearly as a five-year-old child, and surely that’s part of why we love them so much.”

Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar –

As a dog trainer and behavior consultant I get my fair share of calls and emails from parents trying to balance the needs, wants and desires of their dog and their children. In her books title, certified professional dog trainer Colleen Pelar alludes to the chaotic nature of living with kids and dogs. Not having two-footed children of my own, I’m glad to have her back on hand to help me make recommendations that will make things better and not worse. I especially like that Pelar is honest and upfront about the fact the dogs and children do not automatically get along and sometimes a dog , any dog, is not going to be a good choice for a family.

I like this book so much, that whenever I have the opportunity to talk to a family before they get a dog, I suggest that they read Colleen’s book first. I’m a big believer in prevention and Colleen offers information that will help parents make smart choices. I also recommend Living with Kids and Dogs to parents who already have a dog, even if there are no problems. It’s all about being prepared. This is also a good book for anyone who doesn’t have dogs but has children that will most certainly be meeting dogs that belong to friends and other family members. It’s also a good choice for the grandparents and aunt and uncle who don’t have kids but do have dogs that will be interacting with children.

Why didn’t I recommend a “how to train your dog” book? There are many good “how to train your dog” books out there and also some that are quite bad. I didn’t recommend any because I believe the best training experience a pet parent can have is working with an experienced dog trainer privately or in a group class. Books can be a great reference, but they do not take the place of having a skilled professional working with you and your dog together and being available to answer questions when they occur.

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:


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