Embracing the Wild in Your Dog by Bryan Bailey teaches the important and eye-opening lesson that dogs are, and will always be, part wolf. Though owners may anthropomorphize dogs and see them like little humans, they have inherent wild instincts at the core, and this knowledge will enhance every dog owner’s relationship with their dog, as well as how they approach training.
What makes Embracing the Wild such an engaging book is that it’s not only a book for dog owners. I’m not currently a dog owner myself, and the book is a fascinating look into dogs’ true nature, and the dog’s place in current society. It can’t really be considered a traditional training manual, as the book is more chock full of anecdotes than step by step instructions. It’s more of a complete philosophy based on Bailey’s years of experience working with dogs.
Woven into this story is Bailey’s account of learning the wild from his tough-guy mentor, who’s the ultimate man’s man. So the book is as much a story of the evolution of Bailey’s own masculinity, and man’s place in nature, as it is a book about dogs. In this way, it does veer towards being a man’s book, but his philosophy on dogs is important for any dog owner.
Some may find him a bit of a hardliner. His premise is that those who treat dogs like people – dressing them in clothes, feeding them human food, and so on – are betraying the dog’s better nature. For instance, he criticizes a woman who tells her dog he’ll get ice cream on the way home if he behaves, the way you’d talk to a child. Certainly, that’s weird behavior, and people can overdo it, but if the dog’s happy, and she’s happy, what exactly is the problem?
His attitude towards dog raising is at time strident – one could say militant. However, at its core, he’s right: dogs are wolves in a dog’s clothing. You may think this is only an issue for big aggressive dogs like a German Shepherd or Huskie, but if you’ve ever been around dogs like Yorkies and Chihuahuas, they can be plenty aggressive. Indeed, they can be even more aggressive than some gentle giants, and this is because toy dogs are not seen as descendants of wolves even more so than their wolflike counterparts. In short, all dogs are wolves at heart, no matter what they look like, so Bailey’s premise is spot on, and should be taken to heart.
The weakness in the book is that he doesn’t provide enough alternatives to traditional dog training. He makes his case, and then some, that traditional dog training denies dogs’ true nature with the continual emphasis on positive reinforcement, and he has plenty of examples of how dogs’ behavior is a reflection of their natural instinct, but too often that is where the instruction stops. In other words, the book is too much philosophy and not enough training manual, which would actually enhance the premise of his philosophy. His main argument is proven without a doubt: wolves are pack animals and so family dogs may be looking to establish dominance and placement in the pack – this can account for their aggressiveness with children, for example – but some readers may be left wanting about just what to do with their unruly dog.
However, the book will change how you look at man’s best friend, so it’s an important read. It may be somewhat short on direct training advice, but it’s full of funny and fascinating anecdotes about dogs and their misbehavior, and you will definitely see your dog in a new light by book’s end.