Bark Busters by Sylvia Wilson is probably one of the most straightforward dog training books on the market. The layout is simple and easy enough for a novice to follow. Yet, the book still offers some tricks and insights that could help seasoned dog trainers.
First, allow me to tell you what this book is. The book is primarily a “how to” manual when it comes to curing your dog of a particular problem or behavior. The last half of the book is strictly scenario-based problems. In essence, Wilson states a problem (your dog chases cars, for example) and then tells you how to cure the animal of this unwanted behavior. This is great for people with some experience training dogs or those who might not want to read an entire book just to find out how to change one behavior in your pet. However, the book can be a little dry at times as you find yourself reading the same types of statements repeatedly because similar techniques are used to cure different problems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as repetition of a statement can help with its reinforcement and importance. I’d just advise the reader to be prepared for this.
As helpful as the second half of the book is, I found the first half to be even more insightful. I’d recommend it to anyone, regardless of their experience level with training dogs. Here, Wilson offers some insight into the way your pet thinks and why it behaves the way it does. This information alone can help alleviate a number of bad experiences dog owners have with their four-legged friends. And although no scientific or statistical data is ever given to back up Wilson’s claims of dog psychology, I’m inclined to believe her. She does have thirty plus years of experience in the field. In addition to this insight, the first half is where Wilson also lists what tools a would-be trainer will need to get started, as well as how to use them properly (she has a very interesting take on “choker chains” and it is worth a read).
Now, here is what the book is not. This book is not intended to help you train any other type of animal. It is only meant for dogs. And to her credit, Wilson never makes a claim otherwise. Some training books offer universal theories and techniques that can be applied across the board and to multiple situations; Bark Busters does not do that. This book will help you to have a better-behaved dog if you follow Wilson’s teachings correctly, nothing more.
Speaking of Wilson’s techniques, I will say that some of them aren’t easy and some might even seem a little cruel. First, there are several problems that require help from more than one person if you wish to properly solve the behavioral issue. This could pose a problem for the novice trainer or anyone who might be too embarrassed to ask for help. Other times, Wilson suggests setting up scenarios where the dog will misbehave so that you can catch the dog in the act and reprimand it accordingly.
I must stress here, however, that Wilson does not believe in “punishing” dogs for an event after it occurs. Like many trainers, she believes that dogs cannot make the connection between what they have done and why they are being punished after the fact. Instead, she recommends “reprimanding” the animal when it behaves poorly (usually, with what she refers to as a “throw chain” which is simply a segment of chain thrown at the dog’s feet in order to create a noise loud enough to scare the animal). To that end, Wilson believes the only way to catch a dog performing certain acts is to give it the opportunity to do so. She sets up instances for the dog to perform the undesirable behavior and then scolds the animal accordingly until it no longer performs the action, even when tempted. Again, this may seem cruel to some because they may view it as “tricking” their pet. But Wilson also believes in the power of positive reinforcement when the animal behaves well and one could make the argument the dog has an equal chance for reward as for reprimand.
If you are looking for a concrete method to train your dog, look no further than Bark Busters. It is easy to follow and can guide you through most problems you might experience with your pet. I strongly recommend it for new trainers and dog owners alike. Although you may not always find the book the most exciting read, the information it contains is a valuable tool when teaching your dog how to function in and around your household. – Reviewed by Mike Griffin
Bark Busters: Solving Your Dog’s Behavioral Problems by Sylvia Wilson
140 pages, 1997, The Crossing Press