Crazy bitch

Tibbett - Crazy BitchPUBLISHING YEAR: 2013

SUMMARY: Layperson’s autobiography about her life with two large dogs; one of them attacking the other in sudden episodes of intense aggression.


  • Written for the layman, it is a smooth and pleasant read. [Caution to untrained readers: Do not accept the theoretical and technical passages uncritically. Get confirmation from an evidence-based source before accepting these points.]
  • Behaviourists could get a lot out of it too. It gave me a more profound insight into my clients’ lives between consults.

01 Owner


The author: When it comes to writing about dogs, Peggy Tibbetts is 150% laywoman. She is not formally trained in psychology, behaviour, training or biology. She is, however, a talented writer and insightful dog owner. She shares profound observations about the mental lives of her pets and the challenges of living with a mentally ill dog.

Style and contents: The book is the account of Peggy Tibbetts’ and her husband’s life with a large dog suffering from an aggressive disorder. It is set in a small Colorado town plagued with petty neighbourhood disputes. We find out about Venus, the mentally ill Akbash/Lab mix female and her terrified Husky male housemate, Zeus. Peggy Tibbetts also shares the intricate details of the escalating neighbourhood wars that near-ruined their lives.


The book was superbly written: conversational, funny, gripping. I got so engrossed that I delayed lights-out by hours, to my tired husband’s consternation.

Gripping passages like this one gave me an insight into how my clients feel when hitting yet another hurdle: “All those hours of training. All those months of progress. Down the tubes. Return to start. Do not pass go. Do not collect your reward.” I felt crushed. (p. 106)

The Tibbetts’ dedication to their dogs was awe-inspiring. They turned their lives upside down to meet their dogs’ special needs. They also tirelessly worked on control/management training and religiously implemented the safety advice. If only all dog owners were this dedicated to their dogs’ welfare…

Peggy Tibbetts is a proud Cesar Milan fan. She did, however, use her solid compass for the well-being of her dogs, to sort the Cesar Milan wheat from the chaff, cherry-picking his insightful advice from his less helpful views. For people so influenced by a traditional dog trainer’s ideas, the Tibbetts’ were extraordinarily sensitive to the dog’s emotional needs. They did not engage in confrontational training in the name of leadership. Instead, they approached the dogs’ problems with inspiring emotional intelligence.

Possible points for improvement 

Inevitably for a book written by the layperson, it made a bit of a hash-up of the theoretical framework and technical points, failing to distinguish between fact and opinion, between good research and old wives tales, between substance and folklore. Those of you coming at dog behaviour with a training, clinical or research background may cringe in a few passages:

  • Many passages make uncritical pack-theory interpretations of dog behaviour.
  • Fellow scientific skeptics, prepare yourselves for an onslaught of New Ageisms – astrology, crystal healing, homeopathy, etc. – trickled into otherwise insightful passages.
  • I had to grit my teeth through a fair few over-simplifications, misconceptions and inaccuracies on the diagnosis and ethology front.
  • The book is speckled with compelling but unsubstantiated notions about breeds.
  • The author’s misunderstanding about the clicker: using it as a distraction sound, believing treats to be optional and seeing the click as a command, will probably kill clicker trainers.

But Peggy Tibbetts does not claim to be trained in genetics, ethology or applied behaviourism, nor does she market the book as a reference piece.

The book’s layout did not do the writing justice: minute side margins and left-aligned text. As a full-time (and talented) author, I hope Peggy Tibbetts will get the publishing format she deserves.

The problems with the toxic neighbours and town officials were described in too much detail for my liking. Sure it played a role in the mental decline of the dog, but it took centre stage too often, going through page after page of intricate details about their human disputes.

On Canine Compulsive Disorder (for professionals)

I don’t know why a diagnosis of CCD was concluded. I read the book with my professional hat on and failed to see sufficient and necessary signs despite an autobiography being as good as it gets for getting rich incident descriptions. Fair enough the book wasn’t written as a behaviour screening form so critical diagnostic information may have been missing, but I could not conclude that CCD played such a central role.

Peggy Tibbetts seemed to see CCD as a condition with well-established time courses/prognoses. In reality, like most canine behavioural disorders, there is nothing like a consensus definition and research into it is patchy at best. Implying it is universally seen as a progressive disease with gradually worsening stages is misleading.

The author lumped a lot of her dog’s unwanted behaviour under CCD, which obscured more helpful diagnoses and causes like (normal) territorial behaviour, sibling rivalry and plain old resource guarding, exacerbated to a pathological degree by the neighbours’ taunting.

I was puzzled that desensitization and counterconditioning played such a minor role in the dog’s program. The only professional advice that was described at length was that of their GP veterinarian (so not someone formally trained in behaviour):

  • Antidepressants – Good, only they started with old-fashioned TCA’s (Clomipramine) instead of the lighter-touch SSRI (which the author mistakenly believed Clomipramine to be and which, like everything, are not without flaws – To read about the controversy around canine psychopharmacology, click here);
  • Avoiding stress and triggers – Essential, but this is 90% management 10% therapy;
  • Nothing-In-Life-Is-For-Free: A panacea for dog behaviour problems which is often advised out of habit and tradition rather than from its demonstrated efficacy for each individual case; and
  • Safety and management measures – Essential, but not therapeutic measures.

In other words, no behaviour therapy. No structurally changing how the dog feels about the problem situation. No… Counter-conditioning or systematic desensitisation. What little mention was made of CC&SD felt self-taught. It betrayed a lack of understanding of the key concepts, and a lack of specialist guidance. A consultant behaviourist was occasionally mentioned, but their concrete contributions were unclear to me.

So the professional aspect of the case intrigued me.

The verdict: A gripping and insightful read, and one that sheds light into our clients’ lives with their mentally ill dog. A great book if you can look past its pseudoscientific crimes against mother Skepticism.

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Author: Tibbetts Peggy
Genre: autobiography
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